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    Yellow Vests hold protests in Paris, France, on 15 December, 2018

    Prof: 'Macron’s Problem is That He Hasn't Learned to Be a Democratic Politician'

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    Yellow Vests demonstrators have demanded that popular votes be held to allow citizens to examine government policy proposals. Radio Sputnik discussed the demands with Harvey Feigenbaum, a professor of political science at George Washington University.

    Sputnik: One of the yellow vests protesters' demands are popular votes allowing citizens to examine policy proposals. Will these demands come to fruition?

    Harvey Feigenbaum: First of all you have to put this in perspective: these kinds of protests are very common in France, basically they've been going on since May ‘68, there have always been various kinds of protest against government policy. The most similar protests to the recent one occurred in 1995, when people protested the conservative government of the time, which tried to introduce budget-cutting reforms, and there's a lot of similarity between that protest and the current one.

    So generally because the French system has relatively wealth-based elections, Macron has another 3.5 years before he has to worry about elections, same for the legislature, I would really not expect any of the kinds of innovations that the protesters are asking for to happen. On the other hand, I do expect, and indeed what has happened, is the government has rolled back some of its policies which have resulted in higher taxes to people and has also moved on taking taxes away from bonuses that employees normally get at the end of the year. So I think there will be certainly some changes, but not in terms of institutional changes.

    Sputnik: There has been talk of the yellow vests' representation in next May's European elections.

    Harvey Feigenbaum: That is on the other hand much more likely. The problem that the yellow vests have is they really don't have an organization and they don't really have leadership, but some people who claim to represent the yellow vests movement have been talking about creating a party, and in that case, the polls suggest that they would do quite well.

    READ MORE: France's Macron Turns to Sarkozy For Aid Amid ‘Yellow Vests' Protests — Report

    They would, in fact, cut into the vote that would normally go to other populist parties, like the National Front, which is now called the National Rally Party, and into the left-wing populist party, led by Jean Mélenchon. So those parties would, in fact, suffer, on the other hand, the polls indicate that Macron's party would still come out the largest party in France.

    Sputnik: If we talk about the yellow vests movement in France, how united is the movement overall? Is there really a chance that they will be able to come up with candidates uniting to figure out what demands they have and who is going to represent them? Do you see them fractioning off into several groups?

    Harvey Feigenbaum: They'd have to invent an organization that they don't yet have, so it's not impossible. In Spain, you have the Indignados Movement, which did lead to the creation of the Podemos Party, which became the second largest party on the left. So it's possible for these things to happen, but right now they're not there.

    Sputnik: The protest movement has already actually spilled over to other countries; do you think it's going to be something that's going to be quite contagious, or do you think it's going to die out over Christmas?

    Harvey Feigenbaum: The big problem is that in some ways the European Union has been rather rigid in emphasizing austerity policies in a lot of its member countries, and it is largely these austerity policies that have created the kind of pain that people are reacting to. So, in a lot of countries this has spurred various kinds of populist movements, and the yellow vests is in a sense a similar kind of populist rejection of a lot of the economic pain that has been inflicted across Europe by countries largely in response to previous economic problems such as the sovereign debt crisis and the financial crisis that started 10 years ago.

    So these things have largely — and when you have, of course, the immigration issue, which has inflamed a lot of people — [made] people very upset and some of that feeling gets translated into these various protest movements of which the yellow vests is one.

    Sputnik: These started over a fuel price tax, a diesel tax protest and they've grown into discontent with politics in general. What do you think the prospects are for Macron's government? Will he be able to survive and will there be, perhaps, after Christmas, when it gets warmer and the hangovers are over, and the money has still not accrued after the holiday spending, will we see a resurgence of this, and how will this affect the French government?

    Harvey Feigenbaum: First of all you need to recognize that a lot of these the yellow vests movements are motivated by people who just don't like Macron and they don't like him, at least partially, because he has a style that's quite arrogant and tends to say things that people interpret as his disdain for voters. There is not much that puts the Macron administration in danger, because elections are so far away.

    READ MORE: Almost 180 Detained in Paris During Saturday 'Yellow Vests' Riot — Reports

    The upcoming elections for the European Union Parliament are coming up in May, but traditionally votes for the European Parliament tend to be protest votes more than anything else, and so protest parties will do better there and part of the reason they're protesting votes is because people perceive them as being unimportant, not having a real effect.

    I think Macron's real problem is that he hasn't learned to be a democratic politician yet. He needs to learn that simply being a technocrat, which is really what he is, cuts both ways. People do recognize he knows what he's doing but, on the other hand, they don't like him personally. if he can make a few more movements in the direction of learning how to be a democratic politician, which is to say showing at least some effort to be sensitive to the interests of common people, it might well be that he can recover.

    The views expressed in this article are solely those of Harvey Feigenbaum and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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