Macron plans referendum to add climate clause to constitution

Paris (AFP) –


French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday he plans to call a referendum on changing the constitution to include a commitment to fight against climate change and for the protection of the environment.

Speaking to members of a Citizen's Convention on Climate, Macron said that the referendum would propose adding a clause to the first article of the constitution which lays out the foundational principles of the republic.

"Constitutionally it (the referendum proposal) must first go to the National Assembly and then the Senate and be voted in identical terms," Macron said.

The Citizen's Convention is composed of 150 randomly picked members of the public who were tasked by Macron's centrist government with proposing ways in which France could cut its emissions.

They made a series of practical proposals from reducing speed limits to improving home insulation, but changing the constitution to include the climate commitment and making destroying nature a crime -- so-called "ecocide" -- topped their list of ideas in June.

Macron formed the council in response to demands for greater "direct democracy" in the wave of the "yellow vest" anti-government protests that rocked the country in 2018 and 2019.

The unexpectedly fierce rebellion was sparked by a planned fuel tax hike aimed at funding the climate-change fight, which critics said unfairly targeted people who have no choice but to rely on their cars.

The last referendum in France was in 2005 when voters were asked to back the creation of a European constitution.

They rejected the proposal in a humiliating defeat for then-president Jacques Chirac.

Although the referendum proposal should easily clear the lower-house National Assembly, where Macron's Republic on the Move party commands a majority, it may face opposition or delay in the Senate.

Presidential elections are scheduled for the first half of 2022.

Macron, a 42-year-old centrist, has sought to sustain momentum internationally to cut carbon emissions as laid out in the landmark 2015 Paris climate accord, which was hit by the US withdrawal under President Donald Trump.

But Macron also has domestic critics who accuse him of paying only lip service to the environmental cause.

In a legal case last month, France's top administrative court noted that France had committed itself to reducing its emissions by 40% in 2030 compared to 1990 levels, but in recent years it has missed its targets.

It also noted that Macron's government had, in a decree in April, deferred much of the carbon reduction efforts beyond 2020 -- a response to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Of the 149 ideas proposed by the Citizen's Convention, Macron said in June that he would accept 146 of them, which are set to form the basis of a new law.