March 5. 2024. 2:04

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Sovereignty and conservatism: Environmental approach of France’s far-right

EURACTIV takes a closer look at how France’s far-right views its environmental responsibilities and priorities. Nationalism, conservatism and localism shape its approach, according to experts.

With a record winter drought facing France, the EU still battling an unprecedented energy crisis, and a ticking clock on the bloc’s net-zero goals, the environmental stance of member states’ leadership across the political spectrum is under the spotlight.

Speaking during a debate in the French National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday (1 March) on the issues at stake at the upcoming COP28 climate conference, far-right party National Rally (RN) deputy Marine Hamelet said that “the RN is very concerned about global warming […] we are proposing a local response to a global disorder”.

She argued that under no circumstances should the country give in to “the construction of wind turbines that will destroy our countryside and coastlines [and biodiversity]” in the name of environmental protection.

The COPs “are nothing but a shadow play”, she added, before going on to praise France’s energy mix, based “on nuclear and hydroelectric power, a model for decarbonisation throughout the world”.

On agriculture, “the answer cannot be to prevent our farmers from using pesticides, which are essential to their economic competitiveness and our food sovereignty,” she also said.

Such views are in line with the manifesto put forward by former RN president Marine Le Pen during the 2022 French presidential election.

“Our project will turn the page on punitive ecology and guiltiness,” it reads. Her manifesto also aimed to “break away from an ecology that has been hijacked by climate terrorism, which endangers the planet, national independence and, more importantly, the living standards of the French people”.

The manifesto said that “preference for French products, for French jobs and for investment in French companies” should be the “first lever of an environmental transition”. Unsurprisingly, such preference follows the principle of “national priority” – a traditional far-right approach, in France and elsewhere.

Solar energy neglected in French candidates’ green transition plans

The development of solar energy is unlikely to change much in France in the next five years, as the presidential candidates have not made it a priority.

The RN also promised a plan to support organic farming, coupled with “access to organic food in school canteens reserved for French products”.

Environmental law specialist and associate professor at Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne University, Arnaud Gossement, told EURACTIV this concept is “only a means to another end, which is nationalism”.

According to Gossement, this is a “façade manifesto”, which means that the members of the RN group are actually “mostly silent” on environmental issues. Except, for example, when their stance aims to oppose the deployment of renewable energies, he told EURACTIV.

These proposals are mainly aimed at “flattering an electorate”, Gossement said, adding that he sees changes in the far right’s discourse on ecology as a mere “change in their communication”. Although RN elected representatives no longer display climate-sceptic positions, Gossement labels them as “climate-relativists”.

According to him, there is “no analysis of the link between hydrocarbon consumption and global warming” within the RN. Otherwise, RN MPs would not oppose the development of renewable energies, nor would they fight for a decrease in fuel taxes.

Nicolas Goldberg, an expert on energy issues at Colombus Consulting and head of the energy unit at thinktank Terra Nova, believes that the far-right’s plans would not allow France to “free itself from fossil fuels”, given the RN’s opposition to the ban on the sale of combustion engines and oil-fired boilers.

Le Pen’s party has argued that it is in favour of increasing France’s nuclear power capacity – after opposing it for a long time.

Yet, “without electrification, nuclear power alone will not allow us to free ourselves from fossil fuels”, Goldberg said, adding that “an overdependence on fossil fuels is not only damaging [for the climate], but also feeds a deadly geopolitical dependence”.

In contrast with the objectives of national sovereignty promoted by the RN, Eric Zemmour’s far-right party Reconquête! and other figures of the nationalist right, “focusing on fossil fuels raises problems with regard to national sovereignty and security of supply”, he added.

Both Gossement and Goldberg pointed to the lack of action taken by Le Pen and her supporters regarding lifestyle factors. Her party does not provide any plan for the transformation of the transport and housing sectors – the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions – in order to cut them and fight global warming.

This environmental view “reflects a conservative approach to the structuring of society, and rejects the need to rethink practices and infrastructures”, Goldberg said.

But the French far right, and the RN in particular, has also greatly developed the idea of localism in their discourse. The party proposes, for example, to support a circular economy, or even waste treatment at the local level – for energy production purposes, for instance.

Yet, localism “makes sense when it is applied in a comprehensive way”, not just “buying in a short circuit”, Goldberg said. Coupled with an “addiction to fossil fuels and without the will to restrict consumption, it amounts to localism for the sake of it”, he added.

“The backbone of the RN is sovereignty coupled with conservatism, but when it comes to energy, that doesn’t work,” Goldberg concluded.

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