French President Emmanuel Macron seemed to have overcome the worst of the Yellow Vest protests. One Saturday of renewed violence has put him back in crisis management mode.
Shops on Paris’s iconic Champs Elysées were torched and 200 people were arrested, prompting Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s office to note the police actions had shown “inadequacies.” Recent protests had passed largely without incident, and a “national debate” that Macron started — to allow grievances to be aired — had helped revive his battered approval rating. That debate officially ended Friday.
“There’s no question that the national debate has allowed Macron to win back a certain support and legitimacy, all the polls and studies show that,” said Florian Silnicki, founder of political communications agency LaFrenchCom. “But he’s always faced questions about his ability to keep the country safe.”
Philippe met Sunday evening with Interior Minister Christophe Castaner and Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet to discuss how to avoid a repetition of Saturday’s disturbances. Tomorrow, the prime minister will present Macron with measures he thinks will contain the situation.
The following day, Castaner and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire are scheduled to address the Senate on the violence and its economic impact. The two committees holding the joint session are both chaired by opposition parties.
Saturday’s disorder forced Macron to cut short a quick ski getaway to the Pyrenees following a tour in Africa. The president posted images on Twitter of himself holding an emergency cabinet meeting late Saturday after his return from the slopes. “I hope we take strong decisions as soon as possible so these things don’t happen again,” he wrote.
The Yellow Vests have been protesting every Saturday across France since November, with demands ranging from lower taxes to better public services. While there were dramatic scenes late last year, recent protests have been poorly attended and usually calm. Most of Saturday’s vandalism was blamed on far-left “Black Bloc” activists who tag along just to wreak havoc.
Opposition leaders including National Rally’s Marine Le Pen were quick to blame Macron for the breakdown in security.
“The black blocs destroy and burn everything, always with total impunity. Each time, at each protest, we see them arrive,” Le Pen said in an interview on France 3 TV on Sunday. “The president has allowed disorder to spread everywhere.”
Macron’s approval rating rose 4 points to 31 percent this month, its highest since September, according to an Elabe poll released March 7. It had slumped to 23 percent in December.
All this comes a little more than two months before European Parliament elections that pit parties such as Macron’s LREM that call for greater European integration against those like Le Pen’s far-right National Rally that want more power returned to national governments. Recent polls show the parties neck-and-neck or LREM having a slight advantage.
With Macron’s two-month “grand débat national” officially over, his government must now sift through the suggestions made in 10,405 local town hall meetings and 1.8 million online entries to decide which ones could be part of government policy.