The man who sparked Hulot resignation

Mr Coste is a powerful lobbyist on behalf of the hunting community

CONNEXION recently interviewed the man said to have sparked Nicolas Hulot’s resignation from his role as Ecology Minister – the political advisor for the National Federation of the Hunters, Thierry Coste.

According to Mr Hulot, the celebrity ecologist turned politician for the LREM government, he had been thinking over his position during the summer but it was the presence of Mr Coste – known as a powerful lobbyist for the hunting community – at an Elysée meeting about hunting yesterday, that was the last straw.

He told France Inter that Mr Coste had not been invited (which Mr Coste has denied) and that this was “symptomatic of the presence of lobbies in the circles of power”, which he said is “a problem of democracy”.

The two men have never seen eye to eye - Mr Hulot is known to support a ban on hunting with hounds and has been angered by recent moves by President Macron in favour of the hunters including halving the price of a national hunting licence. Mr Coste has for years influenced presidents on behalf of them and was appointed campaign advisor for hunting and rural matters for the last three successful presidential candidates: Nicolas Sarkozy, François Hollande and Emmanuel Macron.

He told Le Monde last year: “When he[Mr Hulot]’s not happy I love to remind him that we’re on the same side now – Emmanuel Macron’s. It gives me a real kick.”

Mr Macron has been described as the first president of recent times to express a personal interest in hunting and he has spoken in favour of reviving the defunct ‘presidential hunts’, to which business and political leaders and foreign heads of state used to be invited (previous article here; paywall for 80% apart from subscribers). He also allowed a hunt at the Château of Chambord in December last year on the occasion of his 40th birthday – at which Mr Coste was present – and while he did not participate he addressed the hunters during the tableau de chasse, when the ‘bag’ of killed animals was presented at the end of the hunt.

Commentators say Mr Macron probably also has an eye on next year’s European elections, as the hunting community is said to number more than a million people and is traditionally Eurosceptic, the opposite of Mr Macron’s pro-EU views (though historically it has included supporters of both the political left and right). However the hunters have not had everything their way – he refused their demands for hunting to be placed under the Agriculture Ministry rather than Ecology.

Mr Coste, who advised the then candidate Macron on hunting policy during the presidential election, told Connexion his recent moves in favour of hunting are totally coherent with the politics outlined during the campaign.

He said: “Unlike the last two presidents, Macron has started through his recent actions to put into action the promises he made as a candidate.

“It is not surprising, when you look at the presidential vote in the rural areas, it was  overwhelmingly in favour of Macron, to the astonishment of many, and I have no doubt that is due to the promises he made in favour of hunting and defending rural areas.”

His analysis is that the risk of upsetting the increasingly urban parts of the country by moving in favour of hunters is minimal.

“All the studies show that there is a small majority of the population in both urban and rural areas strongly against la chasse, a large majority in urban areas who have no strong opinion but see it as part of the heritage of France, while in rural areas there is a minority of active hunters and a majority who see it as mainly a good thing.”

And he added that the provincial background of Mr Macron differentiated him from the previous two presidents and probably predisposed him to be in favour.

“He grew up in Amiens, which is a reasonably large city, but which is surrounded by countryside with a very strong tradition of hunting,” he said.

“I am sure he would have gone to school with lots of other children who had hunters in their family.  His wife too has members of her family who are active hunters, so it is not really surprising that he is open to arguments about the benefits of hunting for the countryside, and as a practice favoured by many of his fellow citizens.”

Mr Coste dismissed the idea that the chasse is dominated by Rassemblement National (former Front National) supporters, in spite of many RN lists in the last municipal elections having members of local hunts high on the lists. There is a widely-held belief that active RN supporters are not likely to support Macron, no matter what he does.

“The Fédération Nationale des Chasseurs is strictly non-political, unlike in the UK where hunters are closely aligned with the Tories,” he said.

“The rural vote in France has always been largely a protest vote against those in power and I think what you are describing is more related to this, rather than that the hunters are politically aligned with the RN.”

Another factor which probably moved the president in favour of supporting hunting, according to Mr Coste, was economic benefits for rural areas.

“Hunting benefits bio-diversity, and countryside with high bio-diversity is always more attractive economically, both for farming, tourism and other activities, than a sterile countryside.  If rural areas are not to be left behind it is important that active measures are taken to support them, and I am sure this too has influenced the president.”

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