November 18, 2019
Is Macron facing another uprise against elites?
The gilets jaunes may have lost strength over the past year, but this does not make them harmless. Celebrating their first anniversary, they gathered at roundabouts in cities across France with violent clashes breaking out in Paris. The turnout was only a tenth of what it used to be. Still, the concerted response from the government and the announcements of new measures for hospitals this week show that the executive is on high alert. After all, we are in the run-up to the December start of open-ended strikes organised by trade unions against the pension reform. The government has an interest to take the heat out of the air before this turns into another wave of publicly-supported rejection of the government, and ultimately of Emmanuel Macron.
What still unites the French public is rejection of the elites. How the government communicates and how far they will bend to meet various demands will define whether or not the anti-elite sentiment will gather momentum. The last thing the government can afford is to be perceived as arrogant in its public discourse. And, in terms of measures, finding the right balance between carrots and sticks will continue to be a challenge.
The battle will be won not on the streets but with those who stayed at home. The 1995 strikes showed that public opinion is the decisive factor for a strike to succeed or fail. Will Emmanuel Macron and his government convince the people that they have learned the lesson from the gilets jaunes last year? Several officials went on air to come out strongly against the violence on display at Place d'Italie last Saturday. At the same time the government is promising bold measures for hospitals and soft-pedalling on pension reform, saying everything is negotiable except the end of special pension regimes.
Focusing too much on the violence rather than the low turnout the government fails to address the underlying mistrust, warns l'Opinion in an editorial. And, by giving in to the hospital staff, it can prompt new demands from police forces or train conductors. The battle for the public opinion is not over yet.