Macron’s Climate Referendum Stalls As Senate Waters Down Bill

Macron’s Climate Referendum Stalls As Senate Waters Down Bill

French President Emmanuel Macron makes a statement as he arrives for a European Union Council in Brussels on July 17, 2020, as the leaders of the European Union hold their first face-to-face summit over a post-virus economic rescue plan. (Photo by Francisco Seco / POOL / AFP)

President Emmanuel Macron’s promise to enshrine the fight against climate change in the French constitution via a referendum appeared moribund on Tuesday after the upper house watered down the ambitious wording of a government-sponsored bill.

The initiative to state in the constitution that France “guarantees environmental protection and biological diversity, and combats climate change” originated in a citizen’s body set up by Macron last year.

Seeking the upper hand in what could be a key issue in next year’s presidential election, the French leader promised a referendum on the bill if it gained approval in both houses of parliament.

The National Assembly, where Macron has a majority, overwhelmingly voted in favour of the revision in March.

But when the bill then went to the Senate, the body — majority-ruled by the right-wing Republicans — removed a key provision from the draft law before backing a new version in a vote late Monday.

Under French law a referendum can go ahead only if it is approved in identical wording by both houses of parliament.

A majority of senators took issue with the word “guarantee” in the bill, which they say implies that environmental concerns would take priority over other constitutional principles.

Instead, they approved a text stating that France “preserves the environment as well as bio-diversity and acts against climate change under the conditions laid down in the Environment Charter of 2004”, sponsored by then-president Jacques Chirac.

Keeping the “guarantee” wording would have given environmental protection priority over all other constitutional considerations, said Francois-Noel Buffet, the right-wing head of the Senate’s legal commission.

The government’s wording would have “introduced the virus of growth decline in our constitution”, added the senate leader of the right-wing LR party, Bruno Retailleau.

Macron’s office said at the weekend that, despite Senate opposition, the plan to change to constitution was “in no way buried”.

But the chances for compromise seemed remote on Tuesday after Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said he stood by the “guarantee” wording which he said reflected the “strength of the commitment” displayed by the government.

Ahead of the Senate vote, Retailleau said Macron was guilty of “hypocrisy”, saying the president “accuses us of obstruction to justify the cancellation of a referendum that he never wanted”.

The Senate vote came after tens of thousands of people marched in France on Sunday calling for more ambitious climate action.


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