Yellow Vests movement raises disturbing questions for European democracies

Hazem Saghieh
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The cultural life in Europe in general and France in particular is abuzz with intellectual chatter and intense debate. Intellectuals of all ideological stripes are busy pondering upon what has happened in France in the wake of the Yellow Vests movement, its demands and ensuing violence.

Proposals and suggestions have been pouring in from the far left through to the far right schools of political thought. French intellectuals and economists like Thomas Piketty, former Greek Minister Yanis Varoufakis and noted philosopher and sociologist Edgar Morin, etc. have been analyzing the situation and are offering solutions to address the issues.


The prospective fall of Macron’s France could be critical for the country, particularly amid the power of the right-wing forces represented by Marine Le Pen and leftist populism represented by Jean-Luc Melenchon

Hazem Saghieh

Threat to liberal democracy

There are a lot of questions especially among those who fear that the liberal democratic character of France is under threat. The prospective fall of Macron’s France could be critical for the country, particularly amid the power of the right-wing forces represented by Marine Le Pen and leftist populism represented by Jean-Luc Melenchon. Conditions across the European continent further exacerbate the situation as mystery surrounds the future of Britain following Brexit. Germany’s future also appears unclear, particularly after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s term ends. Meanwhile Italy is already being governed by a right-wing and populist coalition.

In fact, the rest of the continent is not necessarily far from what has happened in France. For example, thousands of Turks demonstrated in Diyarbakir city in the southeast of the country protesting against rising prices. Crossing the Atlantic, many Canadian cities are also witnessing demonstrations similar to the Yellow Vests movement.

The term “two peoples” which has been echoed to refer to certain cases reflects deep divisions that may impact the unity of several countries and may reflect a review of the social contract, or even the drafting of a new one. The main issue which cannot be avoided: globalization produced unprecedented wealth. However, it is associated with an extremely unfair system in wealth distribution.

Endemic unemployment

What worsens the situation is that it seems that old and outdated economic sectors, both agricultural and industrial, have stopped creating job opportunities. This is due to marginalization resulting from globalization. As a result, vast segments of the population fall into the fold of unemployment and destitution. Therefore, the emerging globalized economy which generates enormous wealth lacks the capability to create sufficient jobs.

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This creates a dilemma which is not easy to solve verbally or via demagogy by accusing refugees and migrants of causing the problem. Demands to halt the process of economic globalization and other facets of globalization is an illusion that does not “resolve” present and future problems by proposing to go back to the past. However, what is necessary is the integration of economic globalization with political and institutional globalization, which might be achieved by unifying certain laws, especially in advanced capitalist countries.

The latest French experience indicates, for example, that raising taxes on rich people is essential for achieving Macron’s reforms that break traditional French bureaucracy and enhance the country’s commercial competitiveness. However, raising these taxes, which mitigate the suffering of poorer sections that cannot afford the cost of these reforms, will definitely lead to the flight of investment and capital from France. Thus, unifying the tax code and shutting down tax havens and not receiving fleeing capitals, at least in the European Union countries are a precondition for integrating the two demands, which are developing the French economy and not making the poor alone bear the price of this development.

This issue might have become the most important concern in public life, not only in France, but in many countries living through similar experiences that may worsen and become worrying and dangerous.

This article is also available in Arabic.
Hazem Saghieh is a Lebanese political analyst and the political editor of the London-based Arab newspaper al-Hayat.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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