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.