Contributed from Victoria
France’s President Emmanuel Macron is making a mark on the world stage. At home it’s a different kind of mark. He raises the ire of most of his ow people. Both are the sides of the same coin, and in accord with the history of France. Take post Second World War leader De Gaulle. An autocrat at home and a fierce defender of France’s sovereignty abroad. Macron is of a similar mould.
This week, he marked out France’s independence from United States global geopolitics and launched a process of mending relations with China. He put his position as a defender of multipolarity, instead of an order of one dominant nation. He expressed a position that is strong and growing across Europe, behind the veneer of unity with the ambitions of the United States.
Photo by Ludovic Marin/AFP: Macron with China’s leader Xi Jinping
Macron is winning kudos for this stand, as well as the predictable attacks, from those on the other side of the divide.
Back home, Macron is mired in the mess created by his ramming through by decree the raising of the pension age to 64. The scale of the response out in the streets and the wave of rolling strikes, by a for once united union movement, is far more than was expected.
Hindsight can now point to the realisation that this did not come out of the blue. The French have been becoming increasingly fed up with a series of what they see as attacks on their rights. There were the conditions gave rise to the Yellow Vest movement, starting as a protest against fuel taxes and morphing into a movement about what sort of future France was going to be as a nation. This has continued to bubble away.
Associated with this has been the rise of violent policing in recent years, which has led to a few deaths, by the use of military grade weapons and over the top reactions in general to protests.
Here are a few examples.
During a recent community protest in Sainte-Soline over the building of reservoirs, police fired more than 5,000 tear gas canisters in a two hour period. At another event, a member of parliament watching a rally on the other side of the road was targeted and hit by a teargas canister. Unionists and journalists have ben targeted by the police. Even older people campaigning for pension rights have been victims. violent policing have been used to try and suppress protests against the pension change.
Photo by Lucas Barioulet/AFP: Some of those who have lost an eye from attacks by police
Police violence has not gone down well with the public, and it has deepened the growing mistrust of government. Faith in the future is taking a hammering. Macron is seen as the face of rising autocracy, and this rose by another notch after he used the article 49.3. to bypass parliament and impose the pension legislation by decree.
This is not just about Macron. He came from the now almost defunct Socialist Party and represents the wealthiest 20 percent of French society that is enjoying the benefits of the Marcon era and wishes to preserve its privileges, which it fears, are under threat.
As the old two party system began to collapse, the privileged circles around the well resourced Macron wave as the best bet for their protection. So far, they are sticking to him, and he is returning the favour. This is why he retains, at least for now, the loyalty of 27 percent of the population.
But more than two thirds of the population revile him. They have been the ones losing out and want an end to it. There are major shifts towards the Jean-Luc Melancon led France Insoumine on the left and the Marine Le Pen led Rassemblement National on the right. Each offers radical change in favour of the majority.
Macron won the last presidential election and his party just squeaked in to form a government because enough voters wanted to block le Pen. This was a recipe for more political instability, and this has now come to pass.
Macron was once seen as the key to stability and is now increasingly looking like an instrument for its undoing.
The movement against the pension reform has taken on the characteristic of a movement primarily concerned about building a future where the wellbeing of people and a caring society is the priority. This is a worthwhile cause from which the entire world can learn a lesson.