Back in 2010, when I learned that the EU parliament had voted for a European smoking ban, I ceased believing in the European “project”. For it seemed to me that if you deliberately organise a society to exclude large numbers of your own citizens, you have more or less guaranteed its failure. And given a high smoking prevalence in eastern and southern Europe (30% or more) , it seemed to me most likely that a smokers’ revolt against the EU would most likely start in those places, and spread elsewhere. And it would start in traditional, conservative, rural areas outside progressive, modern cities.
And to some extent it has, given the rise of populism in Poland, Hungary, Greece and now Italy. I’ve been a bit puzzled at the absence of such populism in Spain, but this may be beginning to rectify itself.
The Socialists (PSOE) — which have ruled the southern region uninterrupted for 36 years — came in first but could lose their grip on power if parties on the right team up against them.
With over 99 percent of the ballots counted, the PSOE won 33 seats out of 109 — down 14 from the last election in 2015. The far-right Vox party won 12 seats.
And now we have the gilets jaunes/Yellow Vest insurrection in France, which seems to be a traditional, conservative, rural revolt against progressive, modern, metropolitan France.
…employment and wealth have become more and more concentrated in the big cities. The deindustrialised regions, rural areas, small and medium-size towns are less and less dynamic. But it is in these places – in “peripheral France” (one could also talk of peripheral America or peripheral Britain) – that many working-class people live.
It is in this France périphérique that the gilets jaunes movement was born. It is also in these peripheral regions that the western populist wave has its source. Peripheral America brought Trump to the White House. Peripheral Italy – mezzogiorno, rural areas and small northern industrial towns – is the source of its populist wave.
It seems that in France it has become a revolt against the progressive, modern, metropolitan person of Emmanuel Macron.
For Emmanuel Macron seems to be the very embodiment of modern, progressive, globalist. He’s an antismoker who wants to make the French people stop smoking. He’s a global warming alarmist who wants the French to stop using both cars and nuclear power. And he’s also in favour of the Islamization of France. And he has what seems to be a profound contempt for the French people.
Since entering political life, Macron’s remarks have not only revealed a contempt for the French population, but also have multiplied. That has not helped. As early as 2014, when Macron was Minister of the Economy, he said that the women employees of a bankrupt company were “illiterates”; in June 2017, just after becoming president, he distinguished between “those who succeed and those who are nothing”. More recently, he told a young man who spoke of his distress at trying to find a job, that he only had to move and “cross the street”. During a visit to Denmark, he announced that the French were “Gauls resistant to change”.
Such contempt for their own peoples is perhaps one of the principal hallmarks of the European political class, who do not see themselves as representatives of their peoples so much as their well-educated, aristocratic superiors and guides and teachers. But in Macron this arrogance and conceit seems to be unusually overt and strident. And this may have made him into something of a lightning conductor for French grievances.
And since Macron refuses to back down in the face of this populist revolt, he may end up exacerbating matters in ways that a less confrontational politician would not. He is apparently considering declaring a state of emergency. It does not bode well for him that French police have been siding with the protests. And the protests would seem in many places to have resulted in a breakdown of free movement of goods.
Big-box retailers have been hurt by the demos and blockages throughout the country, with customers denied access to some hypermarkets and supermarkets for entire days at a time…
The impact on toll roads is harder to quantify, as demonstrators have been regularly opening them to let cars pass freely.
Whatever the outcome, it would seem that grass-root populism (it seems that the Yellow Vests have been self-organised using social media on the internet, and aren’t aligned with any political parties) has arrived in France, and is spreading elsewhere. And could well explode in the new year:
Macron has maintained that he will not back down from his progressive climate change agenda and fuel duty will rise again in the new year.
Meanwhile, at the UN climate change summit in Poland which Macron will no doubt attend, the old guard in the form of David Attenborough have been declaring:
“Right now we are facing a manmade disaster of global scale, our greatest threat in thousands of years: climate change,” he said. “If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”
Macron believes in global warming: the gilets jaunes do not.