Yellow Vests paralyze France
The Yellow vests protests, named after their high-visibility clothing, begun on 17 November and had dominated French political discourse since. Initially, the demonstrators were just a lower-middle-class from rural France who were against the new eco-tax on fuel that would significantly increase their expenses. In the following days, many more social groups joined the movement: students, anarchists, right-wing anti-immigration populists, and fascists. The protests started as online petitions and road blockades. Buts since the government ignored their demands, perhaps hoping that it is just another typical expression of the French nature, the protesters organized massive demonstrations in Paris and other French cities that turned violent and caused considerable damage.
But the causes of these massive protests are much deeper than just a fuel tax. Unemployment in France had been above the EU average for years and 14,2 % of people live in poverty. French economic growth is very low. At the same time, crime rates were growing, and the influx of migrants transformed parts of many French cities. Macron was elected with a hope that he would liberalise the economy and improve its terrible performance. In reality, however, his reforms did not meet the expectations and his derogative rhetoric towards people who were not satisfied only made them angrier. The announcement of the new fuel tax around the same time when the wealth tax was lowered was the last straw that caused an eruption of public discontent.
Over time, the list of protesters’ demands grew from more effective wealth redistribution, tax cuts, minimum wage increase or lowering the retirement age to Macron’s resignation. Leaders of both the far-right and far-left, Marine LePen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, attempted to capitalize on the Yellow Vests movement but failed. The movement remains a grassroots activism facilitated by the social media and disconnected from any political party or trade unions. Perhaps that is the reason why 70% of the French sympathize with the Yellow Vests while Macron’s popularity hits only 23%.
After initial ignorance, the French government promised to postpone the eco-tax on fuel by 6 months. Finally, on 10 December, President Macron addressed the nation and announced measures to improve the purchasing power of the French: a rise of the minimum wage and tax cuts for pensioners and overtime work. This move is, however, seen as too little too late by many Yellow Vests. It is very likely that blockades, demonstrations, and riots will continue.
The case of Huawei: Iran, spying, arrests and trade wars
Beijing is demanding an immediate release of a senior Huawei executive or Canada will face “grave consequences.” Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver on December 1 and faces extradition to the United States for partaking in “a scheme to trick financial institutions into making transactions that violated American sanctions against Iran.” However, no decision was yet reached about the extradition.
Beijing issues a warning to Ottawa. China is calling for the immediate release of #Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou. She was arrested in Vancouver and is in detention on a US warrant. American authorities accuse her of fraud and breaching Washington's sanctions on Iran. #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/xQUTtMlWZM
— Natasha Fatah🏹 (@NatashaFatah) December 8, 2018
Huawei is one of China’s most internationally successful private companies, recently surpassing Apple to become the second-biggest smartphone maker in the world, while steadily expanding into areas where China seeks influence. Huawei’s dealings with Iran were also scrutinized in the past. In 2011, the company stated that it would “voluntarily restrict the growth of its business in Iran.”
The decision to arrest Ms. Meng has ignited anger in China. Moreover, Bejing and Washington are locked in a bitter trade war. However, in a meeting that took place before Ms. Meng’s arrest, U.S. president Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping reached a 90-day ceasefire in their trade dispute. Nevertheless, the case has considerably complicated China’s economic relations with the U.S. and potentially derailed any chances of reaching an agreement.
The United States and many other western countries have publicly raised concerns about the security of Huawei products, citing fears of espionage. Huawei insists that there is no government control but many fear that China might gain access to fifth-generation (5G) mobile communications networks trough Huawei and use it to boost its spying abilities.
In reaction, the governments of New Zealand and Australia decided to block Huawei from their future 5G networks. Similarly, the UK has also decided to ban Huawei from parts of its 3G and 4G networks.
The most important one-term U.S. president
The 41st president of the United States, George H. W. Bush, died on November 30 at the age of 94. He was the U.S. president from 1989 to 1993.
His presidency took place during a turbulent time during the fall of communism in the Eastern Bloc. He, together with Mikhail Gorbachev, signed a mutual nonaggression pact in 1990, which is perceived as a symbol of the end of the Cold War. He was also responsible for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, known as START l, signed in 1991. The treaty reduced strategic offensive nuclear weapons.
His first year in office, President Bush ordered the military invasion to Panama to suppress the leader gen. Noriega. The operation was denounced by the Organization of American states and by the UN General Assembly. One of the most prominent key moments of his career was the authorization of a U.S.-led air offensive, the Operation Desert Storm, that led to the Persian Gulf War. The coalition between Western European and Arab states is regarded as probably his most significant diplomatic achievement.
George H. W. Bush had been criticized for a certain aspect of his domestic policies, including his AIDS policy. But despite the critique, he signed two important treaties to address the epidemy in 1989. He was also admired for his bipartisanship and consensus building. His tax policies and eventual loss to Bill Clinton led to the transformation of the Republican party.
America has lost a patriot and humble servant in George Herbert Walker Bush. While our hearts are heavy today, they are also filled with gratitude. Our thoughts are with the entire Bush family tonight – and all who were inspired by George and Barbara’s example. pic.twitter.com/g9OUPu2pjY
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) December 1, 2018
#NATO to assess presence in the Black Sea
In response to Russia’s attempts to expand its influence and control the Azov Sea, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that the Alliance would continue to increase its presence in the Black Sea region. Like it has done over the past few years, NATO will support Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty with naval, ground and air forces. “This year, ships under NATO command have spent 120 days in the Black Sea, compared to 80 days the year before,” according to Stoltenberg.
Following the November incident in the Kerch Strait, president Petro Poroshenko requested a NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting. Afterward, he asked for the deployment of NATO ships to the Azov Sea “in order to assist Ukraine and provide security.” This appeal was not further commented by NATO officials and is unlikely to be granted. However, the U.S. Navy is reportedly making preparations to sail a warship into the Black Sea, notifying Turkey about its plans.
NATO and the EU demand Russia to respect international law and ensure free passage through the Kerch Strait. They also have been calling for immediate release of all 24 crew members, who were captured and are remaining in custody, charged with “illegal border crossing”.
EU Foreign High Representative Mogherini informed about further economic sanctions on Russia, financial support for Ukraine, and prospective backing of the reform agenda of the country.
Image: Wikimedia Commons | Thomas Bresson
STRATPOL Memos is a project which on a bi-weekly basis provides a short overview of the most important selected moments of Euro-Atlantic security and related areas. Our goal is to provide brief and informative comments with short analysis putting news into a broader context.
Responsible editor Ondřej Zacha.
The text has not undergone language revision.