ALERT: Europe – Violence and Clashes Possible During Anti-Government May Day Unrest

EVENT

On 1 May activists and anti-government protesters are expected to hold a 'Kill The Bill' National Day of Action across the United Kingdom, in protest at the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. The anticipated demonstrations will fall on May Day, a traditional day for left-wing and anti-government protests, with numerous other demonstrations also expected to take place across Europe.

SIGNIFICANCE

The British Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which passed its second reading in Parliament on 16 March, aims to significantly enhance police powers to mitigate the potential for protests to cause significant disruption. However, the bill has triggered significant backlash given perceptions amongst activists that it poses an existential threat to their ability to protest. The backlash culminated in numerous successive nights of rioting in Bristol in late March, with protesters attacking police vehicles and private property, leading to dozens of arrests.

The upcoming National Day of Action is likely to be the most organised 'Kill The Bill' event yet. A joint statement published on 15 March condemning the policing bill was signed by 99 activist groups, including Extinction Rebellion (XR), Black Lives Matter (BLM), as well as LGBT, feminist, anti-fascist, and anti-capitalist groups. As such, the demonstrations are expected to be well attended by activists from myriad causes. 150 British trade unions also vowed to oppose the bill during a meeting on 22 April, with the timing of the Day of Action on International Workers' Day likely to encourage socialist and far-left turnout. For further details on how security legislation is exacerbating domestic unrest risks and activist collaboration in Western Europe, see Sibylline Situation Update Brief 22 March.

Demonstrations are scheduled in over 30 UK towns and cities on 1 May. In particular, protesters will gather at Trafalgar Square in London from 12:00 (local time), the Pavilion Café in Edinburgh from 3:30, St Peter's Square in Manchester from 4:00, and Victoria Square in Birmingham from 11:00. Protests are also planned at Castle Park and College Green in Bristol, at 12:00 and 18:00 respectively.

However, May Day protests will not be confined to just the UK, with workers, left-wing activists, trade unions and wider anti-government movements all expected to take part in protests of varying sizes in most European countries. In France, the recent passage of the 'Global Security Law' on 15 April will likely drive heightened turnout in a similar vein to the UK's policing bill (for more details on the implications of the Security Law see Sibylline Situation Update Brief 20 April). Protests against the law have drawn tens of thousands across France in recent months, with Yellow Vest protesters, anti-racism activists, anti-capitalist groups and trade unions all joining previously, and will likely participate in large numbers during the May Day demonstrations.

In addition, Germany will likely remain particularly at risk of unrest. As has been the case since the 1980s, the Kreuzberg district of Berlin will likely remain the focal point of far-left and anarchist activity during the May Day demonstrations. The pandemic has proven a catalyst for German far-left extremist groups, exploiting anti-government and anti-capitalist sentiment to increase recruitment efforts. However, the German Constitutional Court's recent ruling that a rent cap in Berlin is illegal will likely act as the most significant rallying cry for the far-left in Berlin, with between 5-10,000 people rallying against the decision on 15 April - 400 of which clashed violently with police. This recent precedent will thus likely drive turnout and risks of violence in Berlin on 1 May. For further details on the evolution of far-left extremism in Germany during the pandemic, see Sibylline Situation Update Brief 19 March

FORECAST

In contrast to last year's May Day demonstrations, which were heavily mitigated by the novelty of Covid-19 restrictions, this year is likely to see significantly greater turnout across numerous European cities, not limited to the UK, France and Germany. Highly divisive domestic issues ranging from security legislation to rent caps will likely exacerbate anti-government anger and boost turnout in those countries, with the risk of violence and clashes particularly acute in London, Bristol, Paris and Berlin. The recent violence in Bristol and Paris furthermore highlights the risk of more radical elements on the fringes exploiting the upcoming anti-government protests, with far-left anarchists likely to pose the greatest risk of widespread vandalism in city centres.

Given Covid-19 measures currently place restrictions on major gatherings across Europe, police may attempt to disperse protesters. However, given the strength of anti-police anger in France and the UK at present, this could well exacerbate the situation further and reinforce the likelihood of clashes spilling over into wider violent rioting. In addition, should protesters attempt to circumvent police cordons, unrest could spread beyond the originally announced locations, sustaining the risk of private businesses across city centres being impacted by rioting and looting.

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Alerts form part of Sibylline’s World Risk Register, a ground-breaking analytical service designed to help organisations of all sizes navigate an uncertain world.

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