President Macron’s recent pledge to hold a referendum on climate change comes from an idea put forward by the Convention Citoyenne pour le Climat, a body of randomly selected members of the public.
The group wants to see an amendment to Article 1 of the French Constitution to guarantee the preservation of biodiversity, the environment and the fight against climate change.
It has also proposed other ideas to tackle climate change as part of the so-called loi climat, which will be debated in Parliament and the Senate this month, along with the proposal for a referendum.
The Citizens’ Convention for the Climate was created by the president in 2019
It was an unprecedented attempt to give the public the chance to put forward and discuss proposals which could eventually become law.
Mr Macron introduced it to appease criticism following the gilets jaunes movement that political leaders did not take into account what the public had to say. Market research company Harris Interactive Institute picked participants by contacting around 255,000 people over the course of a month.
From the list of those willing to take part, 150 were chosen to provide a panel representative of the population according to gender, age, level of education, socio-professional categories, living environment and geographical location.
Their first meeting was in early October 2019 and they had a total of seven three-day sessions up to last June.
Their mission was to come up with ideas on how to achieve a reduction of at least 40% in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 (compared to 1990) in “a spirit of social justice”.
The government said it would respond publicly to any proposals and publish a provisional timetable for implementation.
By June 2020, the group had come up with 150 ideas.
President Macron promised to consider 146 of the proposals “without any filtration”.
He later qualified that to mean he would look in depth at each of the proposals but it would be the role of the government and Parliament to give a final decision on law changes.
The proposals were divided into five groups: housing, food, transport, shopping and manufacturing/ work.
Ideas included: encouraging people to eat less meat by introducing a daily vegetarian option in all self-service canteens; any product sold in France should have to come with an offer of repair services; no more oil central heating in new and renovated buildings after 2030; reduction of the speed limit on motorways to 110kph; and adding carbon score labelling to all products and services.
In early December, the government presented the main points of its new climate bill, which took into consideration around 40% of the convention’s ideas, with others still to be decided. Many of the participants were disappointed, saying they felt their efforts had been a waste of time.
They felt further insulted when the president, in an interview with online media Brut, said: “I have 150 citizens and I respect them but that does not mean that what they propose has to be taken as gospel.”
Macron criticised for his 'hollow intervention'
A few days later, Mr Macron met with the group and said he would take up their idea for a referendum, if that was agreed by the Senate and MPs.
He said: “Putting these measures into the Constitution is an acknowledgement that there is a climate emergency.”
Greenpeace France said his words were a “hollow intervention” and he “remained deaf ” to the citizens’ arguments.
A professor in constitutional law at Lille University, Jean- Philippe Derosier, said he believed it was unlikely that the referendum would be approved as the Senate does not have a pro-Macron majority.
He thought it was a political stunt because there is already an Environment Charter in the Constitution.
Mr Macron said he would make sure other proposals were taken up, such as giving vouchers to low-income households to help them buy organic and local food.
He was less certain about the suggestion that all households should be required to make eco-friendly renovations, saying “we have not finished discussions on this”.
Not all of the Convention’s suggestions will become law, and many may be changed from the original versions, but its existence does mean that ideas coming from the public will have the chance to be discussed in Parliament.
At the end of the Convention’s final report, the body said: “[We] encourage the holding of new citizen conventions on fundamental French society topics, to ensure citizens are heard and involved in decisions.
“Citizen involvement in political decisions must not be seen as an obstacle but as a democratic strength.”
Our main image was drawn for Connexion by artist Perry Taylor. For more of his work see www.perrytaylor.fr