Saturday

16th Nov 2019

Minister's resignation impugns Macron's green image

  • Nicolas Hulot (l) and French president Emmanuel Macron were at odds on nuclear electricy and other issues (Photo: Ecologique Solidaire/flickr)

"Make the planet great again," French president Emmanuel Macron said last year when his US counterpart Donald Trump decided to pull out from the Paris climate agreement.



Since his election a few weeks earlier, Macron has put environmental issues at the centre of his claim for EU leadership, along with eurozone integration, migration, and the digital economy.


Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

Speaking to French ambassadors on Monday (27 August), he insisted that the "struggle for the planet will remain at the heart of our foreign policy".

"This environmental diplomacy is crucial to address the great disruption of the world," he said.

"It is crucial because it characterises the French and European commitment in this issue, because it allows us to build up alliances, in particular with China and several other great powers, and therefore build up a new kind of international cooperation."

But on Tuesday morning, Macron's leadership ambitions suffered a blow when his environment minister Nicolas Hulot resigned.

Hulot, a former TV presenter and environment activist, was third in the government hierarchy.

He announced his resignation in an interview on France Inter radio, without first informing Macron or prime minister Edouard Philippe, in what seemed to be a spontaneous decision.

"I don't want to lie to myself anymore," he said after being asked if he was happy about the government's environmental record.

"I don't want to give the illusion that my presence in the government means that we are up to the challenges," he said. 



Hulot admitted that under Macron, France has failed so far to reduce CO2 emissions and the use of pesticides, to stop the "erosion of biodiversity", and to stop the artificialisation of land.

He also explained that he felt alone against the agriculture minister, Stephane Travert, who is considered to be a defender of intensive farming and glyphosate, a weedkiller.

Hulot's resignation took the government by surprise, but Macron, during a visit to Copenhagen told journalists that he respected Hulot's "freedom".

"I think that in 15 months, this government has done more than any other in the same amount of time," he said, adding that he hoped to count on Hulot's commitment "in a different form".

His supporters stressed that the government's record was not as bad a the quitting minister said.

Bitter pills

They argued that French coal plants will all be closed by 2022, that France has decided to stop drilling for oil and gas by 2040, and that a plan for circular economy was launched.

They also insisted that Macron has pledged to ban glyphosate within three years, but they did not specify that MPs did not include the deadline in a law passed earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Hulot's surprise resignation was not entirely unexpected.

The parliament's decision to avoid a binding deadline on glyphosate had been considered as a political defeat for Hulot, a few months only after he pushed for a ban on the weedkiller at EU level.

EU members states had decided to extend the pesticide's authorisation for five years instead of the 15 years originally proposed by the European Commission.

On Monday, the day before his resignation, the environment minister had to swallow another bitter pill when he took part in a meeting where hunters obtained a reduction of their licence fee as well as a plan that could allow them to hunt protected bird species.

But Hulot's main failure was the government's decision last year to postpone a deadline to reduce the production of electricity by nuclear plants.

According to a law passed under president Francois Hollande, France should have reduced the part of nuclear from 75 percent of electricity produced to 50 percent by 2025.

'End of an illusion'

But in November last year, the government said it would not meet the deadline, while failing to give a new one.

"Nuclear is not bad for CO2 emissions," Macron explained last year, insisting that "with renewable energies, it's the most decarbonated way to produce electricity."

Hulot, for his part, repeated on Tuesday that nuclear energy was "a madness that is economically and technically useless".

The divergences between Macron and his ecology minister reflects the French leader's approach to environment, which is mainly focused on climate change and CO2 emissions at the expense of other challenges like the fight against pollution or the protection of biodiversity.

Macron is "the lobbies' best friend", said MEP Yannick Jadot, who will lead the French Greens list in next year's European elections.

"Nicolas Hulot has tried, it's the end of an illusion," he added.

Analysis

Macron's first test has come

The French president is seeing his authority weakened by revelations over one of his bodyguards - and this could affect his capacity to reform.

Chemnitz neo-Nazis pose questions for Germany

UN human rights commissioner urged EU leaders to condemn violence that recalled the 1930s, but the local situation in former East Germany does not apply to the whole country.

News in Brief

  1. Catalan politicians extradition hearing postponed
  2. Germany: EU banking union deal possible in December
  3. EIB: no more funding of fossil-fuel projects
  4. UK defence chief: Russia could trigger World War III
  5. Hungary's Varhelyi will face more questions
  6. Police put former Berlusconi MEP Comi under house arrest
  7. MEPs criticise Poland for criminalising sex education
  8. UK will not name new commissioner before election

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Latest News

  1. Key moments for new commission This WEEK
  2. EU threatens legal action against UK over commissioner
  3. Corruption in the Balkans: the elephant in the room
  4. Green MEPs unconvinced by Romanian commissioner
  5. EU states fell short on sharing refugees, say auditors
  6. Hungary's commissioner-to-be grilled over loyalty to Orban
  7. Widow's plea as EU diplomats debate Magnitsky Act
  8. Leftist MEPs call on EU to address crisis in Chile

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us