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Macron’s pointless green gestures The President hasn't realised France is more worried about the economy than the environment

Macron has dethroned his Prime Minister. What now? Credit: CHARLES PLATIAU/AFP via Getty Images

Macron has dethroned his Prime Minister. What now? Credit: CHARLES PLATIAU/AFP via Getty Images


July 4, 2020   5 mins

After the drubbing Emmanuel Macron’s party, La RĂ©publique En Marche (LREM), took in last week’s municipal elections, everyone knew a reshuffle would be on the cards. But firing his well-loved Prime Minister, Édouard Philippe, with great acrimony, was a bit of a shock. Macron doesn’t like to share the limelight.

Philippe’s been replaced by the little-known technocrat, Jean Castex. Once a well-respected adviser on social matters in Nicolas Sarkozy’s ÉlysĂ©e, Castex is an uncontroversial and capable figure. He is the perfect hire to handle the unglamorous slog ahead (there is a recession coming); the President will be able to take the lead on the lofty world stage stuff — while excitedly burnishing his Green credentials.

The greens are suddenly all the rage following the election’s “Green Wave”, in which France’s green party, EELV, snagged various major French cities. Strasbourg, Lyon, Bordeaux, Tours, Nantes, Paris, Nancy, Marseille, Poitiers, Besançon, Grenoble. All are now either led by Greens, or by Left-wing coalitions in which the Greens (who made the difference between victory and defeat) shape policy.

The brand new Green mayors jumped into the news cycle with shock announcements. In Bordeaux, the new City Hall incumbent, Pierre Hurmic, a man who’s never managed to pass his drivers’ exam, declared he would ban all cars from the city. Lyon’s GrĂ©gory Doucet demands an end to all works on the new high-speed train line from Lyon to Turin, and also want to plants “real, big” forests in the heart of his city. (He is famous for declaring that the “only political divide” he acknowledges is “between Earthlings and extra-terrestrials”.)

But all this noise hid an incontrovertible fact: last Sunday, the Green vote in France did not exceed 10% — which means a measly 4% of the registered electorate, since abstention last Sunday broke all records at 61.4%. In fact, the Greens only won 10 of France’s 273 cities numbering more than 30,000 inhabitants. Even Anne Hidalgo’s clear Paris victory was won with a mere 18% of the city’s registered voters.

Meanwhile, Les RĂ©publicains gained 120 municipalities (52% of all towns of more than 9,000 inhabitants in France are now in conservative hands), while the Socialists, boosted and sexed up by Green coalitions, gained 58 — down from 106 in 2014. Even smallish Green contingents were often asked to front coalitions, in order to make them more attractive to the voters as “new faces” (now a known entity, Macron is no longer a choice if you want to give the establishment the finger).

Yet the illusion of the Green Wave, which Emmanuel Macron banks on riding to victory in 2022, endures because its successes were scored in all the places that resemble him, and for that matter the intellectual and media establishment: Paris and the country’s most prosperous cities.

It’s worth noting that in France, unlike in the UK, “cities” only means city centres: in, say, London terms, Shoreditch or Kensington, but reaching as far out as Croydon or Walthamstow. France’s 20 largest cities remain independent from their surrounding, more populous “mĂ©tropoles”.

Métropoles are a recent creation, devised to simplify the national bureaucratic behemoth. The plan was that once a Métropole entity was forged out of dozens of towns, creating a corona of suburbs around a historic city, the whole would be amalgamated to create, say a Greater Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Nantes etc. It never happened, though: City mayors always found good reasons to avoid seeing their power diluted, or, worse, risk being ejected altogether from their job, by those pesky voters in the periphery.

In David Goodhart’s taxonomy, cities in France today belong to “anywheres” ; the surrounding coronas (the MĂ©tropoles) are where the “somewheres” dwell, who are far less enthusiastic about the environment or multiculturalism, with little love for those urban electric tram lines that terminate long before their homes.

