Climate action en marche?

What does the Macron presidency mean for the future of European environmental policy? Caught between rigorous economic liberalism and heartfelt environmentalism, Macron’s France is currently inscrutable. Climate action en marche?

Our society is a sort of an airliner in which all control lights would flash red in the flight deck and at the back everyone would still be either drinking champagne or bickering. – Nicolas Hulot

The former environmental activist, writer, and David Attenborough à la française, Nicolas Hulot, just got a prominent seat in the flight deck. He was appointed Minister of Ecologic and Inclusive Transition in the government of the new French president Emmanuel Macron.

Both Sarkozy and Hollande offered him the job before, but this time he accepted saying, “It’s a good moment to act.” Those who understand the urgency of climate action and nature conservation would agree with him, but will wonder why he didn’t take the seat sooner. Did Hulot see an opportunity for “more room in the flight deck” to drive ambitious climate and environmental policies this time?

While it’s still early days, and the memory of the very liberal candidate Macron ignoring environmental questions and praising free trade during his campaign is still fresh, there is hope the ecological transition might have just got on track. Hulot’s ministry is large (in charge of, among others, environment, energy, climate, transport, fisheries, land use, housing, and risk prevention), and his challenge is recognised as “vital and determining everything else” by President Macron.

Yet, President Macron and Minister Hulot are not alone in the flight deck.

The prime minister, Edouard Philippe, previously lobbying for Areva and, as a mayor of Le Havre, fighting to keep a coal power plant up to save 180 jobs, is also part of the crew. While the outcome of the new political set up is difficult to predict, it is exciting to see those who understand the value of environmental protection and EU integration behind the control wheel.

Macron’s election has been good news for the EU’s future, but his presidency is less unambiguous. For the integrity of the post-Brexit EU, a progressive leadership to work alongside Germany may be welcome, but only if it does not lead to a fully-fledged multi-speed EU with no bridge between the frontrunners and a disheartened periphery. In climate action, for instance, France’s choices could provide the impulse for the EU-27 to get on the right tracks.

For more information, please contact Kamila Paquel.