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Is Europe drifting towards another war?

There is a saying in France that the unskilled worker is either on strike or on holidays. It’s not true; it’s an idiom that has gained traction recently as the country tries to work its way through a number of self-inflicted economic issues.

In France currently, there is a major protest movement, which the media have dubbed the ‘gilets jaunes,’ (‘yellow jackets’). The reason they call them the yellow jackets, or yellow vests, is because they wear high visibility yellow vests when they protest.

They are protesting against Emmanuel Macron, the president of France who has proposed some rather savage tax increases that they regard as impacting upon them quite heavily, taxes they feel are not being spread equally across the economy.

They are a gluttonous, selfish lot, already feeding freely on a highly generous, social system, that includes workplace benefits, a comparatively low retirement age, as well as free health and inclusive education opportunities that other EU countries don’t share.

Their anger is directed at Macron, who they regard as having betrayed their initial trust in him. Their protest strategy is to take advantage of secure employment during the week and then spend their weekends disrupting everyone else’s leisure time. The aim is for those, who would like a little bit of free time for social engagements during the weekends, enjoying whatever it is that they do, to also feel the brunt of their anger.

Oddly enough, there is an equal amount of sympathy and scorn for the movement among the broader French population.

Macron knows that if France remains a member of the Eurozone, its social security system is not sustainable without an increase in its revenue stream. Getting this message across to the yellow vests is proving to be very difficult. France does not have a sovereign currency; its membership of the Eurozone reduces it to the level of statehood inside a monetary block where it has no power to create its own currency.

Alarmingly, the yellow jackets have stopped listening to Macron.

This strategy places great demands on the police to work on weekends trying to restore law and order and allow people to go about their normal activities. The yellow vests are quite violent in their protests, smashing shop fronts, lighting fires, hurling rocks and creating as much mayhem as they can. The police respond with batons and tear gas, creating scenes of chaos wherever the protesters gather.

When I arrived in Paris at Gare du Nord one Saturday afternoon in late September via the Eurostar from London, the yellow vests were in full battle order. They had blocked the main streets and the police were everywhere. I went out onto the street to find a taxi only to find a large queue of people doing exactly the same thing. The short supply of taxis was due to the yellow vests blockading the major exits and entrances to the city and movement anywhere had become severely curtailed.

The following Saturday, when I arrived in Toulouse, I found the yellow vests had blocked the roads there, as well. Our bus driver did not know how to get to our hotel. So, she parked the bus in the middle of a bridge and unhitched our luggage. She said, “You have to walk from here,” and pointed in the general direction of the hotel.

So, imagine, if you will, eighteen disillusioned foreign seniors walking down a street dragging all manner of suitcases, backpacks and other paraphernalia towards an intersection where we could see a burning building, tear gas, police fighting against the yellow vests and listening to a noise that resembled that of an AFL grand final crowd. It was mildly intimidating but also somewhat stimulating and exciting.

We walked for fifteen minutes before arriving safely at our hotel. It had been a sober welcome both Paris and Toulouse. A week or so later, again on a Saturday morning, we returned to Paris from Montpellier, this time terminating at Gare de Lyon to experience the whole thing over again.

Reflecting on this, as I did when I returned home mid-October, it occurred to me that the French riots were part of a worldwide trend. Taken in isolation, they seem selfish and self-centred. But connecting the dots and adding other current protest movements like those in Hong Kong, Germany, South America, Italy, Australia and elsewhere, it becomes evident that currently there is a world-wide sense of unrest and rebellion and that its constituent parts have one thing in common: neoliberalism.

Where this is leading to, is anyone’s guess. But it is real and it is unprecedented. We can also include the calamity and hilarity of events we see unfolding in the US relating to Donald Trump’s impeachment hearings and events in the UK relating to Brexit.

One thing strikes me as a no-brainer. If Brexit goes ahead, France will follow. Their inability to fund their social programs within the Eurozone will ultimately lead them to realize their only option is to leave the Eurozone and ultimately, the EU and restore their true sovereignty. If France goes, Italy will follow and gradually, over a period of many years, the EU and the Eurozone will collapse in much the same way the Soviet Union collapsed.

This then exposes Europe to the dangers of war. It’s a chilling scenario. I don’t expect to be around if and when it happens, but my grandchildren will be.

