Faced with people’s wrath for weeks, Paris has put new fuel taxes on hold to mitigate the protests and violence sweeping France. Protesters say the real problem lies in the government that has lost touch with its people.
For the past three weeks, France has been gripped by massive nationwide protests that saw hundreds of thousands taking to the streets. The rallies against the new taxes, which were expected to lead to fuel prices hikes, peaked into major clashes between police and protesters, reaching levels of violence unseen for decades in France.
Street violence left hundreds of people injured and led to hundreds of arrests. Face with unabated public rage, the French government even mulled imposing a state of emergency but eventually decided to partially concede to the protesters’ demands and suspend the introduction of a new tax for six months.
Whether such measure will be enough to quiet the clamor is, however, unclear, as the problem seems to run deeper than just an economic discontent. RT France has spoken to protesters to learn what woes have brought them out into the streets.
‘Respond to the nation!’
The government has to “put humane attitude first, and not the money,” said one Yellow Vest, who thinks that the policies of the French authorities have made lives of the people miserable. People struggle to make ends meet only to find out that they are actually “privileged because they at least have a job.”
The ordinary people feel neglected by the government, which seemingly does not care for what they think and prefers to push its own initiatives that “have nothing to do with the will of the people” instead.
“We would prefer to be at work, than to find ourselves on the streets shouting, hoping for nothing,” another protester said. It appears that what people really want is an open and honest dialogue with the authorities.
“Respond to the nation, listen to the people, go out in public … tell us something!” a demonstrator called on President Emmanuel Macron, who has so far refused to directly address the people.
Meanwhile, the public discontent with Macron’s government is apparently growing and the reconciliation measures proposed by the authorities so far might in fact not work as planned. Some of the protesters particularly said that they are not satisfied with the government plans to discuss the tax issue only with certain representatives of the Yellow Vest movement – an umbrella group behind the fuel protests.
“[Talking] to a representative of the Yellow Vests is good but, at the moment, [the government] needs to address the people … on the streets, not the trade unions … but the people, who have taken to the streets to make sure that Macron is aware of what is happening,” one of the protesters said.
Amid the public discontent, Macron, who was already once nicknamed “the president of the rich,” continues to lose the public backing as many protesters accuse him of losing the touch with his people and living in his own lavish world.
Government has ‘no idea’ about how people live
“[Macron] should leave his shell,” a demonstrator said, adding that the president preferred travelling abroad to talking to his people. Others openly accused him of putting all the tax burden on the ordinary people while making exemptions for his wealthy “friends.”
“What he [Macron] does not want is to tax [big companies] … [the French oil giant] Total that does not pay taxes in France … There are rich people, who are getting richer and richer and pay less taxes. In the end, the Yellow Vests, who can barely provide for themselves, see that something has to be done,” an elderly woman said.
“I am here because we all want one thing: [we want] Mr. Macron to step down. Almost 80 percent [of the population] does not support him,” one man said, accusing the president of an “overgrown ego.” He also added that the government apparently “has not a vaguest idea … about our life.”
“They just do not know” how the ordinary people live, he said. The recent polls, meanwhile, showed that some two thirds of the French support the Yellow Vest protesters.
The reforms launched by the Macron government indeed hit large parts of the French society. What started as fuel protests was at some point joined by students opposing new university admission criteria, as well as ambulance workers, who said the government literally strips them of any means of existence.
Under the proposed medical reform, small enterprises delivering ambulance services to various French clinics and hospitals would have to compete for contracts with large companies. The ambulance workers argue that such situation, coupled with rising fuel prices, would either reduce their incomes to zero or force them out of business altogether.
Risk of ‘social upheaval’
Now, all these social groups are seemingly uniting in their opposition to the government. However, the authorities still appear to be reluctant to take their demands at face value. The protests might have in fact been hijacked by some “organized radical groups that have nothing to do with the demonstrators themselves,” Yves Blein, a MP from Macron’s ‘Republic on the move!’ (LREM) party, told RT.
The lawmaker admitted that the dialogue with society is important but still said that some proper “conditions” should be created before the authorities should engage into the talks with the people to avoid the influence of the “radicals.”
Meanwhile, an independent MP, Jean Lassale, said that the government has to act quickly and be ready to make concessions to avoid social fallout.
“The answer is in being ready to a dialogue,” he said.
“One has to back down. Otherwise, there will be a social upheaval,” Lassale warned, expressing his concerns that “there is a risk that the differences will not be reconciled.”
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