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    A protestor wearing a yellow vest (gilet jaune) and with a French President Emmanuel Macron mask poses on the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris on December 8, 2018 during protest against rising costs of living they blame on high taxes.

    Macron Underestimates Depth of Malaise in French Society - Prof on Yellow Vests

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    French President Emmanuel Macron urges in open letter the French to take part in a three-month nationwide debate after tens of thousand "yellow vest" protesters took to the streets across the country for the ninth consecutive weekend. It is expected that debate will focus on such topics as taxes, public spending and environmental reform.

    Sputnik discusses the issue with Professor Chris Reynolds from Nottingham Trent University

    Sputnik: Do you think the three-month consultation scheduled to begin tomorrow will have any impact on the Yellow Vest movement?

    Chris Reynolds: Well I do think it will have some impact. For those people who are seeking for an opportunity to express themselves; so there is an element of the Yellow Vest movement which is basically fed up with not being consulted on the decisions that affect their own lives. And that's kind of one of the underpinning demands of the Yellow Vest movement.

    So for those elements, yes this will certainly have an impact. But there elements within the movement, or people who have tagged themselves on to the movement that wouldn't be satisfied with anything that Macron has to offer. So I wouldn't have thought that the demonstrations that have taken place will come to a complete halt but I do think that this extended consultation offers and opportunity to take the ‘sting' out of it somewhat.

    READ MORE: Rage Across France: Over 200 Arrested in 'Yellow Vests' Protests (PHOTO, VIDEO)

    Whether or not it will solve the Yellow Vest movement protests, I'm not convinced, that will depend on the outcomes of the consultation. So it's quite an innovative response from Macron, and I think it's very interesting that he's done this. And it certainly responds to some of the elements of the Yellow Vest movement — whether or not that's going to bring an end to it remains to be seen.

    Sputnik: Jean-Luc Melanchon has commented that the consultation is a ‘diversion' and he sees it as no different from the debate prior to the presidential election except he says this time the results of the debate will be ‘fixed' — what would you say to that?

    Chris Reynolds: Well I would expect Melanchon to say that first of all; he is a very open critic of Emmanuel Macron and anybody who would have a cynical perspective on this would, of course, see it as some sort of tactic on behalf of Macron to buy himself some time to try and take the sting out of this movement. And it does reflect what he did in the lead-up to the presidential election when he sent around his team to consult with the population to come up with sort of program for government.

    As I say, you'd expect someone like Melanchon who is critical of Macron to say that and he's not the only one to think that. However, I do think that what we'll see over the next few months during this consultation is an attempt by Macron to try to respond to some of those. But it depends on where it leads. Maybe when we get to the end of the process Melanchon will have been shown to be correct, but we'll need to get to the end of the process first.

    Sputnik: Has Macron been too heavy-handed in his approach so far?

    Chris Reynolds: I'm not sure if heavy-handed is the way I would summarise Macron's response to it. I would say that he underestimated the depth of malaise that existed in French society. I think he thought, given his success in the presidential elections — and his early successes both domestically and internationally —  that he had some sort of mandate to bring about these changes. He was after all elected on his reformist ticket. He did say that he was going to carry out these reforms.

    But I think he didn't really understand the depth of frustration and he felt he should try and ride out the early stages of this movement in the hope to see through his reforms. And he always said he would have the courage to implement the reforms that he had promised to do. I don't think he helped himself with some of his statements and his attitude; some of his patronizing and condescending remarks on the lead up to the Yellow Vest movement certainly haven't helped.

    READ MORE: France Faces Ninth Saturday of Yellow Vests Protests (VIDEO)

    Certainly, his attitude in the early stages of this movement when he was very distant; he didn't get involved, he was very quiet; he left his Prime Minister to take the flack to some extent. He's not the first President to do that, but very much putting into practice the interpretation of the sixth republic constitution.  So people were both disappointed with his policies but also frustrated by the fact that they felt that he wasn't listening to them.

    And then things were helped with the examples of police brutality and police violence which is always the case in these movements too. So it's not that he was only heavy-handed, it's much more complicated than that; if you look at the way he approached it with his attitude and the way it has taken on a life of its own, snowballed over the last few months.

    Sputnik: What kind of concessions is Macron going to have to make in order to get the Gilets Jaunes on side?

    Chris Reynolds: I'm not sure that he's ever going to get the Gilets Jaunes on side; but he has made some concessions, he scrapped the hike in the fuel tax — when you think about it, that's quite remarkable. I'm not sure that politicians in the UK would be responding to people as quickly as he has done. I also think that the Gilets Jaunes movement should consider the consultation to some extent as a success because this is the French President saying "OK, I am listening, let's have a conversation, let's have a consultation as to the things you want to see changed".

    What can he do in order to put an end to this movement? He's going to have to respond to this feeling amongst the French population that they feel as if they need to have a say. And they feel as if the system is set up to look after the very wealthy one percent whereas the rest of the normal people on the street are forced to pay high taxes and struggle to make ends meet.

    READ MORE: Yellow Vests: Salvini vs Macron

    So I don't think one particular reform is going to do it but at the end of this process if the French population feel that the changes they have forced the French President to concede, reflect their desire to feel as though they've been consulted more directly, then we might see a downturn in this movement. But anybody who tries to predict anything like this in France is making a mistake. Nobody can predict what the French are capable of when it comes to this sort of thing.

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


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