And that really frightens me. My concern is not for my future, but theirs.

 

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20 comments

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  1. Phil Pryor

    Neoliberalism is a polite lie, a term to disguise a predatory capitalism of triumphal corporate insiders. They network, organise markets, remuneration, bonuses, profits, law, governments, media and P R outlooks, control policy, enrich themselves, focus only on selfishness in the camouflage of efficiency, policy, natural social darwinism, basic triumphalism, the new classes of replacements for the old shit royaly and nobility. No fair and decent leader is required, just a queue of grateful bumboys to execute the will of the collective in control. If the masses, the very planet, suffer, so effing what. We’ve outsourced and offshored and lawed up the present to guarantee a profitable future. We all die eventually and they know that, so they root, shoot, loot, boot and pollute with impunity. Deathly sad…

  2. Andrew Smith

    Not sure if the logic follows that France would leave the EU due to budgetary issues via social funding as by that qualification many other nations would also leave, but highly unlikely.

    Majority of citizens in Europe can see the benefits of the EU, though many have antipathy towards the EU, Brexit (Anglo created) mess has apparently acted as an antidote for older Europeans who may have considered similar.

    When it comes to youth and working age, support for the EU is higher than older generation’s support, this includes for mobility, development funds for newer member states to invest in infrastructure, agriculture and education, plus simply being ‘European’.

    The idea of the EU breaking up has been promoted by Brexit supporters, Murdoch, Torygraph etc. on behalf of some global players or corporates who wish to avoid EU directives and regulation on data privacy, WHS, workers’ rights, environmental regulation, money laundering etc.

    One generally ignores much Anglo media views or analysis on Europe because most don’t understand what the EU is about and how it works (includes Tory Ministers…..), back grounded in the UK by decades of dog whistling the EU, and of course ‘immigration’ which got Brexit across the line.

  3. Roswell

    And the winner is … Putin.

  4. Josephus

    Europe and war: The impending inability to continue funding national social programmes is due to tax avoidance and tax evasion, and the corruption of ruling elites . Blaming the alien other is a well tried and tested method to deflect anger on to vulnerable minorities.

    The 1957 born EEC (one of many supranational creations of the era, some of which failed to materialise, eg the European Political Community of the early 1950s) was intended to prevent the resurgence of pre-war hatreds and selfishness and to negotiate limits to offshore tax havens for example. .

    Time has passed; the EU hoped the eurozone would foster easy travel and cross border employment. And so it has – for the educated and multilingual, the brave and the young.

    I reopen my copy of John Laughland’s work, ‘The Tainted Source, The Undemocratic Origins of the European Idea’, 1997. Laughland, who lived in Brussels, gave great offence to Europhiles such as Ted Heath, who accused him of selective history. Laughland’s thesis was that national parliamentary states had been subverted by a near-totalitarian, supranational Euro-administration . He traced the history of 20th c pan-Europeanism, ruthlessly dissecting the history of pan-European pre-war fascisms to conclude that nation-states alone preserved fundamental freedoms.

    It is true that the EEC wrongly claimed, and still claims, that modern Europeanism grew out of laudable post war ‘never againism’. The author is right to point out that before the 1952 European Coal and Steel Community there was a similar pact between Nazi Germany and Vichy. He is right to claim that Europeanism is not entirely the child of post war human rights concerns . Yet the author is wrong to conclude that the EEC/EU is by its nature anti-democratic, and the nation state the unique defender of freedoms of all kinds. Not all freedoms are laudable…

    Today we see national elites gradually subverting the EU’s strict environmental , taxation, health, worker protection, human rights, food purity and other regulations as they seek to increase their profits and deflect popular anger onto Brussels . Brexit if it succeeds may allow free rein to US style vampire businesses at the expense of what remains of social security and environmental protections.

    Europeanism is neutral because it existed and exists in many forms. Accused by the Right of cosmopolitan ‘world government’ aspirations, by the Left of anti-worker capitalist hegemony, there were for instance both National Socialist pan-Europeans and leftist socialist pan-Europeans in Germany, while in post war France right and left wing ideologues alike were split between pan Europeans and nationalists. That is why Laughland was abandoning his evidence based thesis, ie the less savoury origins of (some) Europeanism, for an unfounded optimism when he asserts that ‘freedom’ is better served by national elites than by a supra national body.

