Protest wave risks putting Europe in long-term political turmoil

Tuesday, 2019-01-15 18:33:10
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Protesters take part in a demonstration by the "yellow vests" movement in Paris, France, January 5, 2019. (Reuters)
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NDO – The “yellow vests” demonstrations have become a “ferocious wave” rocking the politics in France and a number of European countries. In that context, stopping the protests and riots and resolving domestic disagreements and divisions are emerging as an urgent requirement at present.

The “yellow vests” (originally gilets jaunes) protests in France temporarily waned during Christmas, but have now resurged in a complicated fashion with a rapidly increasing number of participants over the past two weeks. The French Ministry of the Interior stated that last weekend, 84,000 protesters marched across France responding to the appeal of the “yellow vests” movement. Notably, Bourges has become a new “hot spot” in terms of security instability. In Paris, protests became tense after numerous clashes with the police on the Champs Elysées Avenue and around the Arc de Triomphe. In order to repel the protesters, the police had to use tear gas and water spouts.

The French media stated that the wave of protests and riots in the country has resurged since the beginning of January, after President Macron made a tough statement against the “yellow vests” movement. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said that, on January 5 alone, about 50,000 people participated in protests nationwide to criticise and call on President Macron to resign. The demonstrations turned violent when protesters marched into central Paris, throwing projectiles at the police, burning multiple cars and barricades, and smashing the office of the French government spokesperson. Over the weekend, the police had to arrest and interrogate 244 people throughout France, 156 of whom were in Paris, for “joining in groups plotting violent action”, “carrying prohibited weapons”, and “violence against security personnel”.

Thus far, the “yellow vests” protests in France have entered their ninth week, causing serious security instability and significant damage to the French economy. Since the phenomenon began in mid-November 2018, as many as 10 people have been killed and more than 1,600 have been injured at the venues blocked by the protesters in “yellow vests”. Last week, the French government had to mobilise over 80,000 police officers and gendarmerie, together with 14 armored vehicles, to prevent riots. Business activities in certain areas of Paris were heavily affected, while the Christmas sales of many firms plunged by millions of euros. France’s trade, tourism and investment sectors are and will be “victims” of riots this year.

Remarkably, the aforementioned “yellow vests” demonstrations seem to “have no signs of ending”, because they still continue even when President Macron has made several policy concessions, as required by the majority of the people. The French press cited analysts and many French people as saying that the protests are being abused by a number of political parties, gradually distorted, and aimed at large businesses.

What worries the European Union (EU) at present is that the protests and riots in France are creating a “spillover effect” and are tending to spread to many other European countries. Last weekend, a major demonstration, which was the same as the “yellow vests” movement in France, also took place in London, the United Kingdom, with hundreds of participants. The protesters marched along the central streets before gathering at Trafalgar Square to oppose the government’s austerity policies and demand a general election. Similar protests have broken out since November 2018 and are posing security challenges for the UK in the context of being just over two months away from leaving the EU. Previously, the “yellow vest” protest movement, originating from France, had also spread to a variety of countries such as Austria, Turkey, Italy and Portugal. In the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, hundreds of protesters demanding tax cuts poured down the streets, causing traffic interruptions.

The aforementioned protests all have one thing in common that they are inspired by the “yellow vests” movement in France and the protesters are dissatisfied and opposed to the government’s current policies. However, what’s most worrying is that the wave of protests has already been and is at risk of being abused by certain political parties to create divisions and long-term security and political turmoil, and hinder economic growth. Therefore, this is a “ferocious wave” that the EU leaders in general and each EU member state in particular need to be especially vigilant of and seek to resolve the disagreements in order to minimise the risk of the protests turning into long-term riots before it’s too late.