by Erik Svane (January 2019)
Self Portrait in a Yellow Vest, Egon Schiele, 1914
The more laws and restrictions there are,
The poorer people become
The more rules and regulations,
The more thieves and robbers.
Not a single media report I have read or seen about the Yellow Vest demonstrations in Paris and across France has not been slanted by Fake News. The problem is that crucial information has been omitted.
It is not wrong to say that the demonstrations were caused by the government’s decision to raise gas prices. But that view seems to pit two more or less equal sides against each other—people (responsible government officials) seeing the necessities of taxes in life versus carefree people (common citizens) unconcerned with the sacrifices that life entails and who go overboard with their protests.
What is missing from most all of the coverage of this crisis in France is that this is just one of several draconian measures dating back half a year, i.e., the recent tax hike that sparked the wave of protests was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
For the past four to five months, the nation’s drivers and motorcycle riders have been growing increasingly irate at les sangsues (bloodsuckers) in the French government who seem to do little else, road-security-wise, but double down on bringing more and more gratuitous oppression upon their necks and saddling them with more and more unwarranted fines and costs.
In fact, the imposition of ever harsher rules has been going on for the past decade and a half or so—whether the government was on the right or on the left—and that is why the choice of garb, les gilets jaunes (the yellow jackets), by the demonstrators is particularly ironic.
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The 2008 law (under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy) that requires the presence of high-visibility vests (gilets de haute visibilité) aka security vests (gilets de sécurité) in every vehicle—hardly an unreasonable rule, for sure, as similar ones exist throughout the continent—was just another example of the myriad of evermore-onerous directives for car and motorcycle owners over the past 15 years, and so the government, in effect, provided the 2018 rebels with their “uniforms.”
Since Emmanuel Macron became president in May, 2017, the extent to which his government has doubled down on repressive road safety measures defies belief.
If there was anything that that the state could decide to decentralize in France, it had to concern parking tickets, with la Mission Interministérielle à la Décentralisation du Stationnement (la MIDS) handing the issue to the country’s town halls on January 1, 2018, giving them full freedom to set the amounts of the fines. They promptly proceeded to do so, in some instances doubling or even tripling them. In Paris, for instance, parking tickets went from the 17 Euros (the previous nationwide amount set by the state) to 35 or 50 Euros, depending on l’arrondissement (the neighborhood). In an attempt to sweeten the pill, Orwellian newspeak was implemented, and parking fines (les PVs aka les procès-verbaux or les amendes) got a brand-new name. Une amende became un FPS (un forfait de post-stationnement), meaning that, in France, a parking ticket is now officially an EPFR (an extended parking flat rate—my translation).
At about the same time came the contracts that the government decided to write with private corporations, handing the business of the state’s (plainclothes) gendarmes over to these company employees, to take over the business of the mobile radars in their shiny new fleets of vehicles (more below). Meanwhile, other private companies have been receiving similar contracts from city governments, which means that employees earn their keep doing mostly nothing but driving up and down the city streets all day long, while a license plate reader decides which car owners will be getting an automatically-generated fine. Multiple reports of quotas and other searches for profits have certainly not helped.
In May 2018, the number of items required to be examined during a vehicle inspection was increased, as well as the cost of the inspection. These inspections are obligatory every two years.
- On July 1, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe ordered what no other country in Europe or in the West (or, as far as I know, on the planet) has done: go against the march of progress by reducing the slowness limit (sorry, the speed limit) on 400,000 km of secondary (country) roads by 10 km/h, decreasing the limit from 90 km/h (56 mph) to 80 km/h (49 mph).
This—and not the gilet jaune demonstrations—is actually the point at which the first protests started. During the summer, the country saw a huge increase in instances of willful destruction (or incapacitation) of roadside radars. Many were defaced with paint, others were set on fire, while still others were simply covered with something like a garbage bag (one man arrested while covering a radar was let free by a judge who decided that since the plastic bag hadn’t actually caused any physical harm to the machine in any way, the defendant could not be convicted of, or even charged with, destroying it).
More recently, the government added more gratuitous sanctions to the driver’s license point system, which is already far more punitive than that of most European countries (not least neighboring Germany’s).
- Finally, with the announcement of the gas price increase, the French said “Enough is enough.” And that was when the entire nation seemed to get together via Facebook and the internet to mount the Yellow Vest revolt.
We Are Not Milch Cows!
Before we go into detail about how the irritants have been growing for the past 15 years, notice how this is not une exception française, a specific Gallic exception. In it, you can recognize the deep state’s fight for control of the masses the world over.
After all, the Prager University report on The War on Cars by The Car Coach’s Lauren Fix concerned . . . the United States:
. . . cars are more than just another way to get from point A to point B. They allow us to go wherever we want; whenever we want; with whomever we want. Think about it: with trains, planes, and buses, the routes are planned and the schedule is timed. Only cars allow you to be spontaneous. When you get behind the wheel, you are in control. (You are free.)