    The EU may need changes, as it has changed over many years. It has above all to accommodate tensions between open border sentiments a la Merkel and invasion’ fears a la Budapest and Warsaw, and has moved to protectionism in recent years.

    Yes, the EU might implode, as the USSR did. So might the UK. However the many German states have managed to stay united (minus Austria it is true), as have Italy and Spain. Perhaps rumours of the EU’s demise have been wildly exaggerated.

    Which nation state has not selectively interpreted its past? Laughland was right to uncover the false claims of the post-war born-again Fathers of Europe, wrong to laud the wished-for free rein of the Right to flout the environmental, health and other protections that the EU has negotiated with its member states.

  5. mark delmege

    John your analysis is threadbare and bordering on the ignorant. Actually ‘bordering’ is generous.

  6. mark delmege

    So Michael are you saying John is right to ignore the rural birth of the yellow vests and that they are stupid and ignorant to have survived a year with thousands of (many very serious) injuries blindings and arrests and that you see no differences between the black/black thugs – probably police or state backed provocateurs and the generally peaceful ‘Gilets jaunes ‘. . And that you see no differences between the social upheavals now taking place on all continents bar this one. Really?

  7. Michael Taylor

    Mark, I was looking at the big picture. The reason the EU was formed in the first place was to put a stop to European wars.

  8. mark delmege

    Thats an arguable point Michael. It didn’t stop the US with EU support running a coup in Ukraine or the war in former Yugoslavia or screwing the bejesus out of Greece. Anyway I’d argue John would have been better off saying he didn’t understand the nature of the yellow vests than making neoliberal criticisms of a social movement had he better understood he might well support. I’m not surprised though as the activities goals and aspirations of the yellow vests have been largely ignored by the western media. There are also a bundle of articles that can be written explaining the differences between the ‘protest’ movements taking in Africa, The Middle East, South and Central America, Europe and HK. There is a world of difference between them.

  9. Glenn k

    John, you are so off with this assessment that is is embarrassing to read. Having read many of your posts in the past i am surprised at your superficial analysis and the tenuous connections you make to thread your story.
    So sorry that your tourist trip to France was inconvenienced – after all, if you can’t sightsee in comfort, then what’s the point of France? Right?
    I lived in Australia for 30 years, but moved my family to France 2.5 years ago. In France, we do have a sustainable social security system and it is one of the best in the world. The French are NOT a “gluttonous, selfish lot”, but they ARE politically articulate and aware, and they do believe in social justice and that access to medical care is a social right, AND that the public commons is owned by the public. One small example…..on the last Sunday of every month ALL museums are open to EVERYONE for FREE.
    Yes, you do get a lot of strikes in France – big ones and small ones, all the time. WHY? Because they work! The politicians respond. Macron did it with the yellow vests. One can debate the merits or otherwise of the changes he implemented, but the key is that he listened to their complaints and sought to understand them and respond in a positive way. Don’t you wish the LNP would do that just once on any issue? Or are Dutton’s jackboots on the ground a more democratic response?
    My young son plays soccer, so every weekend i travel to different sports fields in various villages. The quality and standard of the pitches is exceptional – and it’s all public space open to everyone. Most have other facilities such as tennis courts, bmx tracks, basketball courts etc. i compare this to the crap my son played on across the northern beaches suburbs of Sydney – apparently a wealthy area of Australia. My point?…….the French live in a society and the common good is strong. The French are politically engaged and will not hesitate to protest when they see a perceived injustice. They do it because it works. So sorry we inconvenienced your holiday. You don’t like it, don’t come back.
    As for Frexit…….that won’t happen. The clusterf***k happening in the UK has pretty much killed off the Frexit movement here – the French can see the mess it would make. Le Penn doesn’t really push it that much any more.
    The French riots are distinctly French and on French issues. The difference in France as opposed to the rest of the world (as per your implications) is that the French government listened and responded. Macron went on a “town hall tour” across the country and ultimately responded with over €10billion in additional targeted expenditure.
    John, if you want to understand why your tourist vacation to France was inconvenienced then please do your homework before you put pen to paper. I love Australia and i love love my new home France. I am proud my children hold passports to both. You post makes me angry for both its ignorance and its laziness. I know you can do better than that.

