When he entered the Elysee palace in 2007, French President Nicolas Sarkozy dreamed of a glorious destiny. Enthusiastic commentators predicted that his casual populism would revamp the Bonapartist right, and that his Gallic brand of neoliberal policies would sell the “American dream” to a mistrustful population. Things have not gone according to plan. Sarkozy wanted to be the French JFK; today he looks more like Louis XVI awaiting trial in 1793. He may escape the guillotine, but his presidency is now under siege.
The French are deeply unhappy with the way they have been governed, but their main grievance is about pension reform, which is seen as a cynical ploy to make ordinary people work more for inferior entitlements, while bailed-out bankers and the rich get tax rebates and continue to enjoy the high life. Over the past month, five national demonstrations have gathered together an estimated average of 3.5 million people per action day.
The movement is popular: 69 percent of the nation back the strikes and demonstrations; 73 percent want the government to withdraw the reform. And high school pupils have now joined the fray. More than 1,000 high schools are on strike as the youngsters take to the streets to protest against mass unemployment and the raising of the retirement age.
The government has patronizingly labelled them as “manipulated kids,” but these comments have backfired and served only to galvanize the young, who have hardened their resistance and taken further interest in the reform. When interviewed by the media, pupils come across as articulate and knowledgable. Parents worry about their children’s future, so they will not stop them from striking.
In France, strikes and demonstrations are seen as a civilized and effective way to enact one’s citizenship. Students are expected to join marches from an early age, receiving by the same token a “political education.” France’s youth have always scared governments because of their radical potential. Student demonstrations of late have been invariably popular because people know that the young have been badly hit by unemployment over the past 30 years.
University students are preparing to strike as well. Sarkozy, like Louis XVI in 1789, does not seem to have grasped how volatile the situation has become. He should know better. Since May 1968, all governments have been forced on the ropes every time youngsters have entered a social movement. This time it could prove crucial in helping to reach a tipping point; a stage in the conflict where the balance of power switches from the government toward those opposing the pension reform.
Last week, Sarkozy had to send in riot police to reopen fuel depots blocked by strikes in several places. Yet several hundred filling stations had to shut because they had run out of supplies. Truck and train drivers are also starting strike actions.
How can the current situation be interpreted? Undoubtedly, the rebellion seems durable and runs deeper than the question of pensions. The reform has triggered a web of collective actions that are now spreading fast. Discontent is fueled by low incomes and unemployment, but also by the impact of the crisis on people’s daily life, the arrogance of the Sarkozy presidency, corruption cases and police brutality.
There is a sense of moral outrage at the imposition of a neoliberal medicine to cure an illness caused by the same neoliberal policies. The French are not hostile to reforms: They just demand those that redistribute wealth and allocate resources to those who need it the most. Any comparison with May 68, however, may be hasty. Then, France was experiencing a period of economic prosperity. Today, events occur in the context of a deep economic depression. This is why the political situation is potentially explosive. Radicalized workers and youngsters are forcing the unions to up their game. The normally toothless Socialist Party has pledged to return the retirement age to 60, should it come back to power in 2012.
One can envisage two possible scenarios. Opposition to the reform hardens, in which case Sarkozy may have to water it down or even withdraw it. This would mark the first major popular victory in Europe against the post-2008 neoliberal order. Alternatively, Sarkozy stays put and imposes a deeply unpopular reform, in which case the political price to pay for the incumbent president would be very high, should he decide to run again in 2012.
Philippe Marliere is a senior lecturer in French politics at University College, London.
On Sept. 27, 2002, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (East Timor) joined the UN to become its 191st member. Since then, two other nations have joined, Montenegro on June 28, 2006, and South Sudan on July 14, 2011. The combined total of the populations of these three nations is just more than half that of Taiwan’s 23.7 million people. East Timor has 1.3 million, Montenegro has slightly more than half a million and South Sudan has 10.9 million. They all are members of the UN, yet much more populous Taiwan is denied membership. Of the three, East Timor, as a Southeast Asian
Taiwan has for decades singlehandedly borne the brunt of a revanchist, ultra-nationalist China — until now. Ever since Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had the temerity to call for a transparent, international investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, Beijing has been turning the screws on Canberra. This has included unleashing aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomats to intimidate Australian policymakers, enacting punitive tariffs on its exports, and threatening an embargo on Chinese tourists and students to the nation. A tense situation became more serious on June 19 after Morrison revealed that a “sophisticated state-based actor” — read: China — had launched a
There have been media reports that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) plans to hold military exercises in August to simulate seizing the Pratas Islands (Dongsha Islands, 東沙群島) in the South China Sea. In the past, only Coast Guard Administration (CGA) personnel have been stationed there, but the Ministry of National Defense has dispatched the Republic of China Marine Corps to the islands, nominally for “ex-situ training,” to prevent a Chinese attack under the guise of military drills. The move is only a temporary measure and not sufficiently proactive. Instead, the government should officially declare sovereignty over the islands and station troops
Chinese strongman Xi Jinping (習近平) hasn’t had a very good spring, either economically or politically. Not that long ago, he seemed to be riding high. The PRC economy had been on a long winning streak of more than six percent annual growth, catapulting the world’s most populous nation into the second-largest power, behind only the United States. Hundreds of millions had been brought out of poverty. Beijing’s military too had emerged as the most powerful in Asia, lagging only behind the US, the long-time leader on the global stage. One can attribute much of the recent downturn to the international economic