Anyone following French politics in recent years should not be surprised by the recent explosion of public protest and resistance across the country. For years, France has simmered with a combination of a deeply unpopular government, a limping economy and a struggling, fed up populace.
As the initial horror and outrage of the attacks in Paris on November 13 subside, the impacts they are already having on French and European society are becoming clearer. A state of emergency has been declared by the French government and will persist for up to three months. French officials announced on November 17 that France would see an extra 115,000 police officers, gendarmes and soldiers deployed across the country. In this context, rational debate is being restricted and progressive movements are on the defensive. Refugees
More than 85 people, including children, drowned or went missing near the Greek Islands Lesbos, Samos, Kalymnos and Rhodes between October 28 and 30. As numbers, these deaths are added to the more than 3400 who have already died trying to flee to Europe so far this year. As human lives, these represent an incalculable loss and moral failure by European leaders.
Activists from France's Left Front. The Left Front is divided by strategic debates over how to confront Europe-wide austerity. Five key figures of the European left have launched a new initiative “for a Plan B in Europe”.
30,000 people marched in Vienna on August 31 to demonstrate against inhumane treatment of refugees. In less than a fortnight a series of tragedies took place on the borders of Europe, spurring a continent-wide debate over refugee policy. On August 26, about 200 refugees perished at sea as their ship capsized off the coast of Libya on its way to Italy.
In the aftermath of the harsh deal for brutal austerity and mass privatisation imposed on Greece in the early hours of July 13, both Berlin and Paris are floating alternative “solutions” to the euro problem. Germany, on the one hand, wants greater fiscal integration, whereas France is calling for the creation of a eurozone government as well as a dedicated finance minister. The mainstream press is talking up the divisions between the two nations as fundamentally different perspectives on the euro — or even differences in political “culture”.
The message from the mainstream media and parties across Europe is Greece is to blame for its own predicament. But a growing grass-roots movement across the continent is pushing for an alternative approach that demands democracy, not austerity. In a speech to the Belgian parliament on June 10, conservative Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel declared that “the end of the Greek holiday has sounded.”
More than 5000 people rallied in Brussels on June 21.
French politics further confirmed its rightward trajectory after the second round of departmental elections on March 29. There are 101 departments and 4108 councillor positions across the country. Departments are in charge of local roads, school buildings and buses, welfare allowances and various other local issues. But the elections also represent a barometer of the political situation in the country. The governing nominally centre-left Socialist Party (PS) suffered a humiliating defeat against a right-wing united front headed by the centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP).
More than 3.5 million people took to the streets of France on January 11 to support free speech and honour the victims of terrorist attacks on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hedbo and other targets that left 17 people dead, as well as three suspects.
A coalition of French left groups held nation-wide demonstrations on November 15 against the new austerity budget of the unpopular Socialist Party (PS) government. The protests called for a redistribution of wealth from finance and big business to workers and the poor, creating jobs, increasing social security and cohesion, and beginning an ecological transition of society. Called by the anti-austerity group Collective 3A, organisers said the protests drew 30,000 people in Paris. More than 30 other cities across France staged rallies, including several thousand in Toulouse.
Images of rioting protesters and burning cars in Brussels were published in mainstream media across the globe on November 7. The previous day’s protest in Brussels did end in violent clashes, with 50 injured and 30 arrested, but it was the spirited but peaceful demonstration of 120,000 Belgians that was the key aspect of the day.
The controversial Sivens dam project in south-west France has been temporarily suspended after the death of 21-year-old activist Remi Fraisse while protesting at the site on October 25. An autopsy found that Fraisse had likely died from a police stun grenade that hit him in the back. Protests erupted across France in the immediate aftermath of the incident.
About 200 activists from France’s Left Front gathered in Paris on Saturday 6 to discuss the group’s future. The Left Front has been in limbo for the past few months after disagreements about strategy led to a weak performance in the European and local council elections in May. The meeting took place at a time of controversy in French politics. Socialist Party (PS) President Francois Hollande had sacked the cabinet and appointed a new one — for the second time since the start of the year — and the far-right National Front (FN) topped the presidential polls for the first time.
The Danish Red-Green Alliance (RGA) marked 25 years since its founding at a national conference on May 16 to 18. A radical left unity project marking 25 years in existence is itself a cause for celebration, but this conference was able to celebrate much more. After about 20 years as a fringe party in Danish politics, the RGA has recently emerged as a significant force.
A large march against austerity took place in Paris on April 12. Organised around the slogan “Enough is enough”, the theme of the demonstration was “against austerity, for equality and sharing the wealth”. At the head of the march were leaders of the French left: Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the Left Party, Pierre Laurent, leader of the Communist Party of France, and the New Anti-capitalist Party's Olivier Besancenot.