Monday, 11 November 2013

When Bretons get armed and angry

When something doesn't suit the French they shrug their shoulders and say  C'est comme ca, c'est la vie. That's just the way it is.  They'd rather put up with  things that don't work for them than do something about it, they usually don't fight the system. But lately there has been a sea-change, at least in North-western France.

Up to 30,000 protestors in revolutionary red caps promised to turn Brittany into President Fran├žois Hollande’s “cemetery” last weekend. Riot police were pelted with stones and flower pots as a consequence of  anger over tax hikes and the depressing economy. The Breton town of Quimper has become a focal point fanger at the truly unpopular “ecotax” on heavy goods vehicles. Last week a protester had his hand blown off by a teargas grenade during clashes with police. 
The government  hoped to stop the revolt by “suspending” until January the tax, aimed at encouraging environmentally friendly commercial transport by introducing new levies on vehicles transporting goods weighing over 3.5 tonnes. But  tens of thousands of demonstrators returned  to vent a wider anger at Mr Hollande’s failure to halt many closures and layoffs in Brittany, and his dismal handling of the economy. The problems are compounded because Holland and his government come up with ill-conceived ideas, try to implement them, receive serious flack and then backtrack. It's an unstable situation.
Mr Hollande is France’s most unpopular president ever, and one survey found that 91 per cent of French people want him to change policies or his government before local elections next March.

There is even deep discontent  among his core Socialist supporters, with 85 percent of those on the Left demanding change.

Bretons are the most likely to get 'stirred'. Maybe it's their Celtic origins. They've chosen as their symbol to wear “bonnets rouges” — red caps symbolic of a 17th century uprising against a stamp tax in Brittany imposed by Louis XIV for his war fund. They also became an official emblem of the 1789 Revolution.

This time it's not just a few angry farmers and transport companies and they are not letting the matter drop. The demonstrations brought together a disparate crowd of local bosses, farmers, fishermen, poultry workers facing redundancy, right and left wing extremists, Breton autonomists and thousands of ordinary French disappointed with the Socialist government. Stones and iron bars were hurled at police and even pots of chrysanthemums, which the French traditionally place on graves of their loved ones on November 1 (Toussaint). Protesters said it symbolised “the death of French jobs”. Police responded with water cannon and tear gas.

 It's possible the malaise could spread further as the unemployment rate is now 11% and not likely to improve for at least a year. France's rating with Standards and Poor slipped again this month due to inadequate government economic reforms. Much of the protesters’ fury is against the 30 billion euros (£25.4 billion) in tax hikes imposed this year, as France seeks to meet its European budget deficit commitments.
 France must abide by her European Treaty obligations, which means reducing the deficit. Since the spending ministries do not really want to make hard cuts, the only way is through more taxes. French people pay a lot of taxes and so do their employers.
The Breton militancy won't fix things but it HAS been effective at getting the government's attention. The toll gantries erected on toll roads designed to collect the ecotax have had to be taken down, speed radars have been destroyed, burnt out. Hooligans love to join in and I'm opposed to wanton destruction  but somehow France has to wake up and find a solution that is fair and improves the economic situation here.
Photos taken from the internet.

Protests over the new “ecotax” on trucks, which aims to encourage environmentally friendly commercial transport, kicked off in earnest last month in the northwestern region of Brittany and eventually forced the government to backtrack and suspend the levy.
Wearing red bonnets, the symbol of a 17th-century anti-tax campaign in Brittany, the protesters — small business owners, fishermen and food industry workers — marched in big, sometimes violent, rallies in the region, which has already been crushed by job cuts and would be hard hit by the new tax.
Some destroyed radars set up in advance along roads to screen passing vehicles and determine whether they need to pay the tax, which would apply to French and foreign vehicles carrying goods weighing over 3.5 tonnes.
Under pressure to rein in its state deficit, France’s Socialist government has announced about 3 billion euros ($4.1 billion) in tax increases for next year, and protests in Brittany come on top of wider opposition to tax hikes.
The ecotax was actually adopted by the previous right-wing UMP government in 2009 but its implementation had repeatedly been put off.
And while the Socialist government suspended the levy last week over the unrest, protesters asking for the tax to be completely abandoned have continued to destroy radars, mostly in Brittany but in other parts of the country too.
On Tuesday, the transport ministry said 11 such radars had been vandalised since the beginning of the protest movement, as had four big overhead road structures equipped with cameras and radio receptors.
This equipment would identify trucks liable for the tax thanks to a GPS box installed inside the vehicles.
Controversy has also started to swirl around Ecomouv’, the firm contracted by the previous government to collect the tax, amid “questions” over how the company was awarded the contract.
Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici on Tuesday said the contract signed with the firm — which is majority owned by Italian company Autostrade per l’Italia — would have to be renegotiated.
“We can question the fact that the collection of a national tax was handed over to a supplier with foreign origins,” he said.
And while protests have so far been concentrated in Brittany, there is concern that the unrest may spread to other parts of France.
Last week, market gardeners staged a rally in a region near Brittany to demand an end to the levy, and several ecotax radars have been destroyed in other parts of France. – AFP
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