  10. Denis Hay

    Neoliberalism. A cancer on society. The commodification of everyone and everything for profit no matter the social or environmental costs.

    It’s the time we started to look at alternatives to our broken and corrupt political system.

    An Alternative to Political Parties: https://youtu.be/9CEe0AM80Vk

    A Government That Works For Us The People: https://youtu.be/WHvm06iKhY4

  11. mark delmege

    There is another entirely different way to view the EU. It was the ‘peaceful’ takeover of Europe by the same sorts who funded WW2. The Bankers and Industrialists and they won. 2 or 3 hundred million people under the one order in the one market. It explains why Jugoslavia, the once independent nation, had to be carved up and destroyed. It explains the coup in Ukraine. Ie when gentle persuasion wasn’t possible more forceful methods were used. Countries that stand outside of the EU are punished in all sorts of ways till they submit.
    And why those countries who voted against membership or particular instruments were sent back to the polls until they got it right. But will Britain be allowed to leave and is the whole shitshow just another distraction – I’ve always thought it wouldn’t but time will tell.

  12. Andy56

    crikey, how many assertions can you put into a article like this. This will follow that…..I have two words BULL SHIT. You are no better than any other philosopher who claims to understand human behavior. Mate, the French are proud of their 17th century revolution. Something our government needs to keep in mind. The french dont take shit from their government.

  13. Florence

    Who would any wars be between? What role will the US play?

  14. John Kelly

    Glenn K., my trip to France wasn’t inconvenienced. It was essentially to further my French language skills, not tourism. And I feel better for it. Over the past 25 years I have made 9 visits there and France is my favourite country outside of Australia. I could happily live there permanently. In fact, I envy your decision to live there.
    I admire the French social security system. It is precisely what all countries should provide for their citizens in health and education. But it has consequences when it is reliant on taxation and borrowings, as opposed to sovereign currency creation, if not offset by an increase in productive output.
    I didn’t mean to call all French a selfish gluttonous lot, just those protesting under the banner of the gilets jaunes. Perhaps it was a bit harsh, but I can’t unsay it, now. However, the French are not Robinson Crusoe when it comes to being politically articulate, aware or having a strong sense of social justice.
    Australia used to have a lot of strikes back in the 50s through to the 90s. We seemed to have moved on. Perhaps we discovered better ways of achieving a desired outcome, or at least a workable compromise. We too have a ‘world’s best’ health and social security system. I’m an aged pensioner and I experience first hand how generous it is.
    Possibly a big difference between our two countries is apathy…. ours…not yours. Too many Australians are too comfortable and too easily persuaded by deceiving politicians. Having a right-wing dominated media also helps.
    The maintenance of publicly owned facilities such as you have observed in French villages shows clearly that public money creates employment and adds to a nation’s GDP. Something our conservative politicians could take note of rather than maintaining an obsession for producing surpluses.
    As for the future, I can gaze into the crystal ball and express an opinion, just as you can. We all can! My observations about the future are based on many factors, not just cultural, but economic, regional, demographic and historic.
    I agree that the French riots are motivated by French issues, which is why I believe their strong nationalistic spirit will force them to address their inability to create their own currency in the not too distant future. To revert to their own currency will require leaving the Eurozone. I believe it will play a major role in their future planning.
    However, to suggest that when some elements of French society riot, the government listens, is naïve. Governments are elected to serve the common good, not sectional interests. To do otherwise, is not leadership. It is appeasement. It is unstainable.
    Just to repeat, you did not inconvenience my trip to France. I’ll be back next year. Perhaps we can do coffee.

  15. John Kelly

    Mark Delmege, I have read all your comments and believe you have misunderstood my intentions. My comments to Glenn K might help clarify my message.

  16. mark delmege

    I follow the yellow vests progress when I can. Ramin Mazaheri from Press TV – you’ll find him on FB if that is your thing – is there most weeks and has a particular take on the who whats and why but there are other places you can get an unvarnished view. French repression was on show but largely ignored by our MSM. France for all its protests and higher values is still a blood sucking colonial power as nasty as any. Having read your response above I still find you analysis naïve.