This disconnect explains the Green-allied Socialist Anne Hidalgo’s clear victory in Paris. She won over a compact, gentrified city of Bobos and “Anywheres”, in which high house prices have shot up even faster since Brexit. I doubt many banlieusards would be wooed by her support for veganism.

Hidalgo represents a big threat to Macron. She has led an aggressively green policy in Paris, closing down urban highways and introducing pedestrian areas in most of the historic centre. With Olivier Faure, the lacklustre Socialist national leader, garnering only 3% voting intentions in a recent Ifop poll looking at the 2022 presidential election field, Hidalgo, who denies any interest at this stage, is an obvious Socialist presidential candidate. Macron, whose Paris candidates crated so badly that his few representatives in the Paris Assembly won’t even sit in the Conseil de Paris (the municipal “Parliament”) took her success like a punch in the gut.

The ultimate “Anywhere”, Emmanuel Macron loves grand green gestures. He constantly pushed the Paris Climate accords even though they had been signed under the stewardship of his predecessor, François Hollande. Greta Thunberg was duly received at the ÉlysĂ©e, with the President greeting her on the palace steps in front of a five-deep cameramen gauntlet. Last week, France closed a perfectly functional nuclear plant at Fessenheim in Alsace, to great applause from EELV — and from the neighbouring Land of Baden-WĂŒrttemberg in a Germany that refuses to live 25 miles from a nuclear plant, but buys annually 11 TWh’s worth of nuclear-produced electricity from France. During his first State visit to Washington, three years ago, Macron made a long speech to a joint session of the US Congress, and a shorter one at the White House, hoping to convince Donald Trump not to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords by adapting his campaign slogan into “Make Our Planet Great Again”. (He failed.)

Macron has vowed to make France, which accounts for 1.5% of all greenhouse gases emissions on the planet, a model green nation as well as a European green leader. Hence the series of green-inspired measures in his first Budget in 2018, including a heavy carbon tax on gas and fuel, together with a speed reduction on roads.

These raised the cost of driving and heating by over 25%. It hit French “Somewheres” particularly hard. Those living in houses rather than flats in small towns, needing their cars to work, take their children to school, make the weekly shop, in the absence of proper public transport. The 18-month Yellow Vests revolt that followed started in small gatherings on roundabouts close to those France PĂ©riphĂ©rique in those towns who felt Parisian elites understood nothing of their lives, and cared even less.

Hoping to stem the rage that fuelled the Yellow Vests revolt, Macron staged a series of townhall rallies. He made a point of assembling groups of citizens, often picked by lots, to come up with solutions. This, he hopes, will counter regular charges that his ruling style is entirely top-down. Others see it as a way of defusing responsibility.

In an attempt to claw something back from his wounding at the weekend, and to remind France of his Green cred, Macron decided to put his Convention Nationale pour le Climat centre stage. One hundred and fifty randomly-picked citizens were brought together last winter to come up with 150 proposals for green measures. They were invited to present these the very day after the municipal elections. “Look at me, I’m green and humble”, was the spin.

It’s best not to dwell on the proposals, a mixture of impractical, well-meaning and the kooky — such as reducing the speed limit and the working week as well as banning domestic flights altogether and prohibiting construction of any new airports. They will be discussed with a view to possible implementation during the next five years. It’s unlikely many will make the cut.

It’s not that the French don’t care for the environment and climate change — the trouble is our specific breed of environmentalist is hard Left. So while so many politicians are keen to add a bit of green to the agenda, the people know that the EELV’s aggressive de-growth platforms will damage the economy and kill more jobs.

It is difficult to account for Macron’s cognitive dissonance in believing that his trump card is green. With recession about to bite and with a wronged former PM waiting in the wings, putting the environment before the economy may prove to be a serious mistake.


Anne-Elisabeth Moutet is a Paris-based journalist and political commentator.

moutet

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Andrew Roman
Andrew Roman
4 years ago

Like so many other national politicians Macron maces the classic mistake of thinking “Le Planet, c’est moi.” What matters is not what France or Germany or Canada or even the US does alone. What matters is what China and India do. And those two countries pledged as part of the Paris accord to INCREASE their CO2 emissions, not decrease them.

