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Macron’s Misstep Is Europe’s Loss

The street rallies and riots across France over the past month represent the largest crisis of Emmanuel Macron's presidency, and pose a direct threat to French leadership within the European Union. But while Macron has only himself to blame for the popular backlash, that doesn't mean France or Europe would be better off without him.

PARIS – Are the Yellow Vest protests across France as consequential as the mass rallies of May 1968? It is too soon to say. The revolt has forced French President Emmanuel Macron to make significant and costly concessions, but it is hardly a new French Revolution. Though some demonstrators clearly want to reenact the “feats” of their ancestors against their (elected) monarch, we are not in July 1789.

The uprising of May 1968, it is worth recalling, was driven largely by a bored generation of students living at the peak of France’s post-war prosperity. Though the economy was at full employment, they rebelled against the status quo in the name of dubious utopias inspired by Fidel Castro’s Cuba and Mao’s China. They were joined by well-organized trade unions that helped the movement reach a critical mass, at least temporarily.

The difference between then and now is that those taking to the streets to protest against Macron’s proposed fuel-tax increase are animated not by utopia but by despair. In this sense, the Yellow Vest uprising is not unlike a French Brexit, in that it amounts to an act of shooting oneself in the foot. Whereas the British resorted to the ballot box, the French have adopted a mixture of barricades, marches, and stone throwing.

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