Gilet jaunes protests are Macron's 'achilles heel' says expert
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Speaking to Express.co.uk, James Shields, Professor of French politics at Warwick University, explained how the group known as the ‘Yellow Vest’ movement because of the iconic hi-vis vests they don during protests have become an inescapable hangover from the Macron presidency.
The group, united in anger at the percieved bad treatment of those living in peripheral and provincial France, have thrown protests most weekends, some violent, in anger at the presidency.
Much of the Gilet Jaunes anger centres around a lack of public services and the high cost of living availiable to them, including the price of petrol in the regions, as they accuse President Macron of harbouring an out of touch, metropolitan elite in the major cities but neglecting poorer areas.
They also despise President Macron for a new tax on some pensions and the fact that the French premier had partially abolished a tax on wealth.
As a result, Professor Shields explained the group will be a key point of weakness that rival candidates at next year’s election will seek to exploit as he described the group as a “spectre that continues to haunt the Macron presidency”.
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He said: “All presidents experience unpopularity but it is the violence of this piper insurgency that has imprinted itself on the macron administration.
“This was a spontaneous protest movement that stuck at the heart of France’s government establishment.”
Professor Shields stressed how the Yellow Vest movement has therefore remained “Macron’s Achilles heel” and is a dangerous movement for Macron’s credibility.
He explained how Mr Macron’s “privileged upbringing, his arrogant manner, his past as an investment banker” and his lack of experience of elected office outside the presidency are all issues which weigh against the leader – exposed by the protests of the Gilets Jaunes.
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But the professor went further, adding how opposition candidates in the election includepoliticians who hold local and regional offices and who will project themselves as “better placed than Macron to understand the people”.
He said: “This is the essence of the populist appeals by far left Jean-Luc Mélenchon and far right Marine Le Pen.
Professor Shields explained how both Marine le Pen and Monsieur Mélenchon are claiming to be the “voice of the people” against the Parisian elite of which Macron is “held up as the epitome”.
He added how this is also what makes Xavier Bertrand “such a potentially dangerous opponent for Macron”.
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Professor Shields added that Monsieur Bertrand’s has a “popular down to earth appeal that Macron lacks” and that he has just been strongly reelected at the head of his North of France region.
He explained: “The biggest electoral danger for Macron is not Le Pen. She is his biggest electoral ally. Since a run off against le pen would guarantee him election.
“The biggest electoral danger for Macron comes from a candidate like Bertrand who he could not be sure of beating in a run off.
“And that is why his team are desperate to ensure that it is Le Pen he faces in the run off and not Bertrand or another similar candidate.”
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