Some 30 offices for MPs in Macron’s LREM party have been vandalised in a wave of attacks since the start of June. A mountain of manure was dumped outside the office of the MP for Haute Garonne, Monique Iborra, in early August while the office of her fellow MP, Romain Grau, was set on fire while he was inside.
“We’re approaching 25 to 30 damaged offices – with varying degrees of severity – but for us, it is the symbol of a democracy that does not work properly,” Le Gendre told the France Info media network.
After the Yellow Vest protests on the streets of Paris died down in the first half of 2019, this spate of vandalism has emerged in rural areas after the EU signed a free trade deal with the South American Mercosur bloc on June 28. Then the National Assembly ratified the CETA free trade agreement between the EU and Canada on July 23. Many French farmers say these deals threaten their livelihoods.
The precise figures have not been confirmed, but 32 constituency offices of LREM MPs have been targeted since the start of June, mostly in countryside districts – of which 20 were singled out by protesters motivated by opposition to CETA, according to French regional daily Ouest France.
‘There isn’t a massive sense of disapproval’
In one of the most striking examples of direct action, Yellow Vest protesters set on fire LREM MP Romain Grau’s constituency office in the southern city of Perpignan on July 27, while he was sitting inside working.
Another LREM deputy was targeted in a recent act of vandalism: Jean-Baptiste Moreau, a former farmer who is now responsible for overseeing Macron’s “agriculture and healthy eating law”. On August 13, protesters put a Western-style poster of Moreau’s face bearing the word “Wanted” outside a council building in his constituency in France’s central region of Creuse.
A survey by research firm Ifop for French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche on August 11 found that only 47 percent of French people condemn the recent wave of attacks on MPs’ constituency offices, while 44 percent “understand but don’t approve of” the direct action. “There isn’t a massive sense of disapproval about these acts,” Ifop’s head of polling Jérôme Fourquet told the newspaper.
A much more substantial 69 percent of French condemned the acts of violence and vandalism carried out during Yellow Vest protests on the Champs-Élysées on December 3 and 4 – while a mere 27 percent said they understood the violence but didn’t approve of it, according to Ifop.
Macron ‘has nothing to say to rural France’
“I think one reason why many people disapproved of the Yellow Vests is that it was difficult to understand the precise nature of their demands,” Andrew Smith, a professor of French politics at the University of Chichester, told FRANCE 24. By contrast, “there tends to be more sympathy for direct action supporting specific causes – such as action linked to agricultural protests”.
That’s while farming plays a key part in many people’s “certain idea of France” – to quote Charles de Gaulle’s famous phrase – and this enhances receptiveness to farmers’ preoccupations amongst the public at large, Smith suggested: “Lots of ideas of provincial French life are rooted in agricultural activity – and the French government, the EU the abstract forces of globalisation are often seen as putting those rural communities under pressure.”
Macron’s self-presentation adds to this sense of pressure on rural France, argued David Lees, a French politics specialist at Warwick University, in an interview with FRANCE 24: “There’s a big sense of frustration among French farmers, with no sense that Macron’s speaking for these people.”
“He’s a very well-spoken urban figure, but he has nothing to say to rural France,” Lees continued. “The divide between Paris and much of the countryside is staggering – and it’s not helped by Macron’s style of communication. So farmers in particular fear being sold out by a political elite.”