French President Emmanuel Macron promised €15 billion in new funding last June to speed up the move to a greener economy and said he would be ready to call a referendum on revising the constitution to include climate targets. Six months later, he finds himself defending his record against critics.
Macron’s announcements on the environment in June had been a response both to propositions made by the Citizens’ Convention on Climate (CCC) he created, made up of 150 randomly selected members of the French population, and to the sweeping victory by France’s Green party, Europe Écologie-Les Verts (EELV), in countrywide municipal elections.
When he created the citizens’ council, Macron vowed its proposals would be put to parliament “unfiltered” and eventually transformed into executive decrees or serve as the basis for a referendum. And in June, when the council presented its recommendations after nine months of work, the president announced that he accepted nearly all of them.
“Of the 149 proposals made, the president has decided to keep 146! He will submit them either to the government, the parliament, or to the French people,” said a statement on the Élysée Palace website.
On Monday, just days before the December 12 anniversary of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, government ministers met with parliament members and representatives of the CCC for two days of meetings around the subjects discussed by the council (housing, transportation, consumption, food, production and employment) in order to “present the points that were adopted,” sources who had received the invitation were quoted as saying by AFP.
“It is a matter of presenting them with the initial, long-awaited considerations of how their proposals will be translated before the text is presented to the cabinet,” said the office of Environment Minister Barbara Pompili.
But members of the citizens’ council expressed concern over the final wording of the legislation, after the government suggested that the scope of several measures would be limited or delayed, in particular due to the crisis that has hit polluting sectors such as automotive and aviation particularly hard.
“It would have been good to have had some of the documents before the meeting, so we could prepare. Now we’re going to discover the climate law at the same time as the parliament members,” Mélanie Blanchetot, a member of the CCC told France TV Info.
350,000 signatures to ‘save the convention’
Cyril Dion, a French film director, actor, writer and environmentalist who had originally been appointed by Macron to help oversee the citizens’ group, recently launched an online petition to “save the convention”, which has garnered over 350,000 signatures in two weeks.
“For the first time in history, a French president has accepted to put his faith in 150 citizens selected at random, representatives of every reality in the country. They worked for nine months to propose solutions, acceptable to everyone, in order to reduce greenhouse gases to less than 40 percent by 2030,” Dion wrote in his petition.
“But discreetly, the government is now in the process of undoing and weakening a significant number of measures before presenting them formally to parliament members or to the French.
“This is why we are demanding today that the president keep his word and submit ‘unfiltered’ the proposals of the Citizens’ Convention on Climate to a referendum, to parliament or to direct regulatory application,” he wrote.
‘I don’t need to be lectured’
Macron rebuked his critics in an interview with the French online media outlet Brut on Friday, accusing them of not being willing to see that some of the points needed to be discussed further.
“I don’t need to be lectured to on climate,” Macron said, listing some of the issues that his government has tackled. “No-one has done as much as this government has in three years.”
He insisted on the great respect he had for the work of the citizens’ convention, but added, “you can’t say that because 150 citizens wrote something, it’s the Bible or the Koran!” he exclaimed. “I’m really very angry at those activists who helped me at first but are now saying – you need to adopt it all.”
“These are not issues on which we can say, ‘take it or leave it’ – that’s wrong,” Macron added.
Grégoire Fraty, co-president of “The 150”, an association of 130 of the 150 citizens who took in the CCC, said after Macron’s interview, “We didn’t get much information on the substance, even if the president did point out the seriousness of our proposals.”
“What I did retain is that not everything has been decided. We will present ideas, and if we can weigh-in, we will,” he was quoted by AFP as saying.
Dion, feeling targeted by Macron on Friday, shot back with an open letter in the daily Le Monde on Saturday, reminding the president of his promises.
“For this democratic initiative to work, it is essential that you commit to taking up the proposals resulting from the citizens’ deliberation ‘as is’ in order to submit them to the French people or to the MPs. For a simple reason. For years, politicians organised ‘participatory democracy’ that was a sham. Citizens are consulted and then elected officials, very often, do nothing. Experts are appointed, work hard … and then their recommendations are ignored, unraveled, weakened,” he wrote.
‘Somewhat green, somewhat brown’
Cécile Duflot, director general of Oxfam France, on Monday decried the fact that France was not doing enough to protect the environment and said the public quarrel between Macron and Dion was not what would advance matters.
“It’s not words that will change anything,” Duflot, formerly the head of EELV, told France Inter radio.
“There have been a lot of missed opportunities. Nicolas Hulot [who served as environment minister at the beginning of Macron’s presidency] resigned precisely because of that. Before the carbon tax was passed, he warned that social compensation would be necessary otherwise it wouldn’t pass,” she said.
The Citizens’ Convention for Climate was originally established as part of government efforts to quell the “Yellow Vest” anti-government protests that erupted in response to Macron’s carbon tax on diesel.
“French policy in recent years has been somewhat green and somewhat brown,” Duflot said. “When we subsidise fossil fuels but at the same time make some policies that go in the right direction, in the end we stay at the same point,” she added.