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French revote overturns controversial palm oil tax break extension

Jean-Paul Pelissier, REUTERS | Greenpeace activists block the entrance of the Total biodiesel refinery at La Mède near Fos-sur-Mer in October 2019.

Following an outcry over a first vote in favour of palm oil, the French National Assembly backed down on Friday evening by overturning the extension of a controversial palm oil tax break that favoured French energy giant Total.

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French National Assembly members on Friday voted by an overwhelming majority (58 to 2) to stop the extension of a palm oil tax break until 2026.

On Thursday, the French lower house approved, without any debate, an amendment delaying until 2026 the end of palm oil's tax advantages, a move that benefits Total, which uses palm oil to create biofuel.

But faced with an outcry by environmentalists as well as some members of his own LREM party against Total's "shameful lobbying", French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe personally took on the issue, going to the Assembly on Friday to demand a second vote, “noting the absence of a sufficient debate on such an important subject".

Constitutional court upholds tax exclusion

Thursday’s vote to extended the tax break period “to leave a sufficient transition period for French companies to prepare for the end of palm oil in biofuels" came as a surprise, since the Assembly had just last year voted to exclude palm oil from the favourable tax regime.

The Total group had tried to appeal, but France’s Constitutional Council rejected the oil group.

The tax break extension was pushed by MPs from the Bouches-du-Rhône department on the Mediterranean coast, where the Mède refinery, one of the largest in Europe, is located.

The site, which employs 250 people, plans to process 650,000 tonnes of oils and fats per year, and to obtain a maximum of 300,000 tonnes of "sustainable and certified" palm oil, according to the oil group.

The French energy giant invested €300 million to convert the Mède site from a crude oil refinery into a biofuel plant, starting output in July. The company uses palm oil as part of the feed stock to produce biofuel.

It said the certification ensured there had been no deforestation to produce the oil and would result in at least a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions compared to fossil fuels.

But that failed to convince environmentalists, with Greenpeace staging a blockade and protest last month at the site near the Mediterranean port city of Marseille.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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