Macron Shuns Politically Loaded Referendum on Environment

The French government ditched a plan to try and enshrine environmental protection in the constitution after disagreements over how to phrase the provisions.

President Emmanuel Macron proposed holding a referendum on the issue about a year ago after promising to follow the recommendations of a group of 150 randomly chosen citizens he had asked to come up with ideas for how France should go about its green transition. They suggested adding a line to the constitution stating the Republic “guarantees the preservation of biodiversity and the environment and fights against climate change.”

The French leader was at the time facing criticism from left-wing opponents and green activists for what they described as a lack of ambition in his environmental protection policies -- despite him saying he wanted to “make the planet great again” when Donald Trump was U.S. president.

Though Macron is still under fire for not doing enough for the climate, keeping the pledge he made to follow the recommendations of the so-called Citizens’ Climate Convention is looking like a risky gamble ahead of the 2022 presidential race. All of Macron’s main rivals appear set to come from the right and he’s suffered setbacks in the polls -- his party failed to win large cities in municipal elections last year and bombed in a regional contest last month.

The change to the constitution had to first pass through the National Assembly, which is dominated by Macron’s party. It softened the line proposed by the citizen’s group slightly, replacing the word “fight” with “acts.”

It was then sent to the Republican-led Senate for a vote -- after which point it was meant to be submitted to the French people in a national referendum.

But the proposal got held up after senators wanted to soften the line further, removing for example, the word “guarantee.” They argued that the provision didn’t provide sufficient legal protection for business.

The debate could, in theory, have continued. But Prime Minister Jean Castex informed lawmakers on Tuesday that the government decided to end to parliamentary discussions.

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