Macron reaches out to yellow vests

In a speech on the energy transformation on Tuesday Emmanuel Macron reacted to the demands put forward by yellow vest protesters. He proposed to base fuel tax hikes on the price of oil and launch a nationwide three-month consultation on the social aspects of the energy transformation. Will the French president be able to appease the yellow vests with this approach?

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Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Do the demonstrators even want to understand?

Now the threat of a political blockade is looming in France, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung fears:

“Macron wants to stick to his guns and is stressing the need for the French to 'understand' - but do the angry protesters on the barricades even want to understand what he has to say? This is a very French dialectic ritual involving state power and resistance, which in this case also entails a good deal of confusion due to the fact that the protesters lack any form of organisation. Much will depend in the coming weeks on whether a constructive dialogue can take place about how to implement these steps that, in and of themselves, are sensible. If not, the street blockades could result in a general political blockade.”

La Croix (FR) /

The weakness of the lone warrior

French President Macron is not well positioned for a dialogue with the citizens, La Croix comments:

“In view of the special conditions that led to his victory, in which he was alone against the many, he cruelly lacks a team of people that could mediate between him and French society and pave the way for such a dialogue. To overcome this crisis he must recognise more clearly than he did in his speech that he needs local politicians, political networks, unions, associations, and religious representatives. That will mark an indispensable turning point in his presidency.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Against green hopes

The protests are the expression of a looming split in society, warns sociologist and journalist Paul Scheffer in his column for NRC Handelsblad:

“Insistence on a green lifestyle can increase distrust among the people. Europe's environmental parties, which are currently doing so well in elections, have a responsibility, because the energy transformation whose cause they champion could lead to greater inequality. Who will foot the bill for the enormous financial contributions it entails? ... The incomes of many sections of society are stagnating. Few people are willing to pay higher environmental taxes. How to reconcile these conflicting interests? ... Commitment to the environment could falter. The yellow vests are turning against society's green hopes.”

La Stampa (IT) /

The perfect target for infiltration

La Stampa is sure the protests are being instrumentalised:

“The rallies are surrounded by a strange atmosphere. This could be seen from the first moment. And it's not exactly the atmosphere of a nice, popular, spontaneous and brotherly manifestation. The time will come when historians tell us whether it was the 'Le Penists' or the 'Melanchonists' who inspired the movement. Inspired and infiltrated it, or whether they pounced on it as if it were a god-given opportunity presented to them on a silver platter. What is clear now is that a tweet by Le Pen in which she lamented that demonstrators were banned from the Champs-Elysées was enough to prompt thousands of yellow vests to turn up there in force.”

Ethnos (GR) /

Not a sudden explosion

For Ethnos the causes behind the protests are clear:

“How to align France with Germany's rigid Eurozone budget discipline while maintaining the infrastructure and protecting the environment? With new taxes that for the most part must be paid by the victims of cuts and the shrinking welfare state. ... The rebellion of the 'yellow vests' was to be expected because it's not a sudden storm but one more explosion in a series of social and political upheavals that have rocked the country over the last 25 years.”

Magyar Idők (HU) /

Liberal messiah facing hard reality

Macron is to blame for the French citizens' discontent, the pro-government daily Magyar Idök believes:

“It's all very well to stroll through Brussels and Strasbourg as a liberal-progressive messiah and welcome world leaders under the Arc de Triomphe, but that won't satisfy the French. ... People ask each other the really important questions over supper. For example: why can't France bring its unemployment rate below the ten percent mark which is apparently carved in stone. You can hold the very powerful trade unions and their stubbornness responsible for the situation, and to some extent quite rightly, but this time they are not the organisers. This time it's a civic initiative from the bottom up that has turned into a mass protest and is backed by around 70 percent of the French.”

Les Echos (FR) /

Distrust as the dominant theme

If the people are demonstrating against fuel taxes it's due to communication problems, Les Echos believes:

“The French aren't listening to Emmanuel Macron. His speeches dealing with France and politics are going over the heads of his fellow citizens. They don't listen because it's not what they want to hear. ... Is the president's discourse too lofty? It is failing to engage the public. The French have become so pessimist about the job market, their lifestyle, and their children's future that their only ambition is to cling tenaciously - even violently - to what they have. Distrust has become the only guiding principle for the nation, and the reforms are viewed as a deprivation: as savage attacks on the people's buying power.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

No one politicians can talk to

Gazeta Wyborcza is worried about the state of democracy in France:

“What we're seeing in France is above all a crisis of representative democracy. Thousands of people have hit the streets and firmly refuse to put their faith in members of parliament, political parties, unions or other organisations. This is what is making it so difficult for the authorities to react to the situation. There's simply no one they can talk to.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Macron in a tight spot

Die Neue Zürcher Zeitung sees little chance of Macron and the angry protesters reaching an agreement:

“The government can back down and renounce the additional taxes. By doing this it would buy peace, but it would also be showing weakness and its financial leeway would be even more limited. So a prolonged conflict is the more likely scenario. The 'yellow vests' will have to adopt a formal structure and will likely lose their political innocence. System-critical parties on the left and right are already waiting to hijack the protest movement and instrumentalise it for their own purposes. But this rebellion is by no means driven only by the disadvantaged and extremists. According to a survey three-quarters of the French support it. The tax revolt enjoys broad support.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Grist to the mill for Le Pen

The protests will strengthen the far right, warns Der Standard's Paris correspondent, Stefan Brändle:

“A year and a half ago many of these 'yellow vests' voted for Macron, on whom so many hopes were pinned. Now they're turning away from him in disappointment. ... The movement against petrol taxes isn't per se political. But it's not very consistent either, demanding lower taxes while at the same time calling for more public services in impoverished rural areas. This contradiction puts it closer to the populists who, as we're seeing in Italy, promise the poor both tax cuts and more social protection - for example a universal basic income. This is also Le Pen's line. She knows that the protests of the 'yellow vests' are grist to the mill for her party, and she needn't even lift a finger.”