France Protests: 'French Manifestation of a Global Distrust of Politics' - Prof

© AFP 2023 / Abdulmonam EassaProtesters build a barricade during a protest of Yellow vests (Gilets jaunes) against rising oil prices and living costs, on December 1, 2018 in Paris
Protesters build a barricade during a protest of Yellow vests (Gilets jaunes) against rising oil prices and living costs, on December 1, 2018 in Paris - Sputnik International
French President Emmanuel Macron appealed to the French people in a televised address promising a minimum wage rise by 100 euros and tax cuts in response to weeks of violent protests that have gripped the nation. Macron also declared "an economic emergency" in the country admitting that the anger of the demonstrators was “in many ways legitimate”.

Sputnik has discussed whether this will be enough to appease the "gilets jaunes" — or yellow vests — protesters with Dr Chris Reynolds, Associate Professor in Contemporary French and European Studies at the Nottingham Trent University.

READ MORE: 'What Starts Out Small — Grows Big' — Dutch 'Yellow Vests' Activist on Protests

Sputnik: The protests that started as a response to fuel taxes hike turned into grand-scale demonstrations that hit not only France, but other nations as well. Why has the protest movement amplified like this?

Dr Chris Reynolds: The increase in the cost of fuel really has just been the last straw for a section of the French population that has become increasingly frustrated with the political class in France. This is not something's that just started under Emmanuel Macron. This is something that's been going on for some time, but even Macron's appointment as president needs to be understood in those terms, the fact that he came from nowhere with a new political force, very young, inexperienced. In some respects that was the population's refusal to go with the dominant political elite. So in some respects he was a gamble mirrored by the general French population and for the first 18 months it would've appeared that he was quite popular, doing quite well, but in the background there was a growing frustration building within the French population, and the fuel tax hike has been the straw that's broken the camel's back and revealed that there's a real deep sense of malaise within the French society towards the political elite.

Sputnik: We know that Donald Trump has recently put on record his unhappiness and grumbled via Twitter about France's ineptitude to deal with the protests and Paris promptly advised the US leader to mind his own business, so to speak. Why is the US leader concerned about the situation in one of these sovereign countries in Europe, in France, what's your belief on that?

Dr Chris Reynolds: I would second the French response to that. I don't think they need to be receiving lessons from Donald Trump. That needs to be understood in terms of the interesting relationship that's been established between Macron and Trump since Macron came to power. You know, they kind of started out as some sort of bromance between the two, but more recently has seen Macron, without any fear, openly criticising Donald Trump in terms of his nationalist drive, talking about the rise of populism and drawing explicit links between populist politics and the rise of Donald Trump at the same time, and we know Donald Trump doesn't take kindly to criticism.

So, I think it's a bit of a cheap shot in terms of Trump and his gloating in the face of what's happening in France at the moment. And we've seen a similar thing in some of the press coverage in the UK too. Some Brexiteers are drawing a comparison between what's happening in France and saying are we sure we want to be in the European Union if this is what we're going to get. So we have to put these things in context and try to understand them in terms of the sort of petty, competitive nature of politics which is, unfortunately, becoming increasingly prominent today.

Sputnik: Another facet of this particular political event is that the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy point on record and also eyeing a political comeback, how do you assess his prospects amid the on going turmoil? How much push forward could Mr Macron's troubles give to his opponents? It's an interesting one, this with regard to Nicolas Sarkozy raising his head saying he wants to have a political comeback, he wasn't the most favourite of presidents either within France. So, I wouldn't have thought the French people are particularly excited about his potential return?

Dr Chris Reynolds: No, not at all. I think I laughed out loud when I read some of his statements about saying this is an opportunity for him to come back and somehow be the saviour of France. You're right, he was extremely unpopular and you can't see how a movement such as this is going to turn to someone like Nicolas Sarkozy as the response to this. In many respects, it was the performance of Sarkozy during his time in l'Elysee, which contributed to the conditions that facilitated the emergence of Emmanuel Macron.

It was exactly an opposition to dominant political figures like Nicolas Sarkozy that French people started to look elsewhere beyond the political elite. So, the idea that somehow he would provide the answer to this needs to be challenged. This is the thing about the "gilets jaunes" — or yellow vests movement — it's a very disparate moment. It kind of runs from the extreme left over to the extreme right, but I mean I wouldn't want to overplay the role of extremists on either side of it. But I'm sure there are some elements within the "gilets jaunes" movement who would look to Sarkozy, but if he was to make a return off the back of the "gilets jaunes" I would be very, very surprised indeed.

READ MORE: Amid Macron's Attempt to ‘Defuse' Yellow Vests, French Left Seeks Opportunity

Sputnik: What's your particular take on what will happen now to the French leader? Some experts are saying that his position is very, very flimsy and weak and they would not be surprised if a new French leader was actually put into the throes to replace him very quickly now, how secure is his position as the nation's president do you think?

Dr Chris Reynolds: I would temper one's interpretation of this as a potential for Macron to be ousted. I mean, never rule out anything in France. That's the first lesson, but at the same time, it's very early stages to consider him being replaced and replaced by who is the question I would ask as well. I would say he's reached a moment which is really difficult in his time in l'Elysee as the French president. It's as almost as if the first phase has now come to an end.

He's had his sort of extended honeymoon period when he was able to surf the wave of the popularity that brought him to power, but now he's come up against the inevitable protest and kick back to reforms that he was always going to put in place. He's going to have to make a change and he is going to have to respond, but given his political astuteness up until this point I would imagine that he will respond accordingly and will see this crisis through, but again, one never really knows. And in terms of where this places him in the European context, I think we need to be very clear here that this is not simply a French phenomenon. This is just the French manifestation of a worldwide, global distrust of politics and a real rising sense of frustration.

The views and opinions expressed by the speaker do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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