CANNES, France (Reuters) - The shouts of protestors were hard to hear at France’s G20 summit in Cannes this week, any revolutionary fervor checked by tight policing, rainy weather and a sense among some that the days of mass demonstrations against the event were passing.
Protest groups in France and abroad had planned an “anti-G20” summit to be held in nearby Nice for nearly a year and hoped to draw on the global buzz generated by movements from the Arab Spring to “Occupy Wall Street” and the “Indignants.”
Yet the result was unimpressive, with a main protest march falling far short of its expected turnout, various smaller actions fizzling due to a lack of participants, and media attention firmly focused on the drama of Greece’s debt crisis.
For Alexei, the French G20 showed the days when protest marches, and often violence, overshadowed policymaking had passed. The focus was shifting elsewhere.
“More and more of us are getting together online, signing petitions, forming groups on Facebook where we can have an immediate impact on public opinion.”
“This belongs more to our parents’ generation.”
After grass-roots campaigns denouncing banking and capitalism won a significant following in southern Europe and in the United States, some protestors in France explained the weak outcome as a consequence of heavy-handed French policing.
“It’s true, they’ve really learned how lock a protest down,” Alexei, a 26-year-old researcher, told Reuters on the sidelines of a protest against tax havens in Cap d‘Ail, near the French border with Monaco. “Just look at how many people are here -- it was nearly impossible to reach this place.”
Twelve thousand extra police were deployed around the G20 summit to make sure that protestors, camped out in grittier Nice from Monday, would not be able to disrupt the gathering in Cannes some 30 km down the Mediterranean coastline.
Many protestors headed for Nice were blocked at borders with Italy and Spain, despite Europe’s Schengen free travel zone. Groups known for clashing with police such as the Black Bloc were banned, and police throughout Cannes checked identity badges frequently to ensure no protestors had filtered in.
The overwhelming police presence had already dampened enthusiasm on Tuesday, when a protest march through Nice that was billed as a highlight of the activist agenda for France’s last G20 summit drew less than half of its expected turnout of 10-15,000 protestors. Police estimated the turnout at 3,000.
In picturesque Cap d‘Ail, a small town on a clifface dotted with villas and swimming pools, a march on nearby Monaco drew less than 300 protestors -- more a raucous display of street theater than an outpouring of collective frustration.
Mayor Xavier Beck, who appeared in shirt and tie at a police line 1 km from Monaco’s border with France, said that neighbors who had feared violence from the gathering had been relieved.
“It went very well,” he told reporters after a chat with protestors dressed up as clowns and dark-suited money-men.
“We had planned for a big protest and there are many gendarmes posted down the road, at the border with Monaco.”
In Cannes, where access was forbidden to anyone not wearing a badge identifying them as a member of the G20, the only sign of protest was a tiny gathering against corporate sponsorship. It drew a total of five participants.
Organizers are reluctant to admit defeat, pointing out that many non-governmental organizations NGOs are now part of the decision-making process at “G” summits and scored a notable victory by convincing the G20 in Cannes to think seriously about the idea of a tax on financial transactions.
The fact that so-called FTT or “Tobin tax” -- once derided by economists as a kooky dream of anti-globalist activists -- has found its way into a G20 communique points to increasing porosness between NGOs and government policy.
Additional reporting by Noemie Olive and Marina Dupetris; editing by Ralph Boulton