The very reason people love cars—personal freedom—is also why regulators can’t stand them. Government—at all levels—craves control. And when it comes to your car, they want you off the road. So do the environmentalists with whom they have made common cause.
. . . [America’s car culture is] not dying of old age . . . there’s been a concerted push by government bureaucrats and environmentalists to transform car ownership from a source of pride to a source of guilt.
Take this dynamic outside the Land of the Free, and you can see the war on cars (or, if you prefer to be more general, the war on freedom) factored by two or three. But even in the Old World, there comes a point when the people say Enough!
Indeed, in the New York Post, Anne-Elisabeth Moutet has a choice word for the Yellow Vests: les déplorables:
Many come from the provinces, where President Emmanuel Macron’s gas tax would hit hardest. But their ranks also include growing numbers of violent activists from both political extremes—think antifa side-by-side with Charlottesville white supremacists. They [all converged] on the City of Light to scream at our aloof young leader that they’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.
. . . It was Macron’s green obsession that eventually sparked the explosion. The gilets jaunes are a grassroots movement, born in hundreds of provincial small towns and villages across the country. They are farmers, small businessmen, truck drivers, waiters, nurses—or jobless. They have no official spokespersons. It was on Facebook that they resolved to adopt as their symbol the yellow, high-visibility jackets that the French are required to keep in their cars in case of accidents.
. . . For years, they have seen their livelihoods threatened—by plant closures, inflation, the disappearance of public services like small train lines, hospitals, schools and local post offices. They need their cars, however old and beat-up, to drive their kids to school, to shop, to find and hold a job.
Their lives are fenced in by an ever-growing skein of nanny-state regulations.
15 Years of a Swelling Surveillance State
What has been most irksome for les Français since the turn of the century has been the ubiquitous radars which, like traffic light cameras in the United States, are accused of having (far) more to do with bringing revenue to the state’s coffers than with road safety.
And just like the arms industry in the Soviet Union, if there is one area of France where the technology was/is always moving forward, it is the radar sector; call it the radar-industrial complex.
Over the years, the radars have become evermore stealthy and insidious. For instance, radars have gone from contraptions being able to photograph a single car on only one side on the road, in the lane closest to the machine (with a burst of white flash quite jolting to the driver at nighttime), to taking multiple pictures over the entire roadway simultaneously of several vehicles driving in both directions.
The first radars were installed in 2003 under President Jacques Chirac and his interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy and, in the beginning, drivers were always warned by a road sign when a radar could be expected ahead (which brought about exactly what allegedly was the desired goal, to get cars to slow down).
What has happened since shows the Deep State at work in Europe just as much as, if not more than, in North America—and this leftist statism has been ignored by the mainstream media, in France itself as much as abroad. As Boulevard Voltaire puts it (never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that I would be quoting that far-left website approvingly), radars are “the new tax collectors.”
An uneventful drive through the Loire Valley, for a Frenchman or for a family of tourists, is hardly as serene as it once was when you can expect a ticket (or several!) in the mail within a matter of a week or two.
Eventually—in spite of the insistent promises of then-interior minister Sarkozy—new radars were installed without road signs announcing their presence.
The schemes to make the rules harsher have at times been so far-fetched and outrageous that push-back was inevitable and led to their demise. For instance, the ludicrous attempt to have cyclists who break the law (running a red light, for instance) lose points on their driver’s licenses; or the plan to require all vehicles in the nation to be equipped with a breathalyzer. (Not surprisingly, it emerged that a breathalyzer manufacturer who, naturally, was a close friend of a number of politicians, was behind the bill.)
Recently came the news of mobile radars, as mentioned above, meaning unmarked cars loaded with a radar-installed contraption driven by gendarmes dressed in civilian clothes. (Everywhere, young boys daydream of wearing a shiny uniform and going into action to fight crime; imagine, then, a policeman being asked to remove his uniform and put on his plainclothes to do nothing but passively drive up and down the road or highway in an unmarked car and let the hidden radar do its work, i.e., making him trick his (otherwise honest) fellow citizens who have done nothing but “violate” a rather arbitrary administrative rule, a “speed” (sic) limit that has barely changed, if at all, in almost 50 years.)
Meanwhile, crony capitalism has given rise to a side economy whose only purpose revolves around the punishment of citizens with cars or motorcycles—not least with thriving law firms specialized in little else but road infractions and blossoming (and very expensive) driving schools for drivers to recoup at least some of the points they have lost on their driver’s licenses (again, for violations of a rather arbitrary malum prohibitum rule), taking off a day from work in the process. If and when they have lost all their points (the driver’s license starts out with 12 points) and are thus down to 0, they are barred from returning to the schools and they lose the license itself for a year or more—the licenses of some two million Frenchmen are currently suspended—which leads in turn to job losses for some 80,000 drivers every year, since they can no longer commute.
We have seen the financial aspect of the problem: millions of Euros are spent, and wasted, by the government and by citizens alike on a marginal issue, an entirely self-created problem.
