Photo credit: Vincent Mouchel
Something ominous is afoot. The opposition to Hollande has begun to change character. Until now most of the talk has been about the rising threat of the Front National. That threat remains, to be sure, but it has inherent limitations as a national political phenomenon, since a substantial majority still considers Marine Le Pen to be an unacceptable alternative to the mainstream parties.
The Bonnets rouges represent a new threat. Hastily assembled to protest the "ecotax" on truckers, the movement initially seemed to be a routine affair of an interest group harmed by a policy reacting in self-defense. But the movement has spread and grown more violent. It seems to be coalescing into a regional revolt against any number of consequences of government actions and inaction. The issues range far beyond the ecotax, and all manner of anti-Hollande elements are getting into the act:
Les organisateurs du rassemblement, regroupant pêle-mêle le Medef, le NPA, la FNSEA, FO ou encore le Parti breton, sont pourtant bien incapables de prévoir la suite du mouvement.Strange bedfellows indeed. But Hollande must take note. Brittany has been une terre de conquête for the Left, but it now seems to be slipping away, as its agrobusiness interests succumb to international competition (the meatpacker Gad has had to lay off hundreds of workers) and angry truckers attack the "electronic gateways" that had been erected to monitor the passage of trucks in preparation for collection of the ecotax.
Meanwhile, Hollande's approval rating has sunk out of sight, barely above 20%, the lowest ever recorded in the Fifth Republic, while a recent poll shows that more than 90% consider the government to be on the wrong track. It hardly needs emphasizing that these are disastrous results, and the government seems to have no response--not even the standard pseudo-response of un remaniement ministériel.
What is interesting is that no party, not even the Front National, speaks for this movement, which expresses rather a generalized ras-le-bol and disgust with the absence of a "political offer" that it can understand. It's not so much that the government lacks a policy. Even its enemies acknowledge that it has one. What it lacks is an explanation of its policy, a plausible rationale that what it is doing will lead to improvement in any of the areas that concern the proliferating ranks of the protesters. "Show us--not that your plan will work but that it can work," they are saying, and meanwhile rejecting the few incoherent answers they have received.
This is a moment of maximal danger, not just for Hollande but for the establishment generally. Legitimacy is rapidly draining away. And when it is finally gone, who knows what comes next?