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Abandoning carbon tax was 'shallow and populist', say Greens

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-03-24

The French Green Party has accused President Nicolas Sarkozy of populism after he announced that his much-vaunted carbon tax would be shelved.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's decision to abandon the carbon tax was a "populist move designed to win back the support of small businesses and homeowners" after a humiliating defeat in regional elections, according to France’s Green Party.

The tax was a central plank of Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign, and up to this month he said he still believed France should set the example in imposing a carbon tax, going as far as to compare it with the abolition of the death penalty.

Greens spokeswoman Djamila Sonzogni said Sarkozy had caved in to opposition from climate-change sceptics and fiscal conservatives to shelve a tax she said was neither equitable nor broad enough.

The tax, she pointed out, would have exempted the country’s 1,000 biggest industrial polluters (representing 97% of France’s total CO2 emissions), leaving small businesses and households to bear the brunt.

“This is a very serious u-turn,” Sonzogni told FRANCE 24. “We had something imperfect, but which could have been more wide-reaching, equitable and beneficial to French households and businesses, and now we have nothing at all.

“The environment has effectively been sidelined.”

Sarkozy announced that the tax, which he famously promised would “save humanity”, would be abandoned following his ruling UMP party’s severe drubbing in regional elections at the weekend, in which opposition Socialists went on to take 21 of mainland France's 22 regions.

By promoting the tax, Sarkozy had gambled on the support of Green voters, who instead maintained their allegiance to the Socialists in the second round of regional elections, cementing the left's success.

No European consensus

Sonzogni told FRANCE 24: “He abandoned the tax to reconcile with those people who voted against him in the regional elections, people who thought the tax would be too expensive and those who are sceptical about the need to tax pollution.

“It was a very shallow, populist move. It will not work for him in the long run because this is an issue that will not go away. What he should have done would have been to find a better solution.”

The Greens' spokeswoman said Sarkozy's decision to wait for European agreement on a carbon tax effectively buried the plan because of the difficulty of finding a pan-European consensus.

The French president insisted Tuesday that the carbon tax was not dead, but that it had to be applied Europe-wide so as to protect French business and farming interests.

“It would be absurd to tax French businesses while giving a competitive advantage to countries that pollute more,” he said in a televised address.

But even within Sarkozy’s own party there was consternation and “despair” that the attempt – which would have been Europe’s most ambitious yet – to find a way to tax pollution, has been shelved with such finality.

UMP minister’s ‘despair’

Junior Environment Minister Chantal Jouanno, whose office declined to comment when contacted by FRANCE 24, was Monday quick to counter Fillon’s argument that the tax would adversely affect France’s competitiveness in international markets.

She said: “I despair. I am especially disappointed that the move seems to be the result of growing climate-change scepticism.

"It was possible to have done it in France before doing it in Europe. It was what we had thought from the beginning and it is what other countries like Sweden have done."

Her immediate boss, Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, told France 2 television channel he would continue to fight for a European agreement on a carbon tax.

Asked if he had considered resigning, he said: “No, now less than ever. I was in Brussels last week and I will go back because we can find a way to get a European agreement. It will take time, but we will get it.”

Date created : 2010-03-24


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