June 29, 2020 / 10:28 AM / 9 days ago

France's Macron pledges 15-billion-euro green push after vote rout

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron promised 15 billion euros ($16.9 billion) of new funding on Monday to speed up moves to a greener economy, a day after the Greens trounced his party and took control of big cities in local elections.

French President Emmanuel Macron and French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe arrive for a meeting with members of the Citizens' Convention on Climate (CCC) to discuss over environment proposals at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France June 29, 2020. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/Pool

Macron said he would move faster on environment-friendly policymaking and that he was ready to call a referendum in 2021 on revising the constitution to include climate goals if parliament allowed it. But he stopped short of promising one.

Macron was responding to proposals by a Citizens’ Climate Council he set up in response to the “yellow vest” movement that sprang up as a backlash against the cost of living but became a rebellion against him and his pro-business reform agenda.

“The challenge to our climate demands we do more,” he told members of the climate council in the Elysee Palace’s garden, hoping to burnish his green credentials for the final two years of his presidency.

He made no reference to Sunday’s vote, in which his LaRem party failed to win in any big city, leaving Macron, 42, without a local power-base as he eyes a possible bid for a second term as president in 2022.

The Greens won control of cities including Lyon, Bordeaux and Strasbourg, often in alliance with leftist allies, and is a junior partner in the winning Socialist-led alliance in Paris. It could also still emerge victorious in Marseille.

“We were given a real slap in the face, it’s really brutal,” Bruno Bonnell, a LaRem member of parliament, told Reuters.

CHANGE OF PRIME MINISTER?

Bonnell said Macron should replace Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who is from the conservative right, adding: “If we get back to doing half-baked right-wing policies, we’ll get another drubbing in regional elections”.

But another ruling party member told Reuters that Philippe, who won back his old mayoral seat in Le Havre, was “really solid” and should remain prime minister.

Ditching Philippe would help Macron start afresh, but the prime minister’s popularity has risen as he calmly guided France through the coronavirus crisis.

Sacking him now could create a potential rival for Macron in 2022. Asked about Philippe’s future, a source close to Macron said “continuity” would be the order of the day. “I can’t see why we should change the prime minister,” a government minister close to Macron said.

A government reshuffle is likely next week, after Macron gives it some consideration, another government source said.

Macron supported many measures proposed by the 150-member Citizens’ Climate Council, but rejected others that would have clashed with his pro-business agenda.

He backed a proposal for a moratorium on new commercial zones in city outskirts, and said he would consider bringing in a new law against “ecocide”, defined by the council as any action causing serious environmental damage.

But Macron said a proposal for a 4% tax on dividends to help finance new greener policies would discourage investments.

Additional reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Dominique Vidalon; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Timothy Heritage

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