A Brittany ‘red cap’ in Ankara

A Brittany ‘red cap’ in Ankara

The French government had hoped that the Brittany region “red caps” revolt would wither away after it offered a string of promises, including a rather vague rethink of the “eco-tax” on freight lorries. But the fiscal revolt is spreading.

President Hollande had promised to appease society, but the opposite is taking place. Exasperation at the taxation onslaught has spilt onto the streets of Bretagne, France’s westernmost region. Bretons from all walks of life and political affiliations, including a handful of pro-independence activists, are uniting against the “fiscal sadism and legislative diarrheas” imposed by Paris on a struggling local economy.

The red caps worn by protesters are purposely reminiscent of the region’s fiscal revolt of 1675 against Louis XIV. Like their forefathers, protesters feel that the Paris élite is not listening and even mocking them.

This disparaging attitude is radicalizing the more restive elements of the movement. Five “eco-tax” electronic toll arches erected on major transport axes have been destroyed. More could fall. Farmers and road transport companies threaten further action if the “pseudo-green tax” is not scrapped. Law-abiding citizens no longer shy away from targeting state institutions to get heard. The employees of an industrial poultry plant forced their way into the Morlaix sub-prefecture by smashing its iron gate with a digger.

After the initial period of confusion, the government now dangles the inevitable administrative carrot in the form of a grandiloquent and ultimately ineffective “Action Plan for Brittany’s Future.” The prime minister also brandishes a stick: “The government will not bow to an ultimatum.” Adding injury to the insult, some deputies from the ruling red-green majority clamor for the implementation of the “eco-tax” by force if necessary…

While the embattled President Hollande murmurs words nobody listens to anymore, the opposition that voted for this law in 2009 is hopelessly lost in embarrassment and irrelevance.

The Celtic wave of discontent was predictable and predicted. A recently leaked “secret” report of the regions’ préfets (governorates) had rung the alarm bell loud enough. It notably highlighted the “radicalization of comments” to elected officials by citizens who “castigate the fiscal clubbing,” concluding that the possibility of “fiscal disobedience” was very real.

The Bretons’ fight against the “eco-tax” is the latest example of a growing trend towards civil disobedience in the face of fiscal oppression. It is also the most direct challenge to the credibility and legitimacy of the Socialist government.

The response by the State, at first confused and seemingly conciliatory, has grown less compromising. This could have dire consequences. In many ways this regional revolt has turned into a test case for the Fifth Republic. Noone is quite sure where this could lead, but other regions with strong regional identities – such as the Corsica, Vendée, Basque and Alsace regions - are watching carefully.

We, Bretons, are proud of our Celtic culture. For Jacobins the expression of a strong sense of identity through the display of our region’s black and white flag, the Gwen Ha Du, at political cultural or sports events is a constant source of irritation.

Across the country anger at the ineptocracy in power is turning into rebellion. I have often criticized our tax-obsessed political class (HDN, 17/10/2013). From now on I will do so wearing a “bonnet rouge”. *Sophie Quintin Adali, analyst for www.contrepoints.org