What about the moral aspect? Needless to say, the Radar Business (the title of a book by Denis Boulard) is making France (even more?) a nation of scofflaws with no respect for the government. (If you think that Donald Trump’s alleged use of the word “sh-thole” for third-world countries was racist and beyond the pale, you should have seen the number of—obviously, mainly white—Frenchmen referring to their own country on social media, as tens of thousands of 90 km/h signs were replaced by 80 km/h signs during the summer, as “un pays de merde.”)
When your money, your license, your job, your very livelihood are at stake, by a ruling élite (deliberately or otherwise) creating paupers and lawbreakers (see the Lao Tzu quote at the start of this article), and when, out of the blue, you receive a ticket in the mail for a totally uneventful drive a week earlier, then you effectively have little recourse but to resort to immorality or, at least, to some ingenuous solutions.
Over the years, these have included basic fibbing (denying that you were the person behind the wheel), spraying the license plate with a liquid gas that makes it invisible on snapshots, denouncing your legally blind (or your dead!) grand-mother as the driver, registering your car in the name of your newborn child, finding people who denounce themselves as the driver in return for a fee (on the internet, volunteers, usually students, were advertising their services), driving rental cars from a foreign country such as Luxembourg, and my favorite, taking a plane to Marrakesh to “buy” a Moroccan driver’s license in your name (dated several years ago) from a shady government official, which you can have automatically exchanged for a brand-new French license upon your return to France. (Those were secretive, individual responses. This year’s reactions are general and public, of course, including the destruction of the radars and the population turning out in the streets in their yellow jackets.)
The ingenuous solutions, in turn, lead the deep state to respond—this is standard Milton Friedman—by creating even more laws, such as saying that a car owner claiming not to have been behind the wheel must denounce the person who was allegedly driving the car with his address and license number; making it compulsory to contest a ticket by registered mail only; or creating EU-wide laws making sure that tickets from foreign cars get sent to the driver, French or foreign. Most devious of all, it has become almost impossible to contest a ticket in a French court unless you hire a lawyer, which, given the amount of a ticket versus the price for hiring an attorney, guarantees that most fines will not be challenged (it happens mainly in extreme distress, when a driver is on the verge of losing all his or her points).
2019 promises to see higher taxes for parking spaces while the cities are invaded by “des radars redoutables” with high-performance cameras that can see everything and punish drivers with respect to unbuckled seat belts, the wrong use of a cell phone, driving too far inside a(n empty) bus lane or a(n empty) bicycle lane, not putting enough distance between one’s vehicle and a cyclist or a pedestrian, etc.
What are we witnessing in France if it isn’t the erection of a surveillance state similar to George Orwell’s 1984? Contrarians will protest that la belle France seems like anything but dystopian; how can any foreign visitor to la Tour Eiffel, Montmartre, or the Riviera imagine a vision of a “a boot stamping on a human face”? At the same time, do not forget Ronald Reagan’s words (the “most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help”) applied to, and translated into, la langue française. And what is more helpful to the general public, supposedly, than public transportation? What, au contraire, is more irksome—to a bureaucrat wanting to help—than a self-reliant citizen with his own car and therefore in no need of assistance?
Couple the Gipper quote with what George Carlin said about the United States, applied to the rest of the Western world:
When fascism comes to America, it will not be in brown and black shirts. It will not be with jack-boots. It will be Nike sneakers and Smiley shirts.
What is the Future for the Yellow Vest Revolt?
I have been tear gassed. I have been drenched with the water cannon. I have seen, barely a meter on my right, a fellow Gilet Jaune slammed forward on his face, hit in the back of the head with a cobblestone aimed at the riot policemen facing him.
On December 10, Emmanuel Macron went on television and held a speech where he appeared contrite, and spelled out a number of initiatives, including taking the tax hike off the table (that is now being challenged by a handful of NGOs, including Greenpeace).
If the yellow vest revolt continues it is for the simple reason that the French people are not in need of more “brilliant” initiatives and more laws.
They need, and they want, the repeal of the previous “brilliant” initiatives and laws.
- Repeal of the 80 km/h “slowness” limit.
- Repeal of the parking fine travesty.
- Repeal of the vehicle security overhaul.
- A repeal, or at least a thorough trimming, of the radar-industrial complex.
In this matter, as Boulevard Voltaire put it laconically, the government has failed to respond—meaning they are not ready to give up their cash cow.
A lot of people are fearing the movement is petering out. Every Saturday, the media seem to be making a point out how fewer people are demonstrating, as compared to the previous week.
From the sounds heard on the streets, this is more Fake News from media outlets that are as much in cahoots with the statists as they are in America, if not more.
If too many people, if too many gilets jaunes, especially, believe the Fake media reports, a grand opportunity for more liberté in France will have been wasted . . ..
Erik Svane is a Paris-based writer and journalist, the author or co-author of several books, fiction and non-fiction. He has been the main blogger at No Pasarán for the past 14 years and worked in the movie business (behind and in front of the camera). He is writing a graphic novel biography of Abraham Lincoln.
Follow NER on Twitter @NERIconoclast