China alone will increase by more in the next 10 years than France could decrease if the entire country disappeared from the Earth. Planetary concerns require planetary, not local solutions. The local efforts are futile efforts at feeling good rather than doing good.

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
4 years ago

If he was really honest about going green, he would be building nuclear power plants, rather than closing them.

sheybby
sheybby
4 years ago

Macron’s strategy to appeal to left-wing and right-wing voters will end up alienating both groups.

On the one hand, leftist eco-friendly voters would rather vote for a blind dog than cast a ballot for Macron. He might have been elected on a centrist platform but for many leftist and centrist voters he showed his true right-wing colours when confronted with massive protests such as the Yellow Vest movement.

On the other hand, right-wing voters have become nauseous with the Woke-led witch hunting hysteria and in their views, Macron is not doing enough to counter the ‘Identity Politics’ madness and preserve France’s national identity.

The rise of populist movements in Europe is fuelled by voters who are mostly centrist or left-leaning on economics but socially conservative and very attached to the notion of nationhood. In the same vein, in the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown, European populations have become more progressive economically but more conservative when it comes to identity values. This is especially prevalent in countries which host large shares of non-europeans immigrants, even more so when they hail from the Islamic World.

At a time when Western Nations are developing an allergic reaction to multiculturalism and neoliberalism, Macron has enacted policies that undermine the French Welfare State while showing a disturbing leniency towards Identity Politics and radical racialist movements.

Locked in his Ivory Tower, Macron remains oblivious to the existence of economically left-leaning and socially conservative voters like myself who have become increasingly detached from mainstream political parties.

To remain in power, Macron is betting on a repeat of the 2017 presidential elections scenario, hoping to once again face Marine Le Pen in the second round. However, this time, his appeal to ‘oppose extremism’ will most likely fall on deaf ears as many centrist and leftist voters will not reelect a President they despise from the bottom of their heart.

David Simpson
David Simpson
4 years ago

Brilliant

Greg C.
Greg C.
4 years ago

Macron’s only trump card was Marine Le Pen. Next time she won’t be there to make him look electable.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
4 years ago
Reply to  Greg C.

Why won’t Marine Le Pen be there next time? My understanding is that National Rally continues to perform very well in rural areas and that she will lead them in to the next election. Or do you think her younger and perhaps more articulate and – choosing my words carefully – ‘voter-friendly’ cousin (I think she’s a cousin) will take her place?

sharib01
sharib01
4 years ago

Extraordinary opinion, obviously based on the myopic assumption that business can carry on unimpeded by runaway climate change, ecological destruction, food insecurity and massive social disruption. Well done to the author for displaying heroic ignorance of our one, fundamental, existential problem facing humanity. Keep your foot on the accelerator! Full speed ahead!

Stephen Murray
Stephen Murray
4 years ago
Reply to  sharib01

You’re quite correct. Let’s all go back to living in CAVES.

Hugh Clark
Hugh Clark
4 years ago
Reply to  Stephen Murray

And live on pie in the sky.

A MacK
A MacK
4 years ago
Reply to  sharib01

Unfortunately, it seems clear that “our one fundamental, existential problem facing humanity” or much more importantly, the natural world, is plastics and synchems that nature can’t deal with, not the wonderful, natural CO2 molecule that has been essential for life for billions of years. Vegans of course love plastic and synchems, but the French appear to be now responsible for even more plastic and synchem pollution due to CV19 (as confirmed by a quick transit of CDG the other day, where disposable synchem masks are essential and Bio Hazard suits merely de rigeur) than hot air. The bright sparks in the “Public Health” sector have a lot to answer for, it seems.

In reality modern human life and development is just not sustainable. And it should be clear to anyone who’s lived through the last 4 months of lockdown that the future is more chilling than worrying about so-called AGW!