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Why France is up in arms

A protester in Paris in March. Carl Court/Getty

France’s “tendency for recurrent violent outbursts” is being viewed from abroad with increasing “perplexity and concern”, says Françoise Fressoz in Le Monde. In March, King Charles was forced to postpone his first state visit as monarch due to mass rioting over divisive pension reforms. On Saturday, Emmanuel Macron had to call off a three-day state visit to Germany because of unrest over police violence that has resulted in 45,000 officers and gendarmes being placed on high alert for nights on end. And it wasn’t long ago, in 2019, that the gilets jaunes were attacking public buildings and vandalising monuments over a proposed carbon tax.

The problem for Macron is that these three “high-intensity public earthquakes” are all reactions to major structural problems. The most recent outburst of violence is the result of “poorly trained and overstretched” police, combined with a “crisis of integration” that billions of euros in urban renewal projects have done nothing to solve. The proposed pension reforms that caused such ructions in spring will have to go through at some point – the country’s public debts are over €3trn and growing. So too the carbon taxes the gilets jaunes were fighting over, as the whole world moves towards greener policies. So far, the winners from these riots are extremists like Jean-Luc Mélenchon on the left and Éric Zemmour on the right. Macron is meant to be a unifier, but his country has become a “dangerous powder keg”.