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Tuesday 20th March 2018

Is the “Yellow Vest” Movement Witnessing a Split?


Ahmed Nadhif

Thu, 13 Dec 2018 15:52 GMT

After four consecutive weekends of protests that have turned into a nightmare, France and its president, Emmanuel Macron, are holding their breath for what might happen over the coming weekend of December 15th.

Following a month of turmoil in which a movement known as the “Yellow Vests” rampaged through Paris and other French cities, President Macron addressed the nation on December 10th, offering a raft of measures to mollify the protesters. The movement, which kicked off in mid-November as a revolt against a fuel tax increase, has snowballed into an angry rebuke of President Macron and his government’s policies, which failed to consider the forgotten middle class.

Macron's speech detailed an increase in the minimum wage workers would receive in their pockets each month (100 euros, or $113), a one-off end of year bonus, an abolition of taxes on overtime pay and an exemption from certain social security taxes for retirees who earn less than 2,000 euros a month.

In response to the speech, many of the protesters expressed disappointment and called for new demonstrations this weekend in the French capital. Bono Ghaleira, a truck driver and one of the early protesters, said Macron's proposals fell far short of middle class needs. "His concessions are not enough to make us go back home. He just made offers to the working class but the middle class' demands are still not addressed," he said, adding that the movement will go on with its protests until sufficient measures are proposed.

On the other hand, some notable figures among the “Yellow Vest” protesters showed implicit acceptance of Macron's proposals. Jacqueline Moro, one of the “Yellow Vest” leaders, called for a truce, saying that the protesters cannot remain on the streets for ever and that Macron's proposed measures could help defuse the crisis.

Following the terrorist attack that hit the Christmas market in the north-eastern city of Strasbourg on December 11th, Macron urged the people to adopt self-control. Benjamin Griveaux, the government spokesman, also urged “Yellow Vest” protesters to refrain from holding another round of demonstrations this weekend, citing the strain on security forces on high alert after the terror attack.
"In the wake of the Strasbourg attack, it would be better if everyone could go about their business calmly on Saturday (December 15th) , before the year-end celebrations with their families, instead of demonstrating and putting our security forces to work once again," he said.

Ramy Al-Talgh, a political science researcher based in Paris, sees that the proposals made by President Macron on December 10th led to a degree of disagreement, if not a split, among the “Yellow Vest” movement which kicked off as a revolt over social services and wage demands and then escalated to acquire a political dimension when some of the left-wing opposition members joined it.

"Those who see that Macron's concessions are enough won't take to the streets again but others will continue to revolt, feeling that their demands have not been yet addressed. Some political powers from right-wing and left-wing opposition groups are trying to take advantage of the movement to achieve political gains by weakening Macron's government," Al-Tagh said.

The measures which Macron proposed seem insufficient to appease the anger of many in the French movement. A poll conducted by Odoxa Institute for Le Figaro newspaper showed that 54% of those surveyed wanted the protests to continue. However, this does not mean that they will take to the streets again as they did over the past four weeks. Macron's proposals will not ultimately put an end to the protests but will reduce their intensity and partly quell public anger.