After nine months of deliberations, a citizens’ council set up by French President Emmanuel Macron to explore measures for cutting carbon emissions urged the French leader on Sunday to hold referendums on adding environmental protection to the Constitution and making the destruction of nature a crime.
The Citizens’ Convention on Climate (CCC), made up of 150 randomly selected members of the French population, was established as part of government efforts to quell the “Yellow Vest” anti-government protests that erupted in response to a new carbon tax on diesel.
But the council rejected the idea of a referendum on individual measures, with the exception of two: introducing the idea of environment protection, biodiversity and the fight against climate change into the preamble to Article 1 of the Constitution, and the establishment of “ecocide” as a crime under French law that would include punishing serious offences against the environment.
“Constitution, ecocide [are] OK for a referendum. Other than that, the government has to take responsibility,” said one of the participants, summarising the arguments put forward by most of the participants.
“All of our proposals are great. We encourage all our fellow citizens to take them up and to make sure our politicians do their work,” said another participant, Yolande, who like the other council members, was identified only by her first name.
Macron will meet with the council’s members at the Élysée Palace on June 29 to discuss the proposals.
European Parliament Member François-Xavier Bellamy of the right-wing Les Républicains party accused Macron on Monday of taking a “populist turn” with the CCC, which he said lacked any “legitimacy” to propose measures that he described as the “Yellow Vests’ nightmare”.
“I believe the president, who never stops denouncing the populists, is in the process of taking a truly populist turn,” he said on Sud Radio.
“Has representative democracy become so discredited that we now think that 150 randomly picked people working in a closed room are enough to produce propositions that truly resemble what the French people want?” he asked. “I don’t think so.”
France’s minister for environmental transition, Elisabeth Borne, who received the proposals on behalf of the government, welcomed the committee’s “ambition”.
“The president is preparing an economic reorganisation that is ecological and inclusive. Your work will be at the heart of the project,” she said on Sunday, assuring them that there would be “no taboos” among the issues up for discussion.
“It’s useless to pass laws and issue decrees if the laws are not respected. I am very clearly in favour of strengthening sanctions against environmental damage and having specialised judges,” Borne said on Monday.
“Given the ecological and climatic emergency, we cannot respond to the challenge with small measures,” she said on BFMTV. “We need strong measures, and in order to adopt strong measures we must ensure that we have the support of the French,” she added.
One measure that the council members did not adopt was a proposal to reduce the work time for the French to four days, or 28 hours, per week. Many participants were afraid that the radical proposition would discredit their work.
Some of the proposals are expected to polarise public opinion, such as the lowering of speed limits on highways from 130 to 100 kilometres per hour – which, unsurprisingly, sparked the anger of motorist associations.
Several other measures aim to reduce the use of private cars, including “a better sustainable mobility package”, a tax perk to be offered by the government to companies that cover the transportation costs of employees who commute to work by bicycle, car-pool or other shared transport services.
‘Ambition and clarlity’
The CCC also suggested reinforcing the ecological bonus-penalty system, which taxes drivers more heavily the more CO2 pollution their vehicle emits; supporting long-term leasing and zero-interest loans for clean energy vehicles; and, from 2025, banning the sale of new high-emission vehicles and prohibiting the circulation of polluting vehicles in city centres.
Other measures include stronger limits on advertising, with a ban on billboards touting products with a high carbon footprint such as large SUVs; banning genetically modified crops; higher taxes on nitrogen fertilisers; and halving the use of pesticides by 2030 and banning the most dangerous ones by 2035.
The list also proposes a ban on heating outdoor café terraces and keeping shop lights on at night.
Matthieu Orphelin, a lawmaker with the LREM party, praised the “ambition” and “clarity” of the council’s work. “It’s now up to the political leaders to do their part of the work by making it happen,” he said in a statement.
Greenpeace hailed the proposals as a “first step towards a necessary radical change in our societies” while warning that a “mere symbolic response to the convention’s work would be a democratic disaster”.
Patrick Martin, deputy president of the main employers’ organisation Medef, praised the council’s “serious” work but deplored the lack of cost estimates for the proposals, some of which he deemed “extreme”.
The members of the CCC, for their part, announced the creation of an association, “The 150”, to follow up on their proposals.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)