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Macron’s climate referendum dead in the water as Senate changes draft bill

France 24

President Emmanuel Macron’s promise to enshrine the fight against climate change in the French constitution via a referendum appeared moribund on Tuesday after the upper house watered down the ambitious wording of a government-sponsored bill. 

The initiative to state in the constitution that France “guarantees environmental protection and biological diversity, and combats climate change” originated in a citizen’s body set up by Macron last year.

Seeking the upper hand in what could be a key issue in next year’s presidential election, the French leader promised a referendum on the bill if it gained approval in both houses of parliament.

The National Assembly, where Macron has a majority, overwhelmingly voted in favour of the revision in March.

But when the bill then went to the Senate, the body — majority-ruled by the right-wing Republicans — removed a key provision from the draft law before backing a new version in a vote late Monday.

Under French law a referendum can go ahead only if it is approved in identical wording by both houses of parliament.

A majority of senators took issue with the word “guarantee” in the bill, which they say implies that environmental concerns would take priority over other constitutional principles.

Instead, they approved a text stating that France “preserves the environment as well as bio-diversity and acts against climate change under the conditions laid down in the Environment Charter of 2004”, sponsored by then-president Jacques Chirac.

Keeping the “guarantee” wording would have given environmental protection priority over all other constitutional considerations, said Francois-Noel Buffet, the right-wing head of the Senate’s legal commission.

The government’s wording would have “introduced the virus of growth decline in our constitution”, added the senate leader of the right-wing LR party, Bruno Retailleau.

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