Macron and the citizens’ convention divided on climate issues

France’s President Emmanuel Macron during a Citizens' Convention on Climate, in Paris, France, 14 December 2020. [EPA-EFE/Thibault Camus / POOL POOL MAXPPP OUT]

French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with members of the Citizens’ Climate Convention on Monday (14 December). Although his announcement of a potential referendum on climate and environment made a lot of noise, the heated debate revealed continuing tensions between citizens and the executive. EURACTIV France reports.

For nearly four hours, 150 randomly picked members of the public and the president exchanged views on the future climate law, based on the proposals of the Citizens’ Climate Convention (CCC). During the debate, issues the CCC had worked on, such as travel, housing, consumption, food, production, and work, were also discussed.

At the very end of the tense discussions with the 150 citizens, tasked by the government with proposing ways in which France could cut its carbon emissions, Macron announced he would take up one of the CCC’s proposal –  confirming he will be holding a referendum on the inclusion of climate protection and environmental preservation in Article 1 of the Constitution.

It will have to “first go through the National Assembly, then the Senate and be voted on in identical terms. On that day, it will be submitted to a referendum,” said the president, who had announced in June he would accept all but one of the CCC’s 150 proposed laws and amendments to make the country more eco-friendly.

Shifting the debate

“The president [has] managed to put the debate out of focus” by making an announcement with great pomp and circumstance,” environmentalist MP and member of CCC’s follow-up committee, Matthieu Orphelin, told radio broadcaster France Inter on Tuesday.

“We should discuss concrete measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and change the lives of citizens for the better […]. The referendum is certainly a useful measure, but it’s not the main thing,” said the MP, who noted that “nine of the ten flagship measures of the Convention […] were rejected by the president.”

The citizens spent the whole Monday evening defending their proposed solutions, discussing issues such as renovating buildings, regulating advertising on polluting products, regulating local soil treatment, and banning the sale of the most polluting vehicles with an ambitious threshold, among other things.

“We see that the measures we are proposing are all weakened. How, by minimising our measures, do you expect to meet a target that is now 15% higher?” was the first question posed to the president, in reference to the EU raising its emissions reduction objective to 55% last week.

The CCC’s proposals for reform were actually based on the previous objective of 40%.

French court gives government three months to prove effective climate policy

France’s highest legal body ruled on Thursday (19 November) that the government has three months to explain its “greenhouse gas emission reduction path”. EURACTIV France reports.

A series of disentanglements

The topic of using cars caused a particular stir during the heated debate.

“We think the individual car needs to be modified. But the goal is not to eliminate it. I live in a small village in the Sarthe region, and I can’t do without it, like many French people,” stressed CCC member Mélanie Cosnier, for whom “there is nothing left” of the measures to reduce the carbon footprint of individual cars.

In response, the executive pointed to the €50 aid for bicycle repairs, as well as the climate and weight-related penalties on vehicles. However, the penalty on the weight of vehicles, approved by the National Assembly on 13 November, now concerns vehicles heavier than 1,800 kg rather than the previous 1,400 kg, meaning it only applies to 3% of the French vehicle fleet.

The 5G network was another thorny issue. Though the CCC’s proposal to establish a moratorium on this new mobile network was rejected three times by the government, it has returned to the debate. “If the assessment is underway, why not wait for the results and make a sensible decision? ” Agnès Catoire said about the study on 5G’s environmental impact.

However, Macron argued that the moratorium had somehow “already been done”. “We are one of the last countries in Europe to deploy [5G],” he said.

Amandine Rogg, another CCC member, said: “I think that if there is one thing that the subject of 5G has shown us, it is how far it has gone through society. You want to get people on board, not dictate a change in life. But, today, 65% of the French people are in favour of a moratorium.”

The day after the meeting, CCC members like William Aucant were sceptical about the announcement. “I appreciate that it triggers a debate and I encourage my colleague Grégoire Fraty, who put it on the table. But I don’t hide my fear that it will take us away from the heart of the matter. To be watched,” he said.

 

French citizens have spoken on agriculture, but will it have any effect?

As part of an effort to reconnect citizens with agriculture, French citizens have been invited to offer their take on the direction of the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). But to what extent these efforts will be reflected in policy remains to be seen. EURACTIV France reports.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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