Political Crisis in France: Locked by Elites
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Jacques Sapir

Director of studies at École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris, and head of the Centre d’Étude des Modes d’Industrialisation (CEMI-EHESS).

Valdai Discussion Club

We entered a political crisis. The incidents of Saturday, November 1, the evolution of claims and slogans of the Yellow Vests prove it. These incidents are regrettable, and in a number of cases reprehensible. But the most significant violence is forcing millions of French to live in the conditions they live. This violence is intolerable, and it is for not having understood that this government and this president must now face such anger. This anger is not about to wane.

Moreover, this crisis is not without resemblance to that of May 1968. Of course, there are differences, and they are obvious. However, important similarities still exist.

The current movement began from “France périphérique” and won sympathies of the vast majority of Frenchmen. From the anti-tax claim (the tax on fuels), it evolved towards the claims of fiscal justice, then claims of purchasing power as the increase of the minimal income threshold up to 1300 euros and a serious revaluation of retirement benefits. 

These demands are likely unite of the population around the Yellow Vests in a movement where the Marseillaise is sung often than the International. The government should have been more careful. A mass movement that sings the Marseillaise means that something fundamental is happening.

The trade unions have not been mistaken there, when the attitude of mistrust transformed into an attitude of support. The clashes on November 24 and December 1 did not affect the Yellow Vests’ popularity. Nearly 72% of Frenchmen support the Yellow Vests, and more than 90% condemn the attitude of the government, which, according to them, was not up to the events.

We have thus gone from the social crisis to the political crisis with the multiplication of slogans calling for the resignation of president Macron. This is an incredible situation since May 1968.

Negotiations appear the only reasonable outcome. But does the Elysee Palace have means to negotiate? It can cede on technical measures, as did the Prime Minister Edouard Philippe. But these claims, though still present, is outdated. In fact, it is the problems of purchasing power and all the taxation that have to be reviewed in a sense of greater justice. The Yellow Vests are not ready to compromise, and the government seems deaf to their substantive claims. Currently the negotiations margins of the government are very limited because of its European and Europeistic choices.

Today we are at the same time in an obvious social crisis, in a real political crisis, but we are also confronted with a representativity crisis of the elites which governed over us for ages. A political and economic solution is needed. But such a solution will only come if we break with the framework in which France has locked itself (and has been locked by its elites) for about twenty years.

Valdai Discussion Club