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    Grassroots Movement: Do Yellow Vests Have Backers in French Establishment?

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    The yellow vests movement is unlikely to force French President Emmanuel Macron to resign unless protesters have powerful backers within France's political circles, Italian journalist Daniele Pozzati told Sputnik.

    There are no doubts about the grassroots nature of the ongoing "yellow vests" protests, however, one should not underestimate the possibility of a split within the French political establishment, Munich-based Italian journalist and political analyst Daniele Pozzati told Sputnik.

    "Last October, [conservative Italian journalist Maurizio] Blondet pointed out that a series of resignations at the highest level of French government had left Macron struggling to fill vacant posts, due to the reluctance of French senior politicians to associate their names with an apparently doomed presidency. This was before yellow vests came along," he recalled.

    He highlighted that the protests were well-arranged, with all types of social media platforms being used. "By wearing an instantly recognisable, bright coloured street-uniform, the protestors make a visual, media-friendly impact", Pozzati said, adding that his first impression was that the protests resembled nothing so much as a so-called "color revolt."    

    Ruling out an "external factor", the Italian journalist suggested that apparently, part of the French establishment could side with the protesters.

    He referred to a 3 December interview with Christophe Chalencon, spokesman for the yellow vests in Vaucluse, on Europe 1 radio station. In the interview, Chalencon called for the resignation of the government of Edouard Philippe and the appointment of General de Villiers to his position.

    "Interestingly, General Pierre de Villiers resigned as the chief of staff of the French Armed Forces on July 2017, shortly after Macron was elected as the French president", Pozzati said. "De Villiers resigned in protest against Macron's cuts to the French defence budget".

    Pozzati has also called attention to the fact that some policemen, firemen, as well as soldiers, joined the protesters.

    "If yellow vests do turn into a successful political movement, they will clearly receive help and encouragement from some very powerful circles — but certainly not the finance, media and pro-EU political elites", he presumed. "Significantly, the yellow vests' political program includes Frexit and leaving NATO. We need to ask who, apart from common people, would benefit from such a program. The answer to this question will give us vital clue as to who, within the French establishment, may be backing yellow vests".

    French President Emmanuel Macron chairs a cabinet meeting in Charleville-Mezieres, northeastern France, Wednesday, Nov.7 2018
    © AP Photo / Etienne Laurent
    French President Emmanuel Macron chairs a cabinet meeting in Charleville-Mezieres, northeastern France, Wednesday, Nov.7 2018

    Macron is Still Backed by EU Leadership

    Still, Pozzati does not believe that French President Emmanuel Macron's days "are numbered".

    "Macron might be in troubled waters. But his backers aren't," the journalist said. "The EU Commission has already green-lighted the 3 percent budget deficits Macron needs to try to appease yellow vests protestors. It's the same commission that forced Italy's Eurosceptic government to reduce its planned deficits down to 2.02 per cent, from the 2.4 per cent Rome initially envisaged".

    It appears that the French president has the most powerful allies in the most powerful places — particularly in the EU, finance and media, he opined.

    "Hence, his days are not numbered unless some yellow vests' powerful backers decide not to let Macron off the hook — until he leaves," Pozzati suggested.

    Italians Surprised by the Scale of Protests in France

    Meanwhile, Rome is watching how things are unfolding in neighbouring France. There is a great deal of tension between Paris and Rome over the issue of migration,  specifically from Libya, the Italian journalist remarked, adding that the Italian government avoids interfering in French affairs.

    However, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini told Rai 3 TV on 9 December that President Emmanuel Macron was to blame for the yellow vest protests: "History will probably show that if (Macron) had focused more on the French and less on Salvini and Italy, he would have a few less problems today".

    For their part, Italian observers are really surprised by the scale and intensity of protests in France, Pozzati underscored: "Many, including on mainstream media, now admit that the euro has indeed impoverished large sects of the European population, not just in Italy, but also in France — and possibly even in Germany".

    The question then arises as to how the yellow vests unrest may affect French foreign policy, including the Italian-French struggle for control over Libya as well as Macron's military ventures in Syria.

    According to the journalist, "it will have no effect because Macron will still be backed by the EU, and the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will still look for, and likely receive, Trump's and Putin's support".

    "Hence, in Libya, it will be business as usual for France and Italy", he foresees.

    Italian Interior Minister and right-wing League leader Matteo Salvini, gestures as he arrives for a lunch at an hotel in Milan, Italy, Monday, July 2, 2018. The leader of the right-wing party in Italy's populist government told tens of thousands of supporters Sunday he wants to turn next year's European Parliament election into a referendum on immigration and job security
    © AP Photo / Luca Bruno
    Italian Interior Minister and right-wing League leader Matteo Salvini, gestures as he arrives for a lunch at an hotel in Milan, Italy, Monday, July 2, 2018. The leader of the right-wing party in Italy's populist government told tens of thousands of supporters Sunday he wants to turn next year's European Parliament election into a referendum on immigration and job security

    Why Yellow Vest Protests Won't Engulf Italy

    While the yellow vest protests have already spilled over to some other countries, Pozzati rules out the possibility of a similar uprising in Italy.

    "Impoverished, disgruntled Italians have already revolted against their pro-EU elites by voting in power a Eurosceptic government," he said. "So far, Italy's new government has delivered on tighter immigration control. It has allowed a parliamentary discussion on the UN Global Compact on Migration — unlike other European governments that jumped to approve it. It has fought against the EU over a post-austerity budget which introduced new forms or welfare".

    In addition, the Italian government initiated a more independent foreign policy aimed at defending Italian interests, particularly business interest, abroad, he highlighted.

    'EU Leadership Has No Answers to Challenges Europe is Facing'

    Given the ongoing rise of the right and the spread of yellow vest and anti-migration protests, can we expect some sort of a shift in European policies?

    "No, we can't, because the European elites have reached a point of no return," the journalist presumed. "Take a look at the latest wave of anti-Russian hysteria on French mainstream media. They are trying to blame Russia for, you've guessed it, the yellow vests protest. Truly, the European elites have no answers for challenges European countries are facing".

    The journalist pointed out that there have been several attempts to unify Europe through history.

    "They all failed, one way or the other and the EU, if it continues this way, will be no exception", he predicted.

    The views and opinions expressed by the contributor and speaker are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    establishment, protests, Yellow Vests, European Commission, Matteo Salvini, Philippe de Villiers, Emmanuel Macron, Italy, Europe, Russia, France, Libya
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