France: Citizens' convention presents climate plan

Members of the French Citizens' convention for the climate have presented their recommendations to the government. They want two of the 149 measures to be put to the people in a referendum: the inclusion of environmental protection in the constitution and the introduction of ecocide as a criminal offence. Is this too much or too little direct democracy?

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Le Monde (FR) /

Referendum would endanger democracy

A referendum would destroy the balance between participatory and representative democracy, political scientist Bastien François and lawyer Anne Levade counter in Le Monde:

“One can be grateful to the president for having dared, on a scale unknown in France, to involve citizens in political decision making. But if he opts for a non-binding referendum he would be doing democracy a great disservice. He would run the risk of shaking the very foundations of our democracy by damaging the principle of sovereignty itself, which would be reduced to a merely consultative role, while parliament's role becomes even smaller.”

L'Opinion (FR) /

Citizens' representatives have turned into politicians

Since even the members of France's Citizens' convention for climate are deterred by the prospect of a far more bold and comprehensive referendum, L'Opinion sees the direct democracy experiment as having failed:

“A bizarre situation: the people no longer trust the people. Eight sessions were enough for the real people sitting in the convention to adopt lock, stock and barrel the reflexes of the elites they so distrust. And to complete the political cartoon, our new-found decision-makers have deleted from their recommendations everything that concerns nuclear energy and carbon tax. Too risky. True politicians. And it wouldn't have taken much for them to propose setting up a commission and writing a white paper.”

La Croix (FR) /

What exactly are the people to vote on?

The proposed referendum on the recommendations of the Citizens' convention for ecological transition is a complicated undertaking, La Croix points out:

“Proposing to the French to vote on each individual measure adopted by the Citizens' convention would be a technically complex undertaking. It would be quicker to limit the choice to one or two symbolic questions. This is exactly what the members of the climate convention propose: [a vote on] incorporating the fight against climate change into the constitution and introducing ecocide as a criminal offence. However, this option entails a risk. ... Because people could use their ballots to vote on something else: their approval or rejection of Emmanuel Macron.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

Opponents of growth would plunge us into chaos.

Le Figaro warns that the demand to cut production and consumption runs counter to the need to stimulate the economy in the crisis caused by coronavirus:

“The tone is less one of incentives than of constrictions: we must work less (but for the same wages), produce less, consume less. ... This would correspond to a forced expansion of the prohibition society, supplemented by a constitutional amendment that would subordinate our rights and freedoms to environmental protection. ... Global warming is real, but no less so than the economic disaster that awaits us. What is the best way to advance on both fronts? Certainly not by listening to the apostles of degrowth, who would plunge us into chaos if they could.”