The Yellow Vests protests continue to spread and intensify across France despite President Macron’s concessions on minimum wage. Calum Martin argues Macron’s climate change programme only succeeds in letting the super rich off the hook for a crisis they were complicit in creating…
Perhaps Macron really does believe he's doing the right thing, even as he faces down a no confidence vote in parliament on the same week as Theresa May. By all accounts, whilst protests and riots spread across France, he continues to strut the halls of the Presidential Palace like some latter day Louis XVIII. When Macron first came to power, many jumped aboard the Macron bandwagon. Those on the neo-liberal centre especially thought it was because they could claim him as their new golden child. Partly he looked great in their papers: young and charismatic. Perhaps more so because he can put a fresh face and a new party label on the stagnant economic dogma that has caused such a dramatic disparity in wealth and led people across the west to question its place.
When Macron came to power he styled as a new Napoleon. He was to be the last great hero who could save the European corporate establishment from a growing tide of populism. In a run off against the far-right, he certainly wasn't deemed overtly repugnant by a majority of voters, but he has since had to stave off not just the Front Nationale, but every kind of popular feeling in favour of an absolutist defence of the elites he represents. His entire programme has boiled down to attacks on the pay and conditions of the working people of France to abolishing taxes for the super rich. In the growing showdown between the French people and the corporate elites, he's chosen his side and made no secret of it.
Yet in their efforts to champion Macron amid the chaos he's invoked, the media creates major problems for us all. It takes more than simply not being on the far-right and admitting climate change is real to be considered progressive – and a progressive he's not. He'll publicly purport to take on climate change, all the while giving corporations major tax breaks, and taking holidays, pay and pensions from working families to fund huge tax cuts for the rich. Forget the last great liberal hope – he's just Thatcher with an Instagram. Hailing him as the only alternative to the likes of Le Pen and a crusader against climate change isn't only a falsehood; it's dangerous for the people of France.
Remember what sparked the current situation: a hike in Fuel Taxes. Major news sources have already described it as a "U-turn on eco-tax" while the BBC popped the question "Will the environment be the true victim of the fuel-tax riots?". 'The issue', media sneers, is ordinary people, who patently don't car about the planet enough to sacrifice their low wages and who therefore deserve to also lose their pensions and holidays. It's this sneery, elitist sentiment which has driven people into the arms of demagogues like Trump.
Macron's own arguments down stand up either. His major contributions to the climate change discussion have been to snark-tweet Trump, his best friend or enemy depending on the week in question, then agreeing to some targets and shifting the responsibility to future generations. Both half-hearted measures, but not necessarily steps backwards. Then, he hiked fuel taxes.
Theoretically, this policy isn't the worst , but the application and context mark it as a terrible move that simply doesn't suit our economic reality. It doesn't help that only around a fifth of money raised is invested into sustainability spending – the remainder goes towards paying for various misguided anti-worker policies and tax cuts.
Readers will likely have seen the recent statistic that just 100 global corporations are accountable for 71% of global emissions. But rather than taxing these companies to encourage them to clean up their act, Macron has decided to spare their growing profits and shunt the burden onto the consumer. The growing bogus practice of "self-employed" delivery drivers only further shifts the consequence of these sorts of taxes off the back of corporations by shifting their fuel tax payments onto the monthly budgets of individual employees.
Isn't public transport the alternative? Frankly, the answer should be yes. Macron, of course, disagrees. France's railways are overdue certainly reforms, but in the face of multiple strike actions this year alone Macron has been determined to stealthily ready them up for flogging off off. Whenever railways go from being run to provide transport to being run to generate private profit for the rich, fares inevitably rise. Elsewhere, he's eroding the alternatives to mass petrol use and shifting the penalty for its use away from big polluting corporations onto the shoulders of working families the length and breadth of France.
The answers are transparently obvious. In city after city across our continent, people are turning to free public transport – it offers a better alternative that it of real use to folks. How many countries have already stood up and put penalties on grubby corporations to clean up their act? No wonder Luxembourg has just implemented it nationwide, some 15 years after Scottish Socialist Party MSPs first proposed implementing it across Scotland. These are fair, common sense solutions that tackle root problems rather than allowing mass scapegoating of the rest of us by some of the biggest polluters on the planet.
The structures and direction of Macron's climate change programme overwhelmingly punish working people but let corporate offenders off the hook. He has not done the crucial work of finding a realistic alternative to the systemic problem of climate change, and has only succeeded in making the super-rich even richer, at the expense of the people of France. It's another story of how a crop of corporate politicians clinging to power across our continent can't provide either a reasonable or effective response to climate change, and again and again put corporate profits ahead of the national interest.
The early consequences of climate change can already be felt, and there are numerous important articles on the issue on this site to be read. My message on the issue of Macron, though, is clear: the answer is not to pop another fresh face on an old, broken down neo-liberal dogma. The answer needs to be systemic changes to the collective problem of climate change and a real egalitarian future for the people of France. It's something we in Scotland and across the UK can learn from.