Swedish teen climate activist's visit divides French parliament

Paris (AFP) –


Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg hit back at critics as she visited the French parliament on Tuesday following outraged comments from some right-wing MPs who have slammed her presence.

Thunberg, 16, whose school strikes protesting government inaction over climate change helped sparked a worldwide movement, is to speak to MPs at the National Assembly and then attend debates in the main chamber as a guest of honour.

The activist, who was invited by 162 MPs from a cross-party group concerned about climate change called "Let's Accelerate", was welcomed by speaker Richard Ferrand at his residence before heading to parliament.

But many conservative figures on the French right have criticised the invitation, dismissing her as a "prophetess in shorts" and the "Justin Bieber of ecology".

Republicans MP Guillaume Larrive called on MPs to boycott her appearance, saying that to fight climate change "what we need is scientific progress and political courage, not apocalyptic gurus".

Julien Aubert, like Larrive a Republicans MP contending for leadership of the right-wing party, snapped: "Don't count on me to applaud a prophetess in shorts, a Nobel Prize for Fear."

Jordan Bardella, an MEP who is one of the rising stars of the far-right National Rally (RN), told France 2 television that "this dictatorship of perpetual emotion -- all the more when it relies on children -- is a new form of totalitarianism".

Bardella, 23, lashed out at "using children to show a fatalism to try and explain to all young people that the world is finished, that everything is going to catch fire and that nothing is possible."

- 'They make things up' -

Thunberg, who on her Twitter feed describes herself as a "16 year old climate activist with Asperger" has long been the target of vicious attacks by social media trolls. But it is rare for politicians to join the fray.

"It is sad people are so desperate that they make things up," she told French youth news site Konbini ahead of her visit to parliament.

"It seems they are more scared and concerned about me and some young people protesting than the actual problem."

The criticism was also met with dismay by Green MPs and some from President Emmanuel Macron's Republic on the Move (LREM) majority.

"Larrive and Aubert are playing an internal game on the back of the battle against climate change," said Delphine Batho, head of the Generation Ecology party.

The state secretary at France's education ministry Gabriel Attal said no-one would question Thunberg's right to appear if she was 30 years older.

"Her youth makes some forget that she started a historic movement," he said on Twitter.

Her appearance comes as France again swelters in a new heatwave with record high temperatures expected in Paris on Thursday.