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"Yellow vests" challenge Macron!

Yellow vests challenge Macron!

When French President Emmanuel Macron won the presidential election in May, most heaved a sigh of relief. After all, the populist wave that had led the UK to leave the EU and propelled Trump to the White House appeared to have been stopped, at least in France. Macron embraced this victory and presented himself as the new leader of the free world: a champion of a newly unfashionable multilateralist, globalist vision. Having changed the French political landscape with his candidacy, which he ran on the independent ticket "En Marche," Macron promised to fix Europe, fight climate change, stand up to the US and take on the populists gaining ground elsewhere in the EU. So it is, perhaps, surprising that he should have been so slow to see the populist threat growing from within. As the "yellow vests" began appearing at roundabouts and toll booths around the country since early November, the government seemed deaf to the growing rumble of discontent. The protests, named for the yellow high-visibility jackets French motorists must carry in their vehicles, began as a reaction to an eco-tax on gas but have since morphed into a much more political protest against Macron. Even after some 282,000 people took the streets at the first mass yellow vest protest on November 17, it seemed that Macron had neither a clear strategy on what to do. This reinforced the sense of a president out of touch with the common citizen, one insensitive to their plight. After weeks of protests that turned violent, Macron eventually introduced some concessions. First, a cancellation of the tax increase that had sparked the movement. Then, a 10 billion Euro package of social reforms, including an increase in the minimum wage, aimed at helping the purchasing power of those least well-off. But by then the damage was done. The yellow vest movement, having felt it was being ignored, now felt it was winning. So why stop? But while the movement has stayed strong, it has changed in its focus and is now looking to change in its form. From a fiscal revolt to a battle over spending power, the yellow vest movement is now calling for more power to be given to "the people" through mass popular votes or "referenda d'initiative citoyenne" (RIC). Meanwhile, some yellow vests have already decided to go into politics themselves and are now preparing candidacy lists for the European elections this May. An Ipsos poll, ordered by Macron's party, showed those candidates could potentially win about 12 per cent of the vote, mainly at the expense of the far-right and far-left. Far from putting an end to the populist wave, Macron appears to have overseen its expansion.

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