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Global Economy

French 'Yellow-Vest' Protesters to Seek European Parliament Seats

PARIS—A group of “yellow-vest” protesters announced plans Wednesday to create a list of candidates for European Parliament elections in May as the antigovernment movement seeks to translate support on the street into lasting political influence.

Under the Rally for Citizen Initiatives banner, 79 yellow-vest protesters plan to run in the European Union elections, according to Hayk Shahinyan, the group’s newly appointed campaign director. The ticket, he said, will be led by Ingrid Levavasseur, a 31-year-old assistant nurse who has risen to prominence in the movement known for the yellow safety vests, or gilets jaunes, its members wear.

“Our political platform is under construction,” Mr. Shahinyan said on national TV. “We want those gilets jaunes not to represent a political party but to be at citizens’ disposal,” he added.

The gilets jaunes’ entry into European politics aims to establish its supporters as a durable threat to the pro-business agenda of French President Emmanuel Macron. Since he was elected president a year-and-a-half ago, Mr. Macron has loosened labor laws, cut corporate taxes and abolished a wealth tax. He still wants to reform the country’s unemployment insurance and pensions system.

The gilets jaunes could also peel off support from parties at the extremes of France’s political spectrum, including Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, Mr. Macron’s main rival for the European elections.

A survey of 1,000 French voters published Wednesday by polling firm Elab showed National Rally would get only 17.5% of the vote in European Parliament elections if the gilets jaunes fielded candidates, compared with 20.5% of the vote without them. Mr. Macron’s party would win 22.5% with gilets jaunes in the race, and 23.5% without them. Center-right party Les Républicains would end up third in both scenarios with 11.5% and 12.5% of votes, respectively.

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It remains unclear whether the gilets jaunes will be able to corral all of its supporters under one large political tent. Until now, the movement has remained leaderless and ideologically heterogeneous, with some protesters focused on purchasing power among the working and middle class and others calling for the resignation of Mr. Macron.

On Wednesday evening, some gilets jaunes were venting on social media, denouncing Rally For Citizen Initiatives as impostors.

“It’s a mistake,” said Benjamin Cauchy, a spokesman for another group of gilets jaunes. “It’s like trying to put a square peg in a round hole.”

The gilets-jaunes movement, which started two months ago as a protest against fuel-tax increases, has grown into a broad antigovernment rally and represents the biggest challenge so far to Mr. Macron’s presidency.

The protests have become a weekend ritual across France with tens of thousands of protesters gathering, sometimes violently smashing storefronts and torching cars. Support for the movement has ebbed since Mr. Macron introduced €10 billion ($11.4 billion) in measures to boost purchasing power. Still, about 84,000 protesters took to the streets across the country on Saturday.

Write to Noemie Bisserbe at


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