On Saturday, February 2, 2019, a good 58,000 French took to the streets with the yellow vests, mostly but not always peacefully. “Act XII“, the demonstrators now call it, as in a play. “Act I” on 17 November 2018 counted 288,000 people.
Photo by ev on Unsplash
First, France’s President Emmanuel Macron did not react to this revolt at all, then with tax rebates – and finally with le grand débat, his series of discussions across the country, last weekend in Evry near Paris. At the same time, Macron is flirting with the idea of a referendum, which is what many yellow vests are demanding.
But what is this referendum supposed to be about – parliamentary reform? An abolition of the Senate, the second chamber of the country? Or about Europe, voting perhaps on the same day, 26 May, when the French go to the European elections?
The last time the French were asked about Europe, the pro-Europeans in France went awfully wrong: on 29 May 2005, over 55 percent of voters rejected the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe. The treaty never recovered, the Treaty of Lisbon saved fragments in 2007.
So what does Macron want to put to the French as a question? Having already captured her irritated state of mind half a year before his election in May 2017: “What feeds the anger or rejection of our fellow citizens is the certainty that power is in the hands of rulers who no longer resemble them, who no longer understand them, who do not care about them”. To be read in Macron’s programmatic book “Révolution” of November 2016, on page 244 of the French edition.
France is a disrupted country, not only since yesterday, but widely visible, since every weekend the yellow vests wind up with the roundabouts before and onto the streets in the cities. Les Invisibles, the invisibles, the media called them: How right, they came out of nowhere.
How wrong: Sociologists and geographers have known for a long time about these little people’s fears about the future – and the national statistical office Insee knew it too. The politicians, the parties, the trade unions should have known, must have known what a speed limit and a petrol price increase would do in the poky budget of these ordinary people “out in the country”.
The demands of the yellow vests may since then range from more tax justice to the abolition of the republic: In the hard core they sound strikingly similar to what many Englishmen wanting to leave the EU are claiming: “I want to have my say”, “let us take back control” – that is how it sounds up and down France, too.
The invisible simply want to have a voice in the democratic debate. After all, the president has understood that. By the way, Macron knew it beforehand – but has apparently forgotten all about since his election. His great “dialogue with the citizens” resumes where the election campaigner Macron once surprised everyone. As President, unfortunately, he disappointed many of his fellow fellow citizens.
Now follows Macron III, who learned one thing from Act I to XII: Only an open debate from equal to equal will still be able to save the damaged republic in the country of the égalité. For the near future, France will become a huge laboratory of democracy.