Thousands of angry French protesters have gathered in the French capital to call for the country’s withdrawal from the U.S.-led NATO military alliance. The protesters have also called for the resignation of the country’s President Emmanuel Macron.
The demonstration reflects similar rallies being held across Europe in opposition to their respective government’s support for the war in Ukraine. The constant supply of arms by mainly NATO members has prolonged the conflict in Eastern Europe, leading to the suffering of civilians caught up in the cross fire.
When Russia expressed legitimate concerns about the NATO military’s eastward expansion toward its border, it opened the door to discussion, negotiation and proposals on security guarantees. However, these were ignored which many critics said, at the time, will lead to a military confrontation that will hurt ordinary Europeans. In this case, Ukrainian civilians are suffering from the human cost and ordinary civilians are falling into poverty.
Russia’s sense of insecurity in the face of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization seemed quite genuine, but critics say the media coverage has dismissed Moscow’s initial concerns.
Opposition to NATO has been strong in Europe. The military alliance’s summits are always met with anti-war demonstrations. In June this year, protesters marched during an anti-NATO rally ahead of the summit that was held in Madrid. The organizers said the American-led military alliance is not the solution to the war in Ukraine. U.S. arms manufacturers have made lucrative profits from the war.
Last month, an estimated 70,000 people protested in Prague against the Czech government, calling on the ruling coalition to do more to control soaring energy prices and voicing opposition to the European Union and NATO.
For many years, the Kremlin has made it clear that if NATO continued to mass troops and weapons on the Russian border, the expansion would likely be met with serious resistance by the Russians, even with military action. That view was not just limited to Russian officials. Even some prominent American foreign policy experts backing the same possible scenario. The current director of the CIA, William Burns, has been warning about the provocation and consequences of NATO’s expansion on Russia for more than 20 years now.
On the other hand, Europe’s decision to cave into American pressure and impose unprecedented sanctions on Moscow has heavily restricted the gas supplies to the continent which have instead pushed energy prices up, leaving many in poverty. Europe relied on 40% of Russian gas before the conflict erupted.
The shortage of energy on the continent and rising prices for the fuel has been met with angry voters bringing down governments at the polling stations.
A recent poll by Elabe reveals that support for anti-Russian sanctions is on the decline across France. The survey shows only 40% of the French population are in favor of the anti-Russian sanctions. The poll also reveals that 32% of French people think the anti-Russia sanctions must be restricted to diminish their effect on the livelihoods of the French people.
The opposition French Patriots party again called for the demonstrations after the initial protests that took place on September 3rd. The protesters want Macron to leave office and withdraw from both NATO and the European Union.
The French government, like others in Europe, is adopting or considering various emergency measures ahead of the winter, such as the possibility of three-hour power outages in the United Kingdom.
As inflation levels are biting, a group of French intellectuals, including Nobel literature prize winner Annie Ernaux, have urged people to join the protests being organized by the left for next week. They accuse President Macron of not doing enough to help the poor cope with high prices while the profits of some companies are spiking.
The group of 69 signatories, including writers, film directors and university teachers, said in a text published in the Journal Du Dimanche that “Emmanuel Macron is using inflation to widen the wealth gap, to boost capital income at the expense of the rest.”
“It is all a matter of political will,” said the text, co-signed by Ernaux, who on Thursday became the first French woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The statement also said the government has not done enough to fight the skyrocketing energy prices and declined to raise taxes on companies making enormous profits as a result of high inflation.
The signatories have also urged the public to join the protest march planned for October 16, which is being organized by the political movement of the France Unbowed party, which this year struck an alliance with more moderate leftwing parties to form France’s largest opposition bloc.
Next week’s protest is being promoted as “against the high cost of living and climate inaction”. It comes as Macron faces stiff resistance from unions over a planned pensions reform and as strikes by workers demanding a pay rise from retail to refineries have disrupted parts of the economy.
There is more misery for the French government as a number of fuel service stations are grappling with supply problems amid strike action at refineries run by major oil companies TotalEnergies and ExxonMobil. The walkout by members of the national trade union center CGT mainly over pay has disrupted operations at refineries and storage facilities. The industrial action has forced the government to tap into the country’s strategic reserves.
Environment Minister Christophe Bechu earlier told French media the government will, for the time being, not be rationing petrol for drivers or restrict the use of service stations in response to supply problems. “We haven’t reached this point yet,” Bechu said when asked if the government would impose any national measures beyond the bans already in place in some regions on filling large flat-sided metal containers for storing or transporting petrol.
The strikes at the refineries of ExxonMobil and TotalEnergies will continue, union officials at both companies have said. “It is continuing everywhere,” a CGT representative said, adding that there had been no contact from TotalEnergies since Saturday’s call by the union for the company’s managers to begin talks on pay.
In some areas, the share of affected petrol stations is much higher than the national average. An interactive map compiled by the website mon-essence.fr, where more than 100,000 users have reported outages in recent days, shows a large majority of petrol stations in and around Paris were marked out of service.
Across France, long queues have been seen outside fuel stations. “The waiting line will take you at least one-and-a-half hours or two”, motorist Jean Galibert said as he entered the last stretch of a 700-metre tailback in front of a Paris service station. Another motorist, Franck Chang, said, “This situation right behind me reflects the state of France. We’re struggling.”
Reports say the strikes have reduced France’s total refinery output by more than 60% which will be seen as another blow to the French government. On Sunday, TotalEnergies claimed to have offered to bring forward wage talks, in response to union demands, as it strongly seeks to end the industrial action that has disrupted supplies to almost a third of French petrol stations.
Amid warnings that energy shortages and rising inflation are set to extend in coming winter, further protests and anger at governments’ economic policies across Europe are expected to expand.