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Is Paris Burning, Now?

The beginning was fairly peaceful… However, the Yellow Vest protests – spurred by an increase in the gasoline tax a couple of weeks ago in Paris – have intensified in violence, with anti-government demonstrators burning vehicles, smashing windows and confronting riot police. Nearly 200 people have already been injured in clashes between the protesters and the police. In the last few days, President Emmanuel Macron and his administration have been experiencing a serious political crisis. Although the Macron government has invited protesters to resolve the crisis through peaceful negotiation, demonstrators are not ready to sit with the government officials.
Speaking at a press conference on December 2, senior government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux said that France might impose a state of emergency in order to prevent a recurrence of what is being described as some of the worst civil unrests in more than a decade by protesters. At the same time, the official admitted that the typical French forecourt price for sans plomb 95 has increased from EUR 1.36 a litre to over EUR 1.60 in the last 12 months, while the price of diesel has risen from EUR 1.24 to over EUR 1.50.

President Macron, who was in Argentina on December 1 to attend the G20 Summit, made clear that he would not tolerate bloodshed in the pretext of protest! Even before his return to Paris, the president discussed the current scenario with French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe and Interior Minister Christophe Castaner over phone. Upon his arrival in Paris on December 2, the president visited the Arc de Triomphe to assess the damage (as rioters defaced the landmark).


President Emmanuel Macron assessed the damages after riots erupted at a protest in Paris

Demonstrators claim that they have been suffering since 2000 because of the increase in fuel tax. Majority of the people in France believes that the scenario has deteriorated during Macron’s presidency. They further accuse the president of ignoring the problems faced by the poor section of people.

Interestingly, the protesters – diffuse, seemingly leaderless and organised over the internet – have managed to receive deepening and widespread support around the country. The protests turned violent in Paris as extremists on the left and right, along with anarchists, joined the demonstrators, seeking to capitalise on the simmering discontent. The modern-day peasants’ and workers’ revolt against a president turned the richest French boulevards into veritable war zones, with the police using batons and teargas.
According to political analysts, the ongoing fuel protests should not be considered as a battle between the common people and the government over the rising petroleum prices. Analysts are of the opinion that it has become a battle between the metropolitan elite and the rural poor, motorists and ecologists over stamping their authority over the French politics! According to some of France’s top political scientists, the grievances expressed by the protesters show the hallmarks of a populist movement that represents the rejection of the country’s out-of-touch elite.

The Paris rioting puts President Macron’s economic overhaul to the test. A fall in crude oil prices could ease the tension for a while, but the French president should be prepared for facing other crises in the coming days. The president – already struggling in the polls – is facing a high-visibility test of his courage and nerve, keeping in mind his lowering popularity. His political future depends on the steps he would take to tackle the situation. Considering his current position at the national level, teamed with the never-ending obstacles he had to face for quite some time – it does cast a doubt as to Macron’s ability to lead the European Union. Among the strong neighbours, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz have not been faring well either. Does that not cast more than a general umbra, penumbra and antumbra in the current situation of the EU?

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