News Analysis: French "yellow vest" supporters above poverty line but afraid of becoming poor

Source: Xinhua| 2018-12-16 05:31:10|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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PARIS, Dec. 15 (Xinhua) -- The anger of the "Yellow Vests" can be explained by much deeper causes than the fuel tax hike which was believed the movement's trigger, said a French expert during a recent interview with Xinhua.

The "Yellow Vests" are from social categories which are above the poverty line and which are afraid of becoming poor, according to Eddy Fougier, a professor with Sciences Po Lille, one of the most highly regarded institutes of political studies in France.

This anger has been growing for a longtime, specifically in terms of a rejection of economic, political or intellectual elites, on the grounds of a denunciation of the growth in inequality, the professor noted.

Fougier added that citizen movements that have no link to politicians or unions are rare but have already existed in France. The new aspect brought by the "Yellow Vests" movement resides notably in its "geographical importance."

"We had in France in 2013 the 'Red Caps' who protested in Brittany against a tax. But it was at a regional dimension, even regionalist with the sentiment that Brittany was once again the victim of decisions made in Paris," he recalled.

For Fougier, there was also several spontaneous unemployment movements in the 1990s, which demanded a bonus for Christmas. There as well it was a movement which only concerned the unemployed, he explained. Therefore, "the Yellow Vest movement, under this form here (diversity in the composition, use of social networks, national dimension), it's something totally unseen in France," indicated the specialist.

To explain the anger of the "Yellow Vests," Fougier distinguishes the deep causes from the fuel tax hike which triggered the movement. "There is always a trigger in these types of movements. We have seen it in different countries, the rise in the price of bread, in fuel, in public transport, or still the price to enter a university triggers very often this kind of spontaneous movement," he said.

Concerning the "Yellow Vests," it's rather the taxes on the price of fuel. But there are deeper causes without a doubt, said Fougier. According to him, it concerns a rejection of political choices which were taken by the government over the last 20 to 30 years, notably their failure on the question of unemployment. And more largely, a rejection of the elites, be they economic, political or even intellectual. A rejection which protestors explain by the fact that "these elites don't realize how the yellow vests live daily."

Fougier added that they denounce in this way two things: "the first is the growth of inequalities with a category which is favored and another category which is left out. The second critique, it's that of the bad functioning of democracy in France, which is the fact that their concerns are not taken into account by the governments, so they don't believe in politics and in political parties, and demand an improvement for democracy and social justice,"

In terms of the social categories of the "Yellow vests," the specialist underlined that all the elements for analyzing the sociology of the movement are not yet available. But everything indicates, according to him, that this movement of the "Yellow Vests" is not necessarily found in the poorest categories.

"It's not a movement of the unemployed or a movement where some are in a situation of poverty. These are the social categories which are above poverty and which are afraid of becoming poor," he said. It involves, according to Fougier, workers, salaried employees, vendors, craftsmen, farmers. The people who, "either have an employment but with rather weak incomes, or are independent, with variable incomes, as is the case for farmers and vendors, thus people very sensitive to the question of taxes."

Sociologically the "Yellow Vests" come from the suburbs, the countryside, small cities but not large cities. They are rather populations which no longer have the means to live in large cities due to the high cost of housing, he said.

"We can estimate that these are populations who earn close to that which corresponds to the average income. They cannot live in Paris, and are obliged to leave and live in the suburbs. To go to work they are obliged to take their car, therefore they have economic costs linked to fuel, which are very high," said Fougier. The taxes and the rise in fuel prices are in this way extremely negative for this social category. From this comes the trigger for the movement, analyzed the specialist in protest movements.

But even if it is previously unseen, the Yellow Vests movement presents difficulties like all social movements which have receded in recent years. The first difficulty that these movements meet is that they refuse leaders and function in a logic of equality. The result, it is very difficult for these movements to have representatives who will negotiate with the government, said Fougier, giving the example of the "yellow vests" who struggle to agree on the choice of eight delegates to represent them.

The other difficulty is the lack of structure in the movement. "It's the fact of being a little disorganized and to have not mastered the more radical elements. There is a third difficulty which is the question of relationship to politics. It's these movements which at a given moment ask the question of whether they will transform into a political movement," he said.

Fougier thought the "Yellow Vests" could force the government to take social questions into account better, but not a change of policy and even less the resignation of French President Emmanuel Macron.

If the violence continues to grow, however, and the movement continues in January, despite the holidays, "the government will be obliged to make a change, either in personnel or in policy. Because there will be European elections in 2019 and, Macron's popularity will probably be even weaker, therefore it won't continue like that," analyzed Eddy Fougier.