It is undisputable that Europe is in turmoil. France is tormented by the “Gilets Jaunes”, the Yellow Vests, riots. Not even Emmanuel Macron’s new measures seem to ease the tension. Mr Macron announced that “The minimum wage would increase by €100 per month from 2019”, he said. “A planned tax increase for low-income pensioners would be cancelled, overtime pay would no longer be taxed, and employers would be encouraged to pay a tax-free end of year bonus to employees”, he added.
Earlier last week, the French government has also bowed to gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protesters and abandoned the fuel tax rise that has sparked more than three weeks of violence and seen parts of central Paris and many parts of France in flames.
Are these protests justified and why nothing seems to work in order to bring peace back to France?
The French authorities are investigating the increasing number of fake electronic accounts that fuel the riots and the “anger” of the gilets jaunes through social media. According to the British Times, France has begun an investigation into possible Russian interference in the gilets jaunes movement after a report in The Times that social media accounts based in Moscow have sought to inflame public opinion.
A British government source also said that the disturbances in France were “amplified substantially” by Russian state media.
And Bloomberg reported that “According to the Alliance for Securing Democracy, about 600 Twitter accounts known to promote Kremlin views have begun focusing on France, boosting their use of the hashtag #giletsjaunes, the French name for the Yellow Vest movement. French security services are looking at the situation, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Sunday in a radio interview with RTL.”
“Russia has been criticized for using social media to influence elections in the U.S. and elsewhere. Attempts to use fake news reports and cyberattacks to undercut the 2017 campaign of French President Emmanuel Macron failed, but Russian-linked sites have pushed questionable reports of a mutiny among police, and of officers’ support for the protests.” “An investigation is now underway,” Le Drian said. “I will not make comments before the investigation has brought conclusions.”
From their side, the Kremlin has described allegations that Russia was helping to fuel violent protests in Paris and other French cities as “slander”.
Are the riots directed to attack Emmanuel Macron’s government or is it the justified anger of people who see a very dark future ahead and resist following the fate of Greece and the austerity measures?
Meanwhile, last night three people were killed and twelve were injured after a gunman opened fire close to a popular Christmas market in the eastern French city of Strasbourg. France’s counter terrorism prosecutor has opened an investigation and hundreds of police officers are hunting a gunman. The motive for the shooting remains unclear but there were reports on Wednesday morning that a police operation had been launched around the cathedral area in the city. Police added that the 29-year-old suspect was born in Strasbourg and was already known to the security services as a possible terrorist threat. “He fought twice with our security forces,” French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said.
So, is it fair to say that France is under attack and why?
And it’s not only France and Emmanuel Macron who are facing problems. Theresa May will face a fight for her leadership after at least 48 members of her own party put in writing that they have lost confidence in her.
Any time the chair of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservatives – Sir Graham Brady – receives letters from 15% of the party’s MPs, a secret ballot is triggered. If Mrs May wins, they cannot challenge her premiership for another year. But, if she loses, there will be a leadership election and she will not be allowed to run.
A ballot will be held today in the evening between 6pm and 8pm GMT, Sir Brady said, with votes counted “immediately afterwards and an announcement will be made as soon as possible”.
In a press release, he said: “The threshold of 15% of the parliamentary party seeking a vote of confidence in the leader of the Conservative party has been exceeded.” The prime minister will now need the backing of at least 158 Tory MPs to see off the Brexiters’ challenge, and her position would then be safe for 12 months. However, the prime minister could decide to resign if votes against her were below the threshold to topple her, but significant enough in number. So, Brexit is in chaos more than ever and Theresa May, even if she wins, will be facing some really hard times.
Chaos is the word to describe the situation in Belgium too. The Belgian government has lost its majority in Parliament after its biggest coalition partner, the right-wing Flemish party, left in opposition to the planned signing this month of an international agreement on migration.
Prime Minister, Charles Michel, in announcing the end of his majority government during a news conference on Saturday, said, “One party, the N-VA, calls into question our common decision to join the U.N. migration pact, taken earlier this year in July.” Mr. Michel said he would try to lead the remaining minority government to “ensure stability.” On Sunday, he formalized the resignation of the five N-VA ministers from his government, appointing ministers from the remaining coalition partners in their place.
The political changes came hand in hand with extremely violent demonstrations that have occurred in Brussels the past two weekends, led by people who, analysts say, are angry with recent increases in fuel taxes and say that everyday life has become unaffordable. Protesters were said to be inspired by the “Yellow Vests” (gilets jaunes) protests in neighboring France.
On Saturday, protesters in Brussels clashed with the police, who used tear gas and water cannons and about 400 people were detained.
Belgian lawmakers said they had been working over the past week to address the protesters’ concerns.
“We are trying to send a signal that we are listening,” said Georges Dallemagne, a member of the Belgian Parliament. “Of course, we do not accept the violence, but we have to listen to this population, which feels they are not being considered in government policies and government initiatives.”
Referring in part to the Yellow Vests, Peter De Roover, the leader of the N-VA faction in Parliament, said: “When I see the reactions over the past days, in all kinds of ways, I think that people are very concerned with the question of whether our borders can be protected or not.”
And maybe that is another very important point. Ahead of austerity measures, higher taxation and wage-cuts; people start to fear that foreign immigration is the problem or part of the problem and question whether it is good to stay with a united Europe and open borders or turn to nationalism and closed borders, hence the rise also of nationalist parties across all Europe.
At least half a dozen countries in the European Union are debating whether to adopt the United Nation’s migration compact this coming week in Marrakesh, Morocco. Austria and Hungary, which both have far-right parties with strong anti-migrant views in their coalition governments, said this year that they were withdrawing from the agreement.
In announcing the loss of the Belgian government’s majority, the prime minister said, “As there is no consensus in the government to backtrack on our decision, a word is a word, this means that I will go to the international conference to defend our Belgian position.” The Belgian prime minister will go to Marrakesh to support the agreement, an act for which he ensured support from an alternative majority in Parliament. After that, experts say, it is not clear what the legitimacy of his minority government will be. It will be interesting to see what will happen in Marrakesh and what other countries will do.
Will the rise of migration, mainly from war-torn countries, affect the unity and the stability of Europe? Lower living standards and austerity measures certainly seem to have been more than enough for a great many angry, and/or desperate, Europeans already.