Yellow Vest protests and German/French agreement Update
The Yellow vest protests in France started in November 2018 to protest higher fuel prices from French President Macron’s green tax on fuel that went into effect at the beginning of 2019.
The protests which have been ongoing and violent have remained a thorn in Macron’s presidency because 72 percent of the French people support them.
Until now the French protests have remained leaderless making negotiations impossible even if France’s Macron wanted to compromise. Yellow vest protesters span the entire political spectrum and demands vary with location and groups.
They have been motivated by rising fuel costs, cost of living, tax reform for the working and middle classes, and a minimum wage increase.
Complicating the situation is the new Franco-German treaty signed in January. Part of the reason for the agreement is to secure Germany a permanent place on the UN Security Council. It is meant to curb nationalism and make it clear that France and Germany are committed to a strong EU and NATO alliance. Both Merkel and Macron are working to head off any gains by eurosceptic parties in the European Parliament.
While committing to acting in each other’s mutual interest as well as the rest of Europe, Germany has been keen on keeping its own interests first. They insist on taking a lead in the Nordstream Gas negotiations. While agreeing on joint export policy, Germany put a hold on weapon exports to Saudi Arabia because of the Khashoggi murder, angering Macron’s France in the process.
The reality of acting multilaterally on decisions that are traditionally made for a single country’s interests is causing friction that will only exasperate Macron’s problems at home. Working with Germany is giving French nationalists room to spread rumors that Germany is taking back the Alsace region and is going to share its UN Security Council seat. The fractured yellow vest movement has splintered further with some seeking to work within the system.
According to the Guardian, the friction between Macron and the working class is only growing. Compounding problems for Macron, Italy’s deputy prime ministers Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio have criticized Macron on a host of issues including how he is handling the yellow vest demonstrations.
Di Maio escalated tensions between France and Italy by meeting with yellow vest leaders in early February. He is running in the European Parliament elections with a slogan of “a new Europe is being born of the yellow vests.” France immediately declared this a provocation and withdrew its ambassador from Italy.
Salvini has made it clear the Italian government wants to meet and repair the relationship between their countries. At the same time, Salvini said “I hope the French will be able to free themselves of a terrible president,” in a Facebook video.
At the same time senior German conservative Manfred Weber made it clear he expects France’s Macron to listen to anti-establishment protesters and as European citizens, they play a key role in shaping government policy.
Macron’s response to all of this is to keep the yellow vests at arm’s length and alienate them. Because the Saturday protests have dragged on, Macron is starting to regain his standing in the opinion polls by a growing number of people that are tired of the protests and violence.
The yellow vests are starting to lose traction the same way the Occupy movement did in the US. Is the attention span of supporters something Macron can wait out? The grim reality for France is the lower echelon in France’s economy can drag the GDP downward creating a spiraling effect. If they can’t afford to go to work, how will the work get done?