【明報專訊】THE worst riot in Paris in half a century has turned the Arc de Triomphe into a battlefield. The French government has announced that it will shelve a plan to increase fuel taxes and introduce relief measures to improve people's livelihood in an attempt to placate the public. Globalisation is facing a strong backlash in the Western world. The "yellow vests movement", triggered by the proposed increase in fuel taxes, has put conflicts between urban and rural areas, conflicts between different social classes and the masses' hatred of the wealthy elite on full display. One and a half years ago, the election of Emmanuel Macron as president kept the wave of populism in Europe and the US in check. But he has failed to blaze a trail for France, as his policies are friendly to businesses and wealthy people under a moderate veneer.
Over the past three weeks, the "yellow vests movement" has shaken France. The protests were triggered by Macron's proposal to increase fuel taxes in the name of reducing emissions. In France, drivers must be equipped with yellow vests in their cars to deal with what happens when a car breaks down on the road. French people living in rural areas rely on cars for transportation. Having just sat out a spike in oil prices earlier, they were angered by the increase in taxes. They took to the street and the "yellow vests movement" spread rapidly. Last Saturday Paris saw the worst riot since the May 1968 events. The Avenue des Champs-Élysées was turned into a battlefield, with radicals setting things on fire and spraying graffiti on the Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile reading "Resign, Macron", "Down with the bourgeois", etc. Some "yellow vests" protesters have called it a "revolution".
The scenes of riots in Paris are redolent of the burning of the stock exchange during the May 1968 events half a century ago. The two social movements, however, were apparently different in nature. The 1968 student movement was spearheaded by the left wing to fight for reform. The "yellow vests movement", in contrast, did not have an outright leader. Social network was used to mobilise participants. Those who took part in the Paris riots last Saturday included the far right as well as the far left. That the yellow vests movement spiralled out of control reflects not only people's dissatisfaction with Macron's governance but also the difficulties facing France and the Western world amid globalisation.
Macron proposes middle-of-the-road politics to reform "capitalism with French characteristics". But he has found himself in a blind alley just more than a year after his election. Right-wing populist politicians are trying to solve the crisis facing capitalism with economic nationalism and protectionism. Many academics, however, are sceptical whether such a way of transforming internal conflicts into external conflicts is sufficient to solve the crisis. Recently some Democrats in the US have proposed adopting the German strategy to require corporations to shoulder more social responsibility and share wealth with employees. This includes the legal requirement that 40% of representatives sitting on the board of directors are elected by employees, while the government should consider providing support for corporations through policies to encourage innovation. It remains to be seen whether such a road to reform, which carries characteristics of corporatism, will find its way into the mainstream. But many Americans have apparently realised that time has come for a reform of capitalism.
shelve : to decide not to continue with a plan, either for a short time or permanently
placate : to make sb feel less angry about sth
veneer : an outer appearance of a particular quality that hides the true nature of sb/sth