No leader, lots of anger: can France’s ‘yellow vests’ become a political force?

The government does not know who to engage with, even though the movement has drawn hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets, closing roads and fuel depots, and spurring riots and violence in the capital Paris on successive weekends.

Since Macron gave in to the movement’s main demand on Wednesday by scrapping a fuel-tax increase set for January, the “yellow vests” have also been trying to agree on other issues to fight for — from boosting household incomes to reinstating a wealth tax or ousting Macron.

He was elected promising to blow out political parties, no left, no right, to reconnect political power with the people,” Christophe Chalençon, a blacksmith from Provence in southern France who has become one of the more recognizable faces of the movement, told Reuters.

In an age of a populist backlash against globalization in the Western world, the “yellow vest” movement shares many features with other populist forces, such as the Occupy movement in the United States and Italy’s Five-Star, which now governs.

An opinion poll published by the Elabe Institute on Wednesday showed that in the presidential election in May 2017, many in the movement voted for candidates on the far-left or far-right, although many also didn’t vote.

Some government officials play down the prospects of such a diverse movement uniting as a political force.

Macron himself rose to power barely a year after creating his own movement, En Marche, in 2016 on a promise to be “neither of the left nor the right” and to introduce a new style of politics.

The “yellow vests” do not have the same education or work background as Macron — he had experience in government as a former economy minister.

“The yellow vests are a political movement, we need to stop feeling sorry for them,” Bruno Bonnell, a lawmaker in En Marche (On The Move) and an early follower of Macron, said.

His biggest threat now is from a popular national uprising that, while not associated with a political party, has elements that sympathize with the far-right and far-left and want a radical shake-up — the sort of new politics U.S. President Donald Trump and his former strategist Steve Bannon advocate.

“We can already see they (“yellow vests”) have huge appeal but this is because they are apolitical and can genuinely say they have nothing to do with political parties,” said Charles Lichfield, Europe analyst at Eurasia Group risk consultancy.

Asked to assess the “yellow vests’” chances of contesting the European Parliament elections, which are based on a system of proportional representation, Lichfield said they would first have to organize quickly and find a charismatic leader.

Done Katch’ng up but want to read more? Read more here.

Close Menu