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04.05.2019 Europe

Yellow Vests: Could There Be A Summer Truce?

By Arnab BĂ©ranger - RFI
REUTERS/Charles Platiau
MAY 4, 2019 EUROPE

As the Yellow Vests enter their 25th week of protests, the movement has significantly dwindled. Will the arrival summer usher in a well-deserved break for protesters, police and the people?

For the 25th consecutive week of protests on Saturday, the Yellow Vests plan three marches in Paris, including a 'Media March', where demonstrators will drop by major French television and radio stations, accused of biased coverage.

Demonstrations have also been called at Lyon and in the southern French towns of Montpellier and Toulouse.

May Day hangover

After the May Day demonstrations - when the Yellow Vests were joined by France's trade unions, climate marchers and other disgruntled protesters - the gilets jaunes seem to be on their own again.

Hundreds of thousands of people marched across France on 1 May, some honouring France's May Day tradition with the lily of the valley flower, others with signboards, and a few stray 'Black Blocs' with their proverbial mayhem.

But, for Act 25 of this endless theatrical odyssey, the question on everybody's lips is 'how much longer can it keep going?'

Numbers drastically falling

One would expect that with the coming of spring and better weather, more Yellow Vests would be seen on Saturdays amidst the summer-clad tourists in central Paris

However, even if the Yellow Vests have been faithfully hitting the streets every Saturday for nearly six months now, figures show that since April, numbers have been dramatically dwindling.

This may be attributed to two reasons:

Firstly, despite an initial smattering of reforms that only added fuel to the gilets jaunes fire, French President Emmanuel Macron seems to have wisened up.

Over the past few months, he has proposed many reforms addressing the meagre revenue of France's working and rural middle classes, who claim they cannot make ends meet.

Crucial to this series of government reforms was the Grand Debate, where Macron rolled up his sleeves and spent months touring France's forgotten towns and villages.

He put in many hours in the true tradition of French 'debate', ostensibly reaching out to town councillors, people's representatives, the retired, and other groups who feel left behind by the young President's political stance.

The conclusion of the Grand Debate was a series of revolutionary reforms which promised a government overhaul.

But, as fate would have it, on the night that Macron was to proudly announce the measures on national television, a fire ravaged Paris' Notre Dame cathedral, and the complaints of the Yellow Vests were momentarily forgotten.

Notre Dame vs the people?

After the Notre Dame dust cleared, the Yellow Vests expressed their amazement at the huge amount of donations that went into the cathedral's reconstruction, and lamented that a national heritage monument was deemed more important that the plight of the suffering masses.

Macron came back on national television a few days later to announce his reforms.

The reforms, to be fair, did address many concerns of the Yellow Vests. There were tax cuts, benefits for the retired, and even a shutdown of the ENA school, often pointed out as a breeding groung for France's elite.

A keyYellow Vests' demand had been ignored, namely a government system led by a citizens' referendum. But Macron's reforms seemed to have appeased a large number of protesters.

The Yellow Vests started deserting the streets.

Sacred summer

Another reason that may explain the fall in Yellow Vest numbers is the advent of summer.

As anyone who has lived in France will know, summer holidays are a sacred ritual in the country.

Regardless of political circumstance, rich and poor, old and young rush to get a piece of sunshine on France's summer beaches - from temperate Brittany in the West to the Mediterranean sun in the South.

Summer in France is, indeed, a time for truce. A time where left and right-wingers rub shoulders on bright cafe terraces, burying the hatchet until the weather cools down.

One wonders if this summer truce, along with Macron's reforms that seems to have addressed many gilets jaunes concerns, will see the movement slow down to a mere trickle this summer?

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