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A view from France

Emmanuel Macron’s return: A last-minute green pivot for a net-zero Republique

Understanding the shifting approaches and political commentary surrounding energy security across Europe is an important gauge at this time of uncertainty and European policy making. Whilst the UK is no longer a member of the EU, its place in the world is closely aligned with the continent and changes across the Channel can have direct impacts on policy making, supply chains and perception over here. Jasmine Croad has taken a look at the climate change and energy debates that punctuated the recent French election:

The French electoral campaigns of Emmanuel Macron and Marine LePen were centred around the issues that profoundly divide France, such as social unrest in French cities, immigration policy, a disenfranchised youth and a seemingly neglected countryside. The campaigns of both candidates failed to put the climate emergency on the centre stage until the televised debate.

The results from the first round of the elections demonstrated that Emmanuel Macron had failed to captivate voters from the left and many liberals felt that Macron had neglected the image of a ‘modern, transformative, libertarian’ President. The televised debate provided Emmanuel Macron with an opportunity to claw back many of the pro-green voters who were disillusioned in the first round. During the debate Emmanuel Macron spoke of a fervent commitment to the 2015 Paris Agreement and pushing his climate objectives at a faster rate. Emmanuel Macron also spoke of a ‘complete renewal’ of his policy, distancing himself from mistakes made during his first term and as Minister of Economy and Industry. Marine LePen argued that working people in France were no longer capable of fitting the bill for Macron’s ambitious targets and that climate action should be staggered over time at a slower pace than that which has been ‘forced upon the people of France’.

On nuclear energy Macron stated that he would build up to 14 nuclear reactors by 2050 and regenerate existing plants, LePen outlined that she would build 20 nuclear plants and aim to have nuclear power provide 81 percent of France’s energy by 2050 with the remaining 19 percent being solar, hydropower and bioenergy.

With regard to renewables, in particular onshore and offshore wind it was clear that the policies of Macron and LePen couldn’t have been more different. Macron argued in favour of onshore and offshore wind as part of the future of the French energy mix, whilst LePen defended her loyal rural voters by stating that “onshore wind obliterates the French countryside”.

In the debate Macron refuted LePen’s policies surrounding wind farms by stating that offshore wind farms, particularly in LeHavre create exciting new job opportunities and with develop new industries in France. Of course, LePen didn’t hold back on the usual political punches as she argued that all locations across the French coast excluding Le Touquet (where Emmanuel Macron has a home) have been approved for offshore wind and that she would approve with the assistance of energy companies with the dismantling of wind turbines at the end of their life cycles. LePen also made the point that she would provide local referenda on wind turbines.

Now that Emmanuel Macron has been declared the President of France, the energy industry and pro-climate activists can breathe a sigh of relief. France has narrowly avoided an electoral catastrophe for the nation’s net-zero goals but whether Macron has won over the hearts and minds of green-minded French citizens is yet to be seen. One thing is for certain, he faces a demanding second term as the President of France and if he balances creating a prosperous future for everyday French citizens with achieving net-zero he may go down as one of the most formidable Presidents in French history.