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Macron in the spotlight: Could France's strike undermine the President's international leadership?

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By Sofia Sanchez Manzanaro
Britain's Princess Anne, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and NATO Secretary General Stolberg
Britain's Princess Anne, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and NATO Secretary General Stolberg   -   Copyright  Yui Mok/Pool via REUTERS

Just a year after the gilet jaunes (yellow vests) protests, France is preparing for one of the biggest strikes the country has seen in years.

A controversial reform in the pension system proposed by President Emmanuel Macron has sparked fury among the workers of France's rail operator who will be joined by education workers, health state workers and student protesters.

Trade unions called for a strike for an indefinite period that could bring the country to a standstill, a situation that represents a great challenge for the French Government. If successful, this could force President Macron to drop the new retirement pay legislation.

What appears to be a national strike could also have an impact internationally.

The French president was put on the spot over the past few days during the NATO Summit in London, where he clashed with the US President Donald Trump during a tense press conference.

Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS
France's President Emmanuel Macron gestures during the meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, ahead of the NATO summit in Watford, in London, Britain, December 3, 2019Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS

Hours prior, the United States announced tariffs on 100% of French products in response to France’s digital services tax that would directly hit American tech giants such as Facebook, Google or Amazon.

“If this strike ends up being very successful this would undermine Macron’s leadership on an international level, but if it doesn’t go well for the trade unions or they are not able to make it last long enough, it could also end up empowering him,” Michel Wieviorka, sociologist and President of Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, told Euronews.

Macron’s leadership is already heavily damaged in France.

He strived to be the president of neither "the left nor the right” but ended up being perceived as the “president of the rich”, the expert points out.

A global crisis of democracy?

According to Wieviorka, French society is facing a crisis of democracy, as the traditional institutions and mediation systems between people and the state are failing.

“Before people protested against 'patrons', the chiefs of the company or industry, now this changed and they protest against the State,” said Wieviorka. “And in France, the state is very powerful”.

Strong opposition to the State is also what could motivate the gilets jaunes to join the demonstrations tomorrow, even when the movement never showed its support to the demands of public workers.

However, France is not an exception. During the past months, unrest has been present all over the globe: Chile, Lebanon, Spain, Bolivia, Colombia, India and Hong Kong have experienced protest movements.

What most of these movements had in common was a demand for greater democracy or new levels of participation in state processes.

REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado
A rainbow is seen as demonstrators protest against Chile's state economic model in Santiago, Chile October 24, 2019.REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

“We see that mediation is not working like it used to, nor are the traditional political parties, parliaments or representation systems. People are asking for a change that leads to more direct ways to participate in democracy, like referendums, for example”, Wieviorka said.

Some of these movements are detached of nationalism, cultural identity or ideologies and only demand social change.

“The people that will participate in the strike tomorrow are not thinking on a global or European level they only want some kind of social change,” Wieviorka explained.