Eighteen months ago, France’s President Emmanuel Macron ascended the highest office in the land after he swept to a resounding election victory over far-right wing politician Marine Le Pen. Yet within quite a short space, the hope that catapulted him to power has all but faded. Since November 17, 2018, France has been gripped by relentless social upheavals over Macron’s unpopular labour reforms. The trigger was the fuel hike which the Yellow Vests, a magnetic grassroots social movement, rallied the populace against.
The Yellow Vests protests and demonstrations have rocked France over the past twelve consecutive weeks, showing just how determined ordinary French people and workers vehemently oppose the Macron administration. They have dubbed Macron “President of the rich”.
But in a shocking outburst by Macron when all else seem to have failed in quelling the riots, the once-promising French leader blamed the Yellow Vests protests on the mainstream media, social networks and, you guessed it, Russia. In an interview with the weekly publication Le Point, Macron was quoted as saying the Yellow Vests leaders “are a creation of the media and social networks” and that “demonstrators are being advised from outside”. However, he refused to elaborate.
His outburst – and ludicrous finger-pointing – follow closely on his spectacular failure to reign in the Yellow Vests supporters including through draconian legislative amendment such as a new law declaring as illegal any protestor who covers his or her face. Opponents of this new law have hit back regardless, arguing that they would continue to cover their faces as long as police fires tear-gas at protesters.
Other failed attempts by Macron to end the riots include introducing higher minimum wages as well as promises to halt his unpopular fuel hike. This has fallen on deaf ears. Ordinary folks trust him no more. And then, as he runs out of the ability to comprehend the source of strife, he does what disastrous sitting heads of state do: Blame the media, and a foreigner country that really has absolutely nothing to do with citizens enraged by rising cost of living and growing fears and hardships domestically.
Macron’s domestic challenges appear to get worse nonetheless. France’s bilateral relations with neighbouring Italy are at a long-time low. This past week, Rome’s anti-establishment administration hosted two leaders of the Yellow Vests, Christophe Chalencon and Ingrid Levavasseur and a very public show of endorsement.
Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi di Maio, who hosted the pair, bragged: “The winds of change has crossed the Alps.” Antagonism between the two EU member-states has been aggravated by France’s US-aligned foreign policy. The Rome government is enraged by what some argue that too many EU member-states, including France, “fold like cheap tents” in line with the often dubious American foreign policy dictates.
As things stand, the Yellow Vests have rapidly grown quite popular in France to an extent that they have announced that they would be fielding a candidate against Macron in the looming EU elections in May. For their success, they are banking on the growing tide of rejection of Macron’s neo-liberal economic policies. And knowing just how the French voters are not beholden to individuals or party, it would not be surprising should Macron suffer a bloody nose at the imminent polls.
At this stage, Macron needs to do a major self-introspection. His approval rate has dropped and across France weekly rallies, violent street clashes and detention of hundreds of Yellow Vests protesters remains a constant reminder of French revolution in 1789. Then, following a lengthy spell of social turmoil, the Monarchy was overthrown and replaced by secular, democratic republic. To the misguided Macron, who is teetering on the brink of a fall, one may quote for Shakespeare: “Beware the Ides of March.”