Far from united in their demands, the protestors and their grievances represent a range across the political spectrum.
Despite a vaccination rate of 77 percent, the French government has continued to implement, and sometimes escalate, the current series of Covid-19 restrictions. These restrictions, some of which include the use of a mask and a mandatory vaccine/health pass to enter public spaces, have slowly but significantly enraged a section of the French population.
After weeks of brewing sentiment, which included several protests in the capital, and influenced by the Canadian “Freedom Convoy”, the French have launched one of their own. Different vehicles gathered in the southern city of Nice and drove through the country over two days – to ultimately blockade Paris. Some of the convoy claimed that they would drive north towards Brussels to protest at the European Parliament as well.
However, the government responded swiftly, and the convoy was banned in both cities. French Prime Minister Jean Castex defended the government's position: “The right to demonstrate and to have an opinion are a constitutionally guaranteed right in our republic and in our democracy. The right to block others or to prevent coming and going is not.”
Despite this, the convoy, though significantly lower in number, made headway and managed to gather and clash with police at the Champs-Elysee this weekend.
Approximately 7,200 police units were deployed across the city and its peripheries to block the entry of the vehicles. They managed to block more than 500 vehicles from entering and fined more than 300. Further reports cite the arrest of 14 individuals carrying an array of improvised weapons.
While the French group has indeed acknowledged that they are influenced and inspired by the Canadian group, not all of the politics are aligned; their demands extend past ending the restrictions. The Canadians have been associated with groups like QAnon and general far-right protests against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's policies.
Regarding the Covid-19 restrictions, one member in the French Convoy explained that it is not just a French issue but a European one at large. He says: “Our work is to communicate to Europe that putting in place a health pass until 2023 is something the majority of our fellow citizens cannot understand.”
Another said: “I am here today with a certain number of citizens who are becoming aware that we’ve been at war with a virus since the beginning. We are being robbed of a lot of freedoms under pretexts that have nothing scientific and even less medical.”
The French Convoy, while also carrying banners with obscure statements such as “free our children” and “unmask us” also includes many “Yellow Vest” protesters with varying demands.
Prior to the pandemic, members of the “Yellow Vest” movement had mobilised close to 100,000 people in the capital city as a general protest of rising living and energy costs, amongst other frequently changing policies. However, it has become apparent that there is difficulty uniting the two protests under the same banner.
Anti-vax, anti-Macron, or both?
By and large, the French president has been contentious throughout his five-year term. However, despite much of the population's general disdain for him and the series of protests (both past and present) against his policies and more widely, his leadership, he still seems to be leading in the general polls for the upcoming presidential election.
He is currently polling at roughly 25 percent, with far-right candidate Marine Le Pen as the close second at 17 percent, followed by Valarie Pecresse, a centre-right candidate (more to the right) at 15 percent, and Eric Zemmour, a significantly contentious candidate called out for his racism, at 13 percent.
His main competition, Marine Le Pen, playing on the ongoing events, said that the French Convoy is “another form of the ‘Yellow Vest’ demonstrations.” However, many of the actual participants have stated the contrary, considering the “Yellow Vest” protests had a much wider base and were centrally focused on economic issues.
It begs the question: If so many are vehemently against his policies, health, economic, and otherwise, how is Macron still leading the polls of an election that he has been thus far predicted to win?
With the current polls in consideration, it seems all other candidates have minimal traction, with only four of more than 10 candidates polling in the double digits, not one of whom would really serve the interests of the “Yellow Vest” movement.
The Left is dispersed amongst almost too much of a plurality to decide on, and the centre and right are dominated by problematic candidates all running on similar platforms.
This implies that, yes, indeed, there is more than half of the population drenched in fragmentation. Unification, to some extent, of left-wing political parties would serve to offer a reasonable alternative to a seemingly divided population.
The country, faced with constant fears of immigration, inflation, and curbed civil liberties, has created a number of avenues for people and political groups to diverge in their approach.
A candidate who can accommodate and reconcile both sides of this divisively split population is needed. The country is at risk, mainly, of falling to the far-right, or worse still for many, being run by the same person at whom they are so keen to express their anger.
The upcoming elections will serve as a platform for those against the current leadership to offer an alternative status quo. One that will appease both the “Yellow Vest” grievances as well as considering those of the Freedom Convoy.
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