Wednesday

8th Jul 2020

Feature

The 150 random French citizens advising Macron

  • 'I was not much of an 'eco-type' before, but what I learned was like a slap in the face," Jean-Paul Moreau, from Brittany, said (Photo: Emma Sofia Dedorson)

Dressed up for the occasion, the 150 French citizens of the Citizens' Climate Convention (CCC) walked up the ceremonial courtyard of the Élysée palace. They pose for pictures in front of the porch.

"I feel like Queen Elizabeth" one lady joked, as she waved to journalists.

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  • 'One day last summer, I received a phone call from a lady saying I had been randomly chosen. I didn't believe it then, and I still don't believe it today. Just look where we are,' says chef Mohamed Muftah from southern France, gazing at the Élysée Palac (Photo: Emma Sofia Dedorson)

Last October, French president Emmanuel Macron tasked this randomly-selected group, "in a spirit of social justice", with finding ways to reduce France's carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030, compared with levels of 1990.

Expected to wind up earlier in 2020, meetings were naturally halted during the coronavirus lockdown. But by mid-June, the CCC could finally present their 149 proposals (one had already been rejected by an internal vote).

On Sunday, on the eve of the Élysée Palace event, local elections were held and France was swept by a Green Wave.

The Europe Écologie Les Verts (EELV) won a number of major victories while Macron's party, La République en Marche, (LREM) failed to win in any major city.

"It is clear that France is having a green awakening. I think that pushes president Macron to accept our suggestions" Mélanie Cosnier tells the EUobserver in the gardens of the palace.

Cosnier, a care-giver, has come by train from Souvigné sur Sarthe, a small town in the nort- west. Travel expenses, hotel stays, food and lost work days were covered by the government, as for all other CCC members.

While individuals are picked at random, the convention is intended overall as a sample of the French population: people from all parts of the country, of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds.

"One day last summer, I received a phone call from a lady saying I had been randomly chosen. I didn't believe it then, and I still don't believe it today. Just look where we are," says chef Mohamed Muftah from southern France, gazing at the Élysée Palace.

The idea of a 'convention' on climate emerged during the "Grand Debat National" [national consultation] initiated by Macron in 2019 as a way to defuse anti-government protests.

The so-called 'Yellow Vest' protests had emerged the year before, triggered by the government's eco-tax on fuel – perceived as a way to "greenwash" austerity measures targeting rural France.

In January 2019 the groups Gilets Citoyens [Citizen Vests] and Democratie Ouverte [Open Democracy] – individuals and organisations from the field of participative democracy, researchers, and famous names such as actress Marion Cotillard and the architect of the Paris Agreement on climate change, Laurence Tubianamet – met with Macron to suggest a citizen's assembly.

He said yes.

"We have worked in close collaboration with experts. I was not much of an 'eco-type' before, but what I learned was like a slap in the face," Jean-Paul Moreau, from Brittany, said.

Real power?

Unlike most such citizens' assemblies, the CCC has been given real power. At least that is what Macron claimed when took the podium in front of the Élysée palace.

"Thank you for coming to your house - this is the house of all French citizens" he said.

He then promised to inject an extra €15bn to fight global warming and said he had accepted all but three of the proposals, which would be submitted to parliament "unfiltered".

"His rejections were expected, we didn't all agree on all measures within the CCC either. The four percent dividend-taxes on investments for green policies was not a big thing, nor was the 110km/h speed limit that he postponed," CCC member Guillaume Robert Réunion commented.

Other accepted conclusions from the convention include: a mandatory energy retrofit for the least-efficient buildings by 2030 and for all buildings by 2040, with aid for low-income groups, a ban on producing new high-emissions vehicles by 2025 (instead of the current target of 2040), more support for local production and job creation to ensure health, food and energy security, and expanding train services.

Remarkably, Macron also gave his support for two referendums in 2021: one on writing climate goals into France's constitution.

The other is a referendum on making so-called "ecocide" a crime. According to the proposal, an ecocide is "any action causing serious environmental damage."

Macron went on saying that he "hoped" that a new law, based on their suggestions, would be drawn up by the end of this summer.

"We are invited to Brussels this autumn to pass the baton on to the EU. I just hope our work won't be put in a drawer somewhere.

"Sometimes I cannot help but to think: what if this is nothing but words and a ball at the castle? All this effort just to keep us calm?" Mohamed Muftah concluded.

Author bio

Emma Sofia Dedorson is a Paris-based journalist covering politics, culture and society in France, Spain and Italy.

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