A year ago, on December 1, 2018, the Paris Champs Elysées were on fire when the gilets jaunes, the yellow vests, only wanted to protest loudly against rising gasoline taxes and reduced speed limits, but their deployment was suddenly “expropriated” and misappropriated by the black bloc of the notoriously violent masked ones. Already forgotten?
On 5 December 2019, the end of this week, thousands of people will again demonstrate in Paris, this time against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms. Yet even more so for “a certain idea of France” (Charles de Gaulle), which these demonstrators want to hold up defiantly against those up there, those out there, against the rest of the world.
A year ago the yellow vests – remember?
So is it the old Asterix complex, as the publicist Alain Duhamel once called this very French thinking and doing: Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans? No, not our village, not our protest, not our will to the power of the street.
The yellow vest has not disappeared from everyday life in France. And yet this week’s demonstrations are following a different, classic pattern.
This time it’s classic, railroadmen, metro drivers, teachers
The SNCF railway workers are demonstrating, once again, as always, well organised and managed by the trade union. The employees of the Paris transport company RATP are demonstrating, once again, as always, well organised and managed by the trade union. The teachers are marching on, once again, as always, well organised and managed by the trade union, complaining about a low level of their wages. The students have already been on the road for days, the word “student precariat” on their lips, driven also by the self-burning of a desperate student at the beginning of November in Lyon.
The pension reform announced by the government is driving them to the streets. It is President Macron’s most ambitious reform ever. France has more than forty different pension systems, with a considerable spread in payments. The French Court of Audit criticised that the average pensioner carries home around 2,200 euros – but the SNCF pensioner around 3,700€ gross, at an early age of 56.9 years for railway workers.
A pension reform, just, understandable, inexpensive?
Fairer, more manageable, more affordable – that’s what the government promises.
“Ce qui n’est pas clair n’est pas français,” is how we once learned it at school with a famous Rivarol quote, “What is not clear is not French”. The practical test, of course, looks different, at least in the case of the French pension system.A year ago, the angry ones tried to attack the president.
A year ago, the angry ones tried to attack the president
A year ago in Puy-en-Velay, the president escaped angry yellow vests only by a jackrabbit start of his chauffeur. A year ago in Paris, violent demonstrators tried to ram the gate of a ministry with a construction vehicle.
Is everything going to be different this year, more normal somehow? With the mood of many French people, especially in view of the sudden increase in violence of many citizens, one should beware of any prediction. The “erosion of trust” is reflected in opinion polls in Germany; in France, on the other hand, it erupts on the streets.
Macron has never stood out for his patience and calmness – also because he knows how little time he and his country have for overdue reforms. And because everyone in France knows that if things go wrong, Marine Le Pen will come. One or the other should have understood that in Berlin or Brussels, too.