French President Emmanuel Macron promised €15bn ($16.9bn) of new funding yesterday to speed up moves to a greener economy, a day after the Greens trounced his party and took control of big cities in local elections.
Macron said that he would move faster on environment-friendly policymaking and that he is ready to call a referendum in 2021 on revising the constitution to include climate goals if parliament allowed it.
However, he stopped short of promising one.
Macron was responding to proposals by a Citizens’ Climate Council that he set up in response to the “yellow vest” movement that sprang up as a backlash against the cost of living but became a rebellion against him and his pro-business reform agenda.
“The challenge to our climate demands we do more,” he told members of the climate council in the Elysee Palace’s garden, hoping to burnish his green credentials for the final two years of his presidency.
On Twitter, the president argued his government had a strong record on ecology, but conceded that “we need to go further, stronger”.
He made no reference to Sunday’s vote, in which his LREM party failed to win in any big city, leaving Macron, 42, without a local power-base as he eyes a possible bid for a second term as president in 2022.
The Greens – the Europe Ecology – Green Party (EELV) – won control of cities including Lyon, Bordeaux and Strasbourg, often in alliance with leftist allies, and is a junior partner in the winning Socialist-led alliance in Paris.
The EELV also took the towns and cities of Grenoble, Besancon, Tours, Poitiers and Annecy in a green sweep unlike any France had seen before.
In Paris, Socialist Mayor Anne Hidalgo was re-elected after forming an alliance with the EELV, with the pro-Macron candidate trailing in a distant third.
The LREM, created just months before Macron’s successful 2017 presidential bid, failed to take a single major city and only five of 10 ministers in his government secured wins in councils they contested.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe won back his old mayoral seat in the Normandy city of Le Havre, but he is not a card-carrying LREM member.
EELV party head Yannick Jadot said the vote proved that Macron had been “in denial” over growing public demand for ambitious measures to fight climate change.
“We were given a real slap in the face, it’s really brutal,” Bruno Bonnell, a LREM member of parliament, told Reuters.
He said that Macron should replace Philippe, who is from the conservative right, adding: “If we get back to doing half-baked right-wing policies, we’ll get another drubbing in regional elections.”
But another ruling party member told Reuters that Philippe was “really solid” and should remain prime minister.
Ditching Philippe would help Macron start afresh, but the prime minister’s popularity has risen as he calmly guided France through the coronavirus crisis.
Sacking him now could create a potential rival for Macron in 2022.
Asked about Philippe’s future, a source close to Macron said that “continuity” would be the order of the day.
“I can’t see why we should change the prime minister,” a government minister close to Macron said.
A government reshuffle is likely next week, after Macron gives it some consideration, another government source said.
The president supported many measures proposed by the 150-member Citizens’ Climate Council, but rejected others that would have clashed with his pro-business agenda.
He backed a proposal for a moratorium on new commercial zones in city outskirts, and said he would consider bringing in a new law against “ecocide”, defined by the council as any action causing serious environmental damage.
However, Macron said a proposal for a 4% tax on dividends to help finance new greener policies would discourage investments.
Meanwhile, government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye expressed “disappointment” Sunday over the LREM’s poor showing in the second round, which was held amid strict coronavirus anti-contagion measures.
She blamed “internal divisions”, which were notably on display in Paris where Macron’s candidate Agnes Buzyn was hobbled by maverick challenger Cedric Villani.
Traditional right-wing and Socialist parties managed respectable showings, contested more than three months after the March 15 first round was held just as the coronavirus epidemic was gaining ground, and two days before France entered lockdown.
The right-wing Republicans won in more than half of cities with more than 9,000 residents, capturing Toulouse and Nice among others.
The Socialists, which did poorly in the 2017 national race, took Paris, Nantes, Le Mans, Dijon and Montpellier, and just managed to beat off a strong challenge from the EELV in Lille.
Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally claimed a big victory in Perpignan in the southwest, giving it control of a city with more than 100,000 inhabitants for the first time since 1995.
Only 40% of the country’s 16.5mn eligible voters cast ballots, however, in a record-low turnout reflecting disapproval of Macron as well as coronavirus contagion fears.
Macron expressed “concern” over the low turnout just 22 months before presidential elections in which he is likely to face off against Le Pen.
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