he ‘yellow vest’ upheaval has exposed longstanding problems in France’s economy, Christine Bierre, French journalist and chief editor of Nouvelle Solidarité, has told Sputnik, adding that to heal these wounds, the French need to get rid of Brussels’ diktat and take back control of their financial system.
The ‘yellow vests’ protests are continuing to gain momentum in France, with about two thirds of the French supporting the unrest, according to the latest OpinionWay poll.
Speaking to Sputnik, Christine Bierre, French journalist and chief editor of Nouvelle Solidarité, shed the light on the nation-wide upheaval.
‘Over a year, diesel prices have increased by 23 per cent and those of gasoline, by 15 per cent. These hikes [in prices] hit those who live in rural areas and who need energy not only for their cars, but for tractors if they are farmers, boats if they are fishermen, trucks for transporters, fuel for construction workers and for heating’, the journalist said.
She noted that those who cannot afford living in big cities and who live in small towns and in the peripheries had also found themselves between a rock and a hard place, since they have to use their cars to get to megalopolises.
‘Concretely, expenses for energy have gone from 12 per cent per household in the 1960’s, to 30 per cent in 2018’, Bierre stressed. ‘For a couple with two kids using a diesel car and fuel to heat, taxes increased last year by 600 euros; the price of diesel for tractors went from 50 cents a litre to 87 cents, so a farmer using 20,000 litres per year, will pay 7,400 euros more in taxes on energy’.
She pointed out that in general, ‘the middle and the lower middle class and also part of what one calls the “working poor”‘ had fallen prey to the Macron cabinet’s measure.
According to the journalist, the rapid growth of the ‘yellow vests’ movement, which mobilized 300,000 people, ‘revealed, however, that energy prices were just the last straw that provoked the social explosion.’
TICPE and Its Consequences
However, President Emmanuel Macron and his policies are not the only reason for the impoverishment of the French middle class and the current crisis, ‘even though his favouring the richer against the poor has been the most indecent’, the journalist opined.
‘Along with the energy price increases on international spot markets, the real culprit behind the huge rise in energy prices is the tax on energy products, TICPE (Taxe Intérieure de Consommation sur les Produits Energétiques), created in 2000, and used by the state to heavily improve its tax revenues’, she elaborated.
Bierre explained that today this tax ‘represents 57 per cent of the price of diesel and more than 60 per cent of the price of gasoline, mainly because since 2014, the TICPE includes a tax to finance the costs of the energy transition.’
‘This is a progressive tax that grows every year according to a supposed price of carbon per ton of CO2, which is to reach 100 euros in 2030!’ the journalist remarked. ‘In 2015 it was at 14.5 euros, in 2017 — 22 euros in 2017, in 2018 — 44.6 euros and so on.’
She stressed that Macron’s predecessors relied heavily on the taxation of their population to finance their programmes and lately the energy transition, but the incumbent French president ‘is, no doubt, the most outrageous.’
‘Since his coming to power he “granted” 5 billion euros in tax cuts to rich financiers, transforming the tax on large fortunes into a real estate tax only, and reducing the tax on financial profits to a 30 per cent flat tax’, Bierre outlined. ‘At the same time, he reduced state aid to the poor by the equivalent of 4 billion euros (cuts in aids to housing, public jobs and increase of general taxes).’
Yellow Vests: Neither Far-Right nor Far-Left
The question then arises as to what political forces have jumped on the bandwagon of the ‘yellow vests’ movement. According to Bierre, many politicians would like to capitalize on the upheaval, from the far right to the far left camp.
‘The “yellow vests”… have rejected the participation of all political forces as such, and kicked out far right and far left elements attempting to infiltrate them’, she highlighted, adding that the movement had emerged spontaneously protesting against the austerity policies which originate from the 2008 financial crisis and earlier economic strategy.
The journalist has drawn attention to the fact that Macron has refused to hear the plight of the French population so far.
‘[Prime Minister] Edouard Philippe even repeated [on 28 November] that he won’t eliminate the planned increases of energy costs for 2019 and won’t increase the minimum wage’, she remarked. ‘Will Philippe, a close aide to Alain Juppé, end up like his master in 1995, ousted following the strikes, because he was too rigid to change? Anything is possible.’
According to Bierre, these protests ‘have the potential of a revolutionary movement.’
‘Will the government resist all the pressure, due to the lack of organizational structures and experience [of the protesters]? Perhaps; but it has definitely become the first serious call to bring an end to the arrogance of the Paris elites of the post-De Gaulle era’, she said.
The Lesson of the 2008 Financial Crisis is Still Unlearned
The journalist believes that it is no coincidence that the leaders of major European powers — Germany, France and the UK — are currently facing economic and political difficulties triggering speculations about their possible resignations or early departures.
‘In fact Europe is suffering from the refusal of the Western world to deal with the consequences of the 2008 financial crisis, and with the inequalities created by the financial globalization of the last 30 years’, she opined. ‘Like in the US, in Europe, the middle classes became impoverished during this process, and the poor became even poorer.’
The situation is complicated by the diktat of Brussels, she underscored, adding that EU member-states’ financial systems are being controlled by the European Central Bank, which exerts its supranational authority on the nations.
‘The situation in Europe is worsened by the fact that by adopting the EU supranational treaty, all nations gave up their sovereignty in all matters and today are like bodies with no heads! As we see in the case of Italy, a non-elected EU Commission is trying to rule over a duly elected Italian government, to forbid them from carrying a policy of investment to create jobs’, Bierre said.
Seeking a Cure
So, what steps should be taken by the government to fix the current situation?
‘Dealing with the European question is not sufficient however, because to create jobs and rebuild our economies, we must take back control of our financial system’, the journalist responded.
She noted that the looming financial crisis that is being predicted by most financial media at this point ‘sets the obvious context for the financial reforms needed to rebuild our nations in response to the current revolts.’
According to Bierre, first, Europeans need ‘a real Glass-Steagall Act which separates speculative banking completely from commercial banking’; second, ‘the reestablishment of sovereign national banks in every country emitting “public credit” for reconstruction of industrial capacities of the devastated European economies based on the policies of the “30 glorious” [post-war boom] years in France’; third, Europe needs to adopt a ‘policy of cooperation with the great powers of this world, Russia, China, India and the United States, to expand and contribute to initiatives like China’s New Silk Road, the Russian Eurasian Economic Union, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.’