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Protests and Yellow Vests: 2018 was a tough year in French politics

French President Emmanuel Macron had a particularly difficult year. Between the Benalla affair and the Yellow Vest movement, many observers felt the French president had lost control of the narrative and imperiled his agenda. An Ifop poll in December showed his popularity had dropped to a new low of 23 percent.
French President Emmanuel Macron had a particularly difficult year. Between the Benalla affair and the Yellow Vest movement, many observers felt the French president had lost control of the narrative and imperiled his agenda. An Ifop poll in December showed his popularity had dropped to a new low of 23 percent. AFP

It has been a complicated year in French politics, with key figures on both the left and right facing their share of challenges. France24 takes a look at these major political events.

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When 2018 began, it seemed like nothing could stop Emmanuel Macron. In his year-end address on December 31 he vowed to continue his reform push "with the same power, rhythm and intensity in 2018". It would be the year "of national cohesion". "Debates are necessary, disagreements are legitimate, but irreconcilable divisions weaken our country," he said. "I want more harmony for France in 2018."
When 2018 began, it seemed like nothing could stop Emmanuel Macron. In his year-end address on December 31 he vowed to continue his reform push "with the same power, rhythm and intensity in 2018". It would be the year "of national cohesion". "Debates are necessary, disagreements are legitimate, but irreconcilable divisions weaken our country," he said. "I want more harmony for France in 2018." AFP

After a difficult 2017, far-right leader and failed presidential candidate Marine Le Pen tried to stage a comeback. At the National Front party conference in March, she sought to turn the page definitively by distancing herself from the party’s founder — her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen — and renaming the party the National Rally. But the effort was undermined by the incendiary remarks of Steve Bannon, former adviser to US President Donald Trump, who told the group, “Let them call you racist … wear it as a badge of honour.”
After a difficult 2017, far-right leader and failed presidential candidate Marine Le Pen tried to stage a comeback. At the National Front party conference in March, she sought to turn the page definitively by distancing herself from the party’s founder — her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen — and renaming the party the National Rally. But the effort was undermined by the incendiary remarks of Steve Bannon, former adviser to US President Donald Trump, who told the group, “Let them call you racist … wear it as a badge of honour.” Philippe Huguen, AFP

The government’s much-anticipated reforms of the state railroad company SNCF brought thousands to the streets in March for a series of strikes lasting until the summer. Despite the demonstrations, Macron stayed the course; the reforms were adopted in June. The new law, which will phase out SNCF’s generous benefits and pensions for future employees, were meant to force the company to cut costs and modernise before the EU opens up domestic rail contracts to competitive bidding.
The government’s much-anticipated reforms of the state railroad company SNCF brought thousands to the streets in March for a series of strikes lasting until the summer. Despite the demonstrations, Macron stayed the course; the reforms were adopted in June. The new law, which will phase out SNCF’s generous benefits and pensions for future employees, were meant to force the company to cut costs and modernise before the EU opens up domestic rail contracts to competitive bidding. Pascal Pavani, AFP

The French Socialist Party lost most of its seats and its Parisian headquarters in 2017. In April the party elected a new leader, Olivier Faure, who took on the Herculean task of rebuilding the party. In December he reached out to a fledgling left-wing grassroots movement, the Place Publique.
The French Socialist Party lost most of its seats and its Parisian headquarters in 2017. In April the party elected a new leader, Olivier Faure, who took on the Herculean task of rebuilding the party. In December he reached out to a fledgling left-wing grassroots movement, the Place Publique. Stéphane de Sakutin, AFP

After Les Républicains were routed in the 2017 presidential vote, the party elected a new leader further to the right – Laurent Wauquiez. Wauquiez came under fire in February when he was recorded telling students at a business college in the eastern city of Lyon that Macron and his team “contributed substantially to setting up a demolition cell” to attack former prime minister and 2017 presidential candidate François Fillon. He found himself in the hot seat again in May when he distributed pamphlets titled, “So that France remains France”, which were widely criticised for dragging the party further right and into National Rally territory. Among his critics was his own party’s vice president, Virginie Calmels.
After Les Républicains were routed in the 2017 presidential vote, the party elected a new leader further to the right – Laurent Wauquiez. Wauquiez came under fire in February when he was recorded telling students at a business college in the eastern city of Lyon that Macron and his team “contributed substantially to setting up a demolition cell” to attack former prime minister and 2017 presidential candidate François Fillon. He found himself in the hot seat again in May when he distributed pamphlets titled, “So that France remains France”, which were widely criticised for dragging the party further right and into National Rally territory. Among his critics was his own party’s vice president, Virginie Calmels. Éric Feferberg, AFP

