The most famous street in Paris became a blazing battleground. Here’s why.

The findings by pollster BVA mean Macron is less popular than his predecessors Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy at the same stage of their presidencies.

Who is protesting?

“The white middle class, the forgotten middle class in France,” said Famke Krumbmüller, an expert in French politics at OpenCitiz political consultancy firm in Paris.

Krumbmüller said the people protesting were those who pay the high French taxes and social charges — which cover benefits such as the state pension and unemployment insurance — but feel they get little in return because they are not the poorest in society.

“They’re fed up with the rising prices and the cost of living,” she explained. “They feel like the political elite is forgetting about them.”

Image: A demonstrator waves the French flag on the Champs-Elysees
A demonstrator waves the French flag on the Champs-Elysees on Saturday.Michel Euler / AP

Joseph Downing, an expert in French politics at the London School of Economics, agreed that the protests were about “much more” than taxes on gas.

“It’s this entire idea of the squeezed middle or the squeezed upper working-class person who feels an entitlement to an ever-increasing standard of living but is something that no politician can deliver,” he said. “This is where we’ve seen disenfranchisement with Sarkozy, with Hollande and now with Macron.”

Are France’s powerful unions involved?

The “Yellow Jacket” movement has been organized for the most part over social media with Facebook groups and trending hashtags resulting in supporters descending into the streets.

Downing said this self-organized approach was a relatively new phenomenon in France which has historically relied on unions to organize dissent.

“I think there is a lot of disillusionment with the unions as well,” he said.

Image: Broken barriers litter the Champs-Elysees near the Arc de Triomphe
Broken barriers litter the Champs-Elysees near the Arc de Triomphe after protests turned violent.Francois Guillot / AFP – Getty Images

Krumbmüller said the fact that this protest was not organized by unions suggests it represents a “broader population” of people.

Almost eight in ten people in France support the “Yellow Jacket” protests, according to a poll published on Friday by the Figaro newspaper and public radio broadcaster Franceinfo.

Is the far-right involved?

Castaner, the newly appointed French interior minister, said that far-right protesters joined Saturday’s rally in the Champs-Élysées after Marine Le Pen encouraged them to attend.

Le Pen — who is the leader of the far-right National Rally party, which was formerly known as the National Front — has expressed her support for the “Yellow Jacket” protests but condemned any violence.

Authorities have not suggested that the protests are dominated by supporters of the far-right.

An Ifop poll published earlier this month suggested that National Rally had nudged ahead of Macron’s En Marche party when measuring voter intention ahead of the European Parliament elections next May.

What’s likely to happen next?

This is not the first time Macron’s attempts to bring change to France have sparked protests.

Macron’s revamp to labor laws — which has made it easier for companies to hire and fire their staff — resulted in thousands of demonstrators taking to the streets in Paris in May.

Around the same time, France’s rail workers went on strike in response to Macron’s plans to reform the state-owned SNCF rail company.


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