  17. Glenn K

    John,
    I would love to meet you in a French cafe – I’m sure we would both enjoy it. One of the many things I love about France is that the French enjoy discussing politics and can robustly disagree without killing the dinner party. Aussies seem to avoid politics like the plague…and are the lesser for it. If ever you plan to visit Aix-en-Provence then reach out to me – I live close by.
    My lived experience here suggests the health/education/social security systems here are well above Australia – well above. This probably has a lot to do with Australia going backwards because I remember from the ’80’s a much more supportive and compassionate system in Australia than exists today. Perhaps that is a topic for discussion over a cafe.
    The yellow vest protests are interesting and in many respects quite unique (notwithstanding the violent anarchists who are exploiting the opportunity for a bit of violence). When it began it was completely unorganised and spontaneous around the country. It continues to this day though mostly on the weekends around where I live. The police attend the local protests but do so to manage traffic and do not hinder the protesters.
    I note your MMT concerns and would disagree the French social system is unsustainable without a fiat currency, being within the EU. I believe it is a matter of resource allocation and priorities for the French government. In terms of public funds recirculating to support/grow GDP, I suggest you research the history and power behind the estimated 45,000 mayors in France, and the role of the local Town Hall in French life. ( I believe the establishment of the mayors go back to the 1st Republic, and we’re now in the 5th Republic). This will go a long way in better understanding the “common good” in France and the sustainability of the French social system.
    Would be an interesting afternoon in a cafe with you. I would look forward to it.

  18. Josephus

    France has a long revolutionary history, and a literate population which has been taught basic philosophical concepts at school and which respects its intellectuals.

    The EU for its part is a complex beast, a flawed and in part self-serving force for good that certainly needs to change, but is less bad than the alternatives, viz semi-autarchic nation states. Checks and balances, perhaps.

    Example: The French Overseas receive transfers from the Metropole, which in turn is rewarded with strategic advantages, eg fishing grounds and military/naval bases. The overseas locals choose freely to perpetuate their dependence; some Territories have autonomy in many areas. Certainly the euro (or linked currencies overseas) discourage exports and tourism, yet subsidised medical care and educational opportunities are better there than in comparable sovereign islands and states.

    Similarly, on the EU mainland poor regions get EU funds supplied by the richest member states. Redistribution networks in both cases: Regional Funds, Overseas Funds.

    No system, whether EU, Overseas, regions or nation states, is really grass roots and democratic. It is always a matter of compromise, risks and benefits.

    Excellent books on one aspect of the above, the complex mutually beneficial interplay between the EU, its relevant member states and their dependencies are:

    European Integration and Postcolonial Sovereignty Games, Ed. Adler-Nissen and Pram Gad, 2013,
    and
    EU Law of the Overseas…. Ed. D, Kochenov, 2011.

  19. Steven Seagal

    @ John Kelly

    I can’t believe the nonsense I’m reading. How dare you call ‘those protesting under the gilets jaunes banner’ gluttonous and selfish’? Some nerve. With all due respect you have no idea what you are talking about. Did you even to talk to some protesters and listen to what they had to say? There are families where both parents work full-time and are still only a couple of bills away from poverty.

    Do you know that the gilets jaunes also protest against Macron’s pensions reform. Had you done your research, you would know that president Macron decided to reduce the pensions of millions of low-income retirees to finance tax breaks for big companies. How’s that for social justice? Isn’t it worth taking to the streets? What about the fact that only after 2 months of protests the yellow vests managed to get an 8% increase of the minimum wage from the government? Which is more than the unions got in the last 10 years.

    ‘Australia had a lot of strikes (…) we seemed to have moved on.’ Do you know that since 2018 less than half of the Australian workforce is working full-time with full benefits? Is it what you call moving on? Precarity and job insecurity? Is that what you call ‘a better way’?Because it’s looking Australia right in the eyes right now and nobody is doing anything about it. Workers’ bargaining power is extinct in Australia.

    There’s so much more to tell but I would advise you study your topic a bit more next time you write about something. You are entitled to you opinion however when your opinion is based on facts you got wrong I think it’s probably best to keep it for yourself instead of spreading inaccurate information.

    “People who know little are usually great talkers, while men who know much say little.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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