Particulate matter: is the penalty for France right?
The Council of State, France's highest court for administrative issues, has fined the state 10 million euros for doing too little to combat air pollution in the first half of 2021. Although maximum particulate matter values have been in force for more than ten years, several cities continue to exceed the limits. A number of environmental protection organisations have filed suits against the state. Commentators disagree over the extent to which the judiciary should help shape environmental policy.
French judiciary shows how it's done
Le Quotidien hopes that the recent rulings on environmental protection in France will send a strong message to all of Europe:
“The ruling follows another 'historic' decision by the Council of State, and reflects the growing number of lawsuits around the world calling on states and companies to do more to protect our planet. On 1 July, the judges gave the state nine months to introduce further measures against global warming. Thanks to the mobilisation of NGOs and citizens, the French judiciary is taking up the issue of environmental and climate protection. ... So the courts are becoming aware of the climate emergency. At least in France. May these rulings also inspire courts elsewhere in Europe.”
Government action must no longer be subject to judicial decisions, economist Christian Saint-Étienne argues in Le Figaro:
“Only the legislature can draft laws and impose obligations on the government. The latter, within the framework of the rule of law thus established, then advances the economic, social, environmental, military and diplomatic interests of the country as best it can. ... In doing so it makes mistakes, yes, but it also scores victories over time. It is not the task of judges to evaluate government policy. Rather, it is up to a parliamentary office to assess state measures under the control of elected representatives. The prerequisite, of course, is that such an office exists. ... It must be established urgently, by means of a parliamentary constitutional amendment.”