Saturday

1st Oct 2022

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

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe 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.

Feature

Why northeast Italy traded in League for Brothers of Italy

EUobserver spoke with several business figures and all confirmed they voted for Georgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy because it promised stability, less bureaucracy and tax cuts. Matteo Salvini's anti-EU rhetoric scared them, while they trust Meloni has "more common sense".

Europe's far-right celebrates Meloni victory

In Warsaw and Budapest, the prime ministers were quick to congratulate the new Italian leader, who — they hope — will back them in their battles with the EU over civil rights, rule of law and democratic backsliding.

Podcast

How Europe helped normalise Georgia Meloni

Should Georgia Meloni be considered neofascist? She insists she's a patriotic conservative. And indeed, if she's prime minister, she's expected to respect Italy's democracy — if only to keep money flowing from the EU.

News in Brief

  1. EU ministers adopt measures to tackle soaring energy bills
  2. EU takes Malta to court over golden passports
  3. EU to ban Russian products worth €7bn a year more
  4. Denmark: CIA did not warn of Nord Stream attack
  5. Drone sightings in the North Sea 'occurred over months'
  6. Gazprom threatens to cut gas deliveries to Europe via Ukraine
  7. New compromise over EU energy emergency measures
  8. 15 states push for EU-wide gas price cap

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  3. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  4. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries

Latest News

  1. Editor's weekly digest: A week of leaks
  2. Putin declares holy war on Western 'satanism'
  3. Two elections and 'Macron's club' in focus Next WEEK
  4. EU agrees windfall energy firm tax — but split on gas-price cap
  5. Ukrainian chess prodigy: 'We are not going to resign ... anywhere'
  6. Going Down Under — EU needs to finish trade deal with Australia
  7. MEPs worry Russian disinfo weakens support for Ukraine
  8. Everything you need to know about the EU gas price cap plan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us