French daily Le Monde broke the story on July 18 that Emmanuel Macron’s deputy chief of staff and top security officer, Alexandre Benalla, had beaten two protesters in Paris at a May 1 rally while shadowing riot police. Dubbed the “Benalla Affair”, the scandal brought the administration to a standstill with parliamentary enquiries, a hearing with the interior minister and round-the-clock coverage. Macron was criticised for responding too late and not firing Benalla when the scandal broke.
French daily Le Monde broke the story on July 18 that Emmanuel Macron’s deputy chief of staff and top security officer, Alexandre Benalla, had beaten two protesters in Paris at a May 1 rally while shadowing riot police. Dubbed the “Benalla Affair”, the scandal brought the administration to a standstill with parliamentary enquiries, a hearing with the interior minister and round-the-clock coverage. Macron was criticised for responding too late and not firing Benalla when the scandal broke. Philippe Wojazer, Pool, AFP

Frustrated environment minister Nicolas Hulot resigned dramatically on live radio on August 28, taking the president by surprise and depriving the administration of its “green” credentials and one of its most popular politicians. Hulot said he was frustrated by the “small steps” taken to slow global warming. “I don’t want to create the illusion that we are facing up to it,” he said, adding that he hoped his decision would not be seen as “an act of resignation but one of mobilisation”.
Frustrated environment minister Nicolas Hulot resigned dramatically on live radio on August 28, taking the president by surprise and depriving the administration of its “green” credentials and one of its most popular politicians. Hulot said he was frustrated by the “small steps” taken to slow global warming. “I don’t want to create the illusion that we are facing up to it,” he said, adding that he hoped his decision would not be seen as “an act of resignation but one of mobilisation”. Philippe Lopez, AFP

Another high-profile resignation came on October 1, when interior minister Gérard Collomb stepped down. The president refused his resignation several times before finally accepting it. The resignation represented the final fissure in the two men’s relationship: Collomb had criticised his former protégé in September for his “want of humility”.
Another high-profile resignation came on October 1, when interior minister Gérard Collomb stepped down. The president refused his resignation several times before finally accepting it. The resignation represented the final fissure in the two men’s relationship: Collomb had criticised his former protégé in September for his “want of humility”. Stéphane de Sakutin, AFP

Anti-corruption investigators raided the home and party headquarters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, founder of far-left party France Unbowed, in October as part of twin enquiries into the misuse of European Parliament funds and funding irregularities during Mélenchon’s 2017 presidential campaign. The left-wing leader physically resisted the police officers, pronouncing himself at once a victim and a sacred figure. "I am the Republic," he proclaimed, repeatedly asking the officers, "Do you know who I am?" He and others at the office blocked the anti-corruption investigators, forcing them to leave without completing their inspection. Mélenchon tried to paint the raid as a political hit, but public opinion did not fall in his favour.
Anti-corruption investigators raided the home and party headquarters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, founder of far-left party France Unbowed, in October as part of twin enquiries into the misuse of European Parliament funds and funding irregularities during Mélenchon’s 2017 presidential campaign. The left-wing leader physically resisted the police officers, pronouncing himself at once a victim and a sacred figure. "I am the Republic," he proclaimed, repeatedly asking the officers, "Do you know who I am?" He and others at the office blocked the anti-corruption investigators, forcing them to leave without completing their inspection. Mélenchon tried to paint the raid as a political hit, but public opinion did not fall in his favour. Alain Jocard, AFP

Social media helped give birth to the Yellow Vest demonstrations against a planned hike in the tax on diesel. Protesters in high-visibility vests took to traffic roundabouts on November 17, but over the ensuing weeks the movement morphed into a critique of income inequality and the state of French democracy. One month after the crisis began, Macron sought to quell the anger by abandoning the tax hike – and the €10 billion in government revenue it would have raised.
Social media helped give birth to the Yellow Vest demonstrations against a planned hike in the tax on diesel. Protesters in high-visibility vests took to traffic roundabouts on November 17, but over the ensuing weeks the movement morphed into a critique of income inequality and the state of French democracy. One month after the crisis began, Macron sought to quell the anger by abandoning the tax hike – and the €10 billion in government revenue it would have raised. Thierry Zoccolan, AFP

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