Tuesday

24th Apr 2018

The French protest that wants to redefine politics

  • (Photo: Nuit Debout)

French police started to evacuate the Place de la Republique in Paris on Monday morning (11 April) after a protest movement that started there extended to more than 60 towns and cities over the weekend.

But the move is unlikely to stop the protest movement.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The so-called Nuit Debout movement, which can be translated as "stand up at night", began on 31 March as protest against a labour market reform presented by the left-wing government.


The El Khomri law, named after the labour minister Myriam El Khomri, mainly makes it easier and less costly for employers to lay off staff, and requires workers to be more flexible on working hours.

Inspired by the 2011 Indignados movement in Spain, the Nuit Debout is a makeshift camp where people talk about the reform, but also about politics in general in committees and a "popular assembly".

Music is played, artistic happenings are created and a library has been set up. The Nuit Debout has its own website and media - Radio Debout and TV Debout - and even its own calendar. Today is 42 March.

In a spirit reminiscent of the May 1968 student protest - the reference point for all generations of left-leaning French students - slogans are also everywhere: "We won't go back home", "Don't lose your life earning it" or "Our dreams don't fit in your ballot boxes".

Started in Paris on the Place de la Republique, where people also spontaneously gathered after the Charlie Hebdo killing and the 13 November attacks last year, the movement spread to other big cities and even medium-sized towns, led mainly by young people and students.

Nuit Debout camps were also set up in Belgium in Brussels and Liege, in Berlin and in six Spanish cities including Madrid and Barcelona.

Monday morning's Paris evacuation follows incidents in several cities after demonstrations against the labour-law reform.

Banks and high schools have been damaged. In Paris, protesters tried on Saturday to go to the apartment of the prime minister Manuel Valls but they were blocked by the police.

'Politics is for everybody'

Several politicians asked the government to stop the movement. Former centre-right prime minister Francois Fillon said he was "shocked" that the movement was "tolerated" under the state of emergency imposed after the November attacks.

Last week the centre-left mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, objected to the movement's "privatisation" of the public area.

Criticism from politicians from the left and right is a reflection of the Nuit Debout's opposition to the political parties as a whole.

"Politics is not something for professionals, it is for everybody," the movement's manifesto says.

“The human should be at the core of our leaders' preoccupations. Vested interests have overridden the general interest.”

Nuit Debout has no leader and has been wary of support from any politicians. Instead, it has been wooing trade unions.

However, although the unions are broadly critical proposed labour market reform, they do not seem to be interested in a wider movement that they would have difficulty managing.

Just over a year before the presidential election, Nuit Debout highlights a deep divide within the French left.

The movement has been triggered by the El Khomri law, which many see as a symbol of the "liberal drift" of the government.

A growing part of the left believes socialist president Francois Hollande to be right wing. The state of emergency, the ultimately unsuccessful proposal to strip terrorists with dual citizenship of their French citizenship, and the policy of support to businesses and budget cuts to reduce France's deficit have been considered by many as a betrayal of the left's values.

In an opinion poll last week, just 15 percent said they hoped Hollande stand for another term as president.

Two lefts

The drop in support for Hollande and the Nuit Debout movement suggest that left-wing radicals are looking for an alternative to the socialists. But the movement still lacks organisation.

In a symbolic coincidence, economy minister Emmanuel Macron, a former banker and Hollande adviser who is considered as the spearhead of the economically liberal part of the left, launched his own political movement last week.

Macron said he was from the left but that his movement was neither from the left nor from the right and that he wanted to take France out of its "sclerosis".

The battle to stand as presidential candidate of the left, many believe, will be a fight between the Nuit Debout left and the Macron left.

Even the names give an indication of the opposing views of France's two lefts.

While the "resistance" and alternative movement is called Nuit Debout – stand up at night, Macron's new movement is called En Marche - going forward.

Analysis

Hollande chooses Europe against the French left

The French government's decision to force through labour market reforms without a vote in parliament can be explained by EU pressure to reform and reduce the deficit.

Analysis

Orban, the 'anti-Merkel', emboldens European right

Hungary's premier Viktor Orban has inspired 'illiberalism' across central Europe and far-right politicians in the West. His expected re-election this Sunday will further reinforce his standing as a symbol for being tough on Europe's political mainstream.

Threat to collapse Fico coalition after journalist killing

Junior coalition partner Most-Hid wants Slovaks to vote for a new parliament, after the killing of a journalist. "If talks about early elections fail, Most-Hid will exit the ruling coalition," its leader Bela Bugar said.

Analysis

Orban, the 'anti-Merkel', emboldens European right

Hungary's premier Viktor Orban has inspired 'illiberalism' across central Europe and far-right politicians in the West. His expected re-election this Sunday will further reinforce his standing as a symbol for being tough on Europe's political mainstream.

News in Brief

  1. Far-right attack migrants on Greek island
  2. Merkel defends accepting UN refugees
  3. EU commissioner plans Malta 'money laundering' inspection
  4. Survey: Half of high polluting farms receive CAP subsidies
  5. Commission will 'not shy away' from Malta killing repercussions
  6. EU Commission opens probe on Alitalia state loan
  7. Paris suspect given 20-year sentence for Brussels shoot-out
  8. Merkel and Pena Nieto praise EU-Mexico trade agreement

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  2. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  3. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  4. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  6. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  7. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  8. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  9. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  10. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  11. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight

Latest News

  1. Juncker delays air quality action due to busy agenda
  2. Spain makes bid for EU anti-pirate HQ
  3. How Russian propaganda depicts Europe - should we worry?
  4. MEPs tell Chinese ambassador of concerns on trade
  5. Greenland votes with eye on independence
  6. EU court delivers blow to anti-abortion activists
  7. Hungary activists defiant after 'Soros Mercenaries' attack
  8. European Commission proposes whistleblower protection law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  2. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  3. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  6. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  7. European Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  8. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  9. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  10. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  11. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  12. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations