Two weekends ago, my husband and I attended Armistice Day ceremonies at the Aisne-Marne American Military Cemetery (90-minute drive east of Paris). Initially, I was disappointed President Trump did not attend; but now I understand why.
The weather was very foggy — no helicopter fly-in. A motorcade from Paris would have been impossible, as protesters would have blocked access to roads. But couldn’t the French police have secured the route? I wasn’t about to bet on it, and it’s a good thing the President didn’t take that chance.
Last weekend, over 300,000 French people blocked roadways to protest French President Macron’s increase in gasoline prices. They immobilized traffic by gathering at roundabouts (AKA “rotaries,” for you New Englanders) and received essentially no pushback from the French police, which amounted to de facto police support for the protesters.
A bit of background: unlike the United States (which uses stop lights), France uses use roundabouts to control traffic on secondary roads. Some roundabouts are located near entrance/exit ramps of major interstate-like highways (autoroutes) that cross European country borders.
Starting last Saturday, protesters put up physical barriers to every entrance to many roundabouts. Protesters forbade drivers to proceed until they were interrogated. If the driver agreed with the protesters, they would move the barrier, allowing the driver to pass. If not, a group of protesters would harangue the driver ad nauseum while stopping all traffic on the road behind.
Why were the police allowing civilians to physically block roadways and harangue drivers?
The sole intelligence I have is from a bartender who said the police were sympathetic to the protesters. Could be true: I saw police standing on hilltops doing nothing. It seems they felt their job was limited to quelling violence.
But forbidding the outright barricade of public roadways? Did the police believe an outright confrontation of the protesters (e.g., moving them into a field) was … too much trouble?
French retailers would disagree. They saw revenues drop 35 percent on Saturday.
Parents of sick children who were driving to emergency rooms also had major problems. They found themselves subject to self-appointed judges who would decide whether or not to grant them access to the road to the hospital. Last Saturday, a woman who was doing exactly that panicked and killed a protester as she tried to drive through the crowd.
That night, my husband and I literally had a whiff of the troubles, as a tractor-trailer jackknifed at a protester-filled roundabout south of Reims. The truck was spewing a column of black smoke.
The next day (Sunday), we drove west to Paris, in preparation for our flight home yesterday.
What should have been a two-hour drive at most, became a four-hour nightmare. From an economic standpoint, it was disastrous, as the protesters forbade us (and anyone else) from using the autoroute to Paris.
We had tried different entrances to the autoroute and were blocked each time. The protesters didn’t discriminate – no-one was allowed access to the autoroute.
Being good resourceful Americans, we decided to travel the rural secondary roads, guessing the protesters couldn’t be bothered to go there.
Reaching those secondary roads required a good cop, bad cop strategy. We’d enter a roundabout with my husband as driver. I’d go full New York on them, squawking ‘What? What?’ continuously like an annoying parrot. Meanwhile, my husband would beg in a softer beleaguered tone: ‘S’il vous plaît, s’il vous plaît’ (please, please).
It worked! Finally, one protester took pity on my husband and gave him detailed directions as to how to reach Charles de Gaulle airport on rural roads. That worked, too!
Meanwhile, on Sunday, French President Macron was giving a speech to the German parliament in Berlin about why Europe needed to be strong.
Macron’s speech would be a joke if it wasn’t so pathetic. Here was the president of a major country talking about a stronger Europe, but he was too weak and/or clueless to command his nation’s police force to ensure open access to roadways and autoroutes — not only for the French people but all European Union members.
The United States addressed this issue early in its founding. The 1781 Articles of Confederation allowed states to act almost like nation-states, including limitations on transport from state to state. It was a flop.
A mere eight years later, the new U.S. Constitution (1789) made interstate commerce a priority, placing it in Article I, Sections 9 and 10. The framers of the European Union sought the same goal.
Nearly 230 years later, Europe has yet to learn from the American experience. The EU will never be strong if chestless leaders like Macron cannot stop civilians from randomly closing access to public highways and autoroutes.
For old hippies, last weekend was like the France of the 1960s, but it’s the global 21st century now. For a nation or region to be competitive, people and products need to be able to move over public roads 24/7.
We Americans figured that out over 200 years ago. Is President Macron a slow learner?
Joanne Butler, graduate of the Kennedy School at Harvard, was a professional staff member (R) at the House Ways and Means Committee and served in President George W. Bush’s administration.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.