Why Are There Protests In France? Here's What You Need To Know

·4 min read

The French government and the French public have locked horns in recent weeks, resulting in violent protests around the country.

The clash means even King Charles has cancelled his planned visit to the neighbouring nation which would have been his first trip abroad since taking to the throne.

Here’s what you need to know.

Riot police stand in the middle of the crowd during clashes with demonstrators on Thursday
Riot police stand in the middle of the crowd during clashes with demonstrators on Thursday

Riot police stand in the middle of the crowd during clashes with demonstrators on Thursday

What is happening in France?

Police have resorted to using tear gas and stun grenades to push back against anarchists in Paris and across France, according to Reuters news agency, as hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered to protest.

Friday March 24 marks the tenth day of nationwide demonstrations.

Most of them have been peaceful, but groups of ‘Black Bloc’ anarchists caused riots in the streets by smashing shop windows and ransacking a McDonald’s. They clashed with the riot police.

Meanwhile, the nation’s travel industry has been upended, with train and air travel disrupted, while teachers (among other working professionals) have walked out.

Sanitation workers have pushed back too, meaning tonnes of rubbish piled up in Paris last week, and bins have been set alight by other demonstrators.

Electricity output was cut as unions pressured the government, protesters blocked oil depots and liquified natural gas terminals, triggering oil shortages.

According to the interior minister Gerald Darmanin, who condemned the “thugs, often from the far-left”, 149 police officers were injured and 172 have been arrested nationwide. A woman also lost her thumb in the Normandy town of Rouen.

The government claims more than a million people protested across the country, with 119,000 solely in the capital. That’s a record since the protests began in January, as tensions have ramped up over the last week.

A masked demonstrator kicks an object amid clashes with riot police in Paris
A masked demonstrator kicks an object amid clashes with riot police in Paris

A masked demonstrator kicks an object amid clashes with riot police in Paris

So what triggered the protests?

Workers began demonstrating after French president Emmanuel Macron decided to increase the pension age from 62 to 64.

Then last week, Macron forced the bill through without putting it to a parliamentary vote first using an emergency presidential decree, before it got to a National Assembly vote in the afternoon.

Reuters also noted that polls show more than 70% of the public oppose the move.

A protester holds a placard reading 'Macron take your pension, not ours'
A protester holds a placard reading 'Macron take your pension, not ours'

A protester holds a placard reading 'Macron take your pension, not ours'

What does this mean?

Opponents – like the far-right Marine Le Pen who has been biting at Macron’s heels in the last two presidential elections – have dubbed it a “complete failure of government”.

Le Pen also called for a no-confidence vote in the Macron administration.

But Macron is refusing to back down.

He spoke out about the pension reforms this week, saying on Wednesday that the law would come in by the end of the year, and compared the protests to the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

These riots are the most serious challenge to Macron’s time in office since the Yellow Vest revolts which began in 2018.

Inflation remains high in France though, meaning workers cannot afford to stay away from their jobs for long.

The government may therefore be hoping that protesters will be forced to return to work soon, even as trade unions have called for more demonstrations.

President Macron has refused to back down over the reforms
President Macron has refused to back down over the reforms

President Macron has refused to back down over the reforms

So, why did Charles cancel his visit?

It was going to be the monarch’s first state visit since taking to the throne, but the British and French governments decided together to cancel it after nationwide strikes.

The Elysee Palace said the three-day-trip, which was meant to start on Sunday, would be rescheduled as soon as possible.

It had been in the diary for months in an effort to use the crown’s soft diplomacy to strengthen ties between the UK and its European allies.

The trip’s details were already under review before the cancellation so as to reduce Charles’ interactions with the public.

Tradenion members responsible for providing flags, red carpets and furniture for public buildings had already announced they would not prepare a Sunday reception for the King.

Charles was also set to travel to Bordeaux from Paris on Tuesday March 28, by train, but the main entrance to the city’s town hall was set on fire this week.

Charles will still go on to Germany though, making his visit to Berlin the first one of his reign – which is likely to be a source of embarrassment for Macron, who wanted to reset UK-France relations in the post-Brexit era.

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