Tuesday, May 14, 2019, 15:05 (GMT+7)
Protest wave in the Europe its reasons and implications

The “yellow vest” protests erupted in France and then spread throughout a series of European countries, shaking the “Old Continent”. Obviously, the European protest wave’s reasons and implications have captured the attention of people around the world.

In mid November, 2018, hundreds of people in yellow vests (uniform of French drivers) staged a demonstration against French President’s decision to raise the gas tax. Unlike other ones, the “yellow vest” protest was supported and joined by a large number of middle-class and working-class people across the country, rocking the France. To deal with a risk that the protest would be “beyond the control”, French President Emmanuel Macron had to make concessions, announce the delay to fuel tax rise and then cancel it. However, those concessions not only alleviated the situation, but also were thought to “add fuel to the fire”, thereby making the protest wave more serious. In many places, demonstrations transformed into riots and conflicts between protesters and armed police; consequently, hundreds of people, including police were dead and wounded while thousands of extreme demonstrators were arrested. According to some French security officials, since the protest movement by French students in 1968, the “yellow vest” protest wave has been the largest and worst. More than that, it has made a domino effect that has led to a large-scale protest wave in a series of other European countries, such as Germany, the UK, Austria, Italia, Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden, shaking the “Old Continent”.

“Yellow vest” protesters gathering in the capital city of Paris, France on April 20th 2019 (photo: VNA)

Why did the “yellow vest” protests break out simultaneously in the Europe?

According to many international experts, demonstrations and riots here and there in the Europe were not a strange thing; however, the simultaneous outbreak of protests in many countries like the “yellow vest” protest wave is really a matter of concern. Analyzing the claims made by the protesters, such as the improvements in the people’s life and social welfare, and especially their anger at the policies of the governments, we could realize that the middle-class and working-class people in many European countries are in deep disagreement with their governments. As a result, the “yellow vest” movement became a “detonator” of the outbreak of a protest wave in a series of countries across this continent. According to a poll, the protestors in the Europe are discontented with many issues of the governments of their countries as follows.

First, the gap between rich and poor and social inequality are at the “alarming” level. In recent years, the difference in income among the people in the EU countries has been increasingly greater. In the EU, the top 20% of the population (with the highest income) received 5.2 times as much income as the bottom 20%; the richest 1% held 20% of total wealth. In fact, while the rich live a luxurious life, the working-class people wrestle with their daily life. A section of freelancers complain that they have to work very hard to earn money for their housing rent and daily life. Meanwhile, a large number of retired people complain that their retirement pension is too small compared with the fluctuation of price in the market. They ask the government to increase the retirement pension and ensure social welfare for them. In rural areas, peasants feel discontented as their neighbourhoods do not have good public utilities, such as traffic system, health, education, compared with the capital city and urban areas. Young people in the rural areas say that they have fewer opportunities to go to college and seek jobs than those in the urban areas. In recent years, the unemployment rate has decreased in many countries; however, it is still about 10%, and this rate amongst the youth is still high. Besides, the number of youngsters who involve in social evils and violate law in the rural areas is larger than that in the urban areas.

Second, the undermined faith in the government’s policies. It can’t be denied that after the end of the World War II, the EU countries thrived in a long period with high economic growth rate, rapid development of technology, high income and good living standard of the majority of the people, and “desirable” social welfare. However, since the 1980s, the economic crisis and public debts have plunged the EU countries into recession. EU countries’ governments have adopted various measures for the economic recovery. However, they have been unable to eliminate the “inherent shortcomings” of capitalist economy; public and governmental debts have been standing at a high level. That situation has necessitated many EU countries’ governments increasing taxes and unavoidably cutting off social welfare which had ever been proudly called the Western Europe’s pre-eminence. That is why the rich become increasingly richer while the middle-class and working-class people suffer from the increase in taxes without a pay rise or with a negligible pay rise. The decrease in income and difficulties in their life have made the majority of the working-class people “depressed” and “discontented” with the authority’s leadership capacity. Too disappointed with their President, the French people called Emmanuel Macron “the president of the rich” as he decided to reduce the income tax of the people from the upper class; as a result, the government’s budget was reduced by about 3.5 billion Euros. Against that backdrop, he made an “imprudent and arbitrary” decision to increase taxes which would mainly affect the working-class people. Consequently, his decision on fuel tax rise “detonated” a “fierce protest wave” across France and all over the Europe. According to the polls, French President Emmanuel Macron’s approval rating has decreased dramatically from over 80% early in his presidency to below 20% recently.

Objectively, comprehensively analyzing the EU’s process of formation and development, politicians in many countries believe that the “yellow vest” protest movement is the corollary of the inherent contradictions within the EU countries for many past decades. The “yellow vest” movement is only the “last straw”; a huge number of protesters wrestling with difficulties in their daily life and the weak, impotent institutions of EU countries are merely “poor victims”.

The “yellow vest” protest movement’s implications

According to many experts around the world, the large-scale “yellow vest” protest wave has caused considerable implications in terms of economy, politics, society, and security for each EU country and the whole bloc. Economically, in many EU countries, demonstrations with the participation of hundreds of thousands of people have paralyzed many cities; businesses, restaurants, tourism, and factories have shut down for a long time. Thousands of public constructions and vehicles have been smashed by the protesters. The damage to public property of the EU countries was calculated at hundreds of billions of Euros. Socially and politically, while within the EU countries there have been complex contradictions between rich and poor, rural area and urban area, native people and immigrants as well as issues on ethnicity, religion, and culture, the “yellow vest” movement have made those contradictions and issues more serious. Most notably, extremist nationalists and gangsters have taken advantage of demonstrations to incite riots and conflicts with the authorities, plundering and destabilizing their countries. Devastation caused by demonstrations in many cities was like “the battlefield of a civil war”. In truth, the EU is suffering a political crisis which has been thought to be “serious” by many politicians from this bloc. In Germany, consecutive failures of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the parliamentary elections held in August 2017 and state elections in October 2018 forced the Chancellor Merkel to announce that she would not seek re-election in 2021. In the UK, the position of Prime Minister Theresa May was threatened as this country could leave the EU without any agreement with the bloc. In France, President Emmanuel Macron was expected to be a “new blood” to the country and the EU. However, the “yellow vest” protest movement concerned people that Macron was not able enough to steer the EU out of present difficulties, and that without changes in his policies, his political career would be like his predecessors’ unavoidably. Meanwhile, the EU’s legislators expressed their concern that the “yellow vest” protest wave would cause more and more difficulties in the EU countries, particularly Germany, UK, and France as the “locomotive” of the bloc. And that would be the golden chance for other political parties, especially the right-wing ones led by extremist nationalist “hawks” to achieve a “transformation” in the EU Parliament election scheduled to take place in May 2019. As regards security, many experts believed that the “yellow vest” protest movement wielded a widespread influence beyond all imaginings. Initially, it was just a demonstration in a single country, and then quickly developed into a “revolution” joined by social strata fighting for the improvement in life condition in a series of other countries. Many EU countries had to mobilize hundreds of thousands of police together with hundreds of tanks and armoured vehicles to put down the demonstrations. According to those experts, while the EU is deeply falling into the political, economic, migrant crisis, the “yellow vest” movement could be a “rehearsal” for a street revolution which could be called the “EU Spring” and would decide the future of the largest economic-political union in the world.

Obviously, the EU acts as the mainstay of the world’s economy; therefore, its ups and downs will directly impact on the global economy. The “yellow vest” protest wave as a warning will force the EU countries to adjust their policies to stabilize the situation, improve the people’s life, and develop their countries amidst today’s cut-throat competitions.

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