French president Emmanuel Macron promised an array of environmental initiatives on Monday after the country’s greens and their leftwing allies triumphed in local elections in Lyon, Strasbourg and Bordeaux and crushed his governing La République en Marche party.
“The climate challenge demands that we do more,” Mr Macron told the 150 members of a “citizens’ climate convention” he set up last year to help defuse anti-government gilets jaunes protests.
Among his promises was €15bn in extra funds over two years for the ecological transition to a low-carbon economy and immediate draft legislation to implement some of the convention’s proposals.
His comments in the garden of the Elysée presidential palace followed a humiliating night for his candidates in the delayed second round of France’s municipal elections.
It was a good night, by contrast, for Europe Ecologie-Les Verts, the French greens, with the party building on its strong performance in last year’s European elections to wrest big cities from Mr Macron and the centre-right.
The results confirmed the greens as the leading party of the left in place of the Socialists. Olivier Faure, Socialist party leader, even said he was ready to stand behind the candidate who would “embody the social-ecological bloc” in the 2022 presidential election.
In Marseille, a coalition of the left and greens led by Michèle Rubirola won the biggest share of the vote and is favourite to run the city after a quarter of a century of centre-right rule.
Anne Hidalgo, Socialist mayor of Paris, won re-election after easily defeating Rachida Dati of Les Républicains and Mr Macron’s candidate Agnès Buzyn, the former health minister.
Ms Hidalgo’s victory underlined the weakness of LREM three years after its national election victories of 2017. Its liberal, pro-Europe policies are widely supported by Parisians, but left-leaning and environmentalist members have started to drift away from Mr Macron, and its Paris campaign was marred by personality clashes and a sex scandal.
Sibeth Ndiaye, government spokeswoman, said: “There are places where our own internal divisions have led to some very disappointing scores.”
Edouard Philippe, Mr Macron’s centre-right prime minister, scored what he called “a clear victory” over his Communist rival in his bid to become mayor of his home town of Le Havre — but he is not a member of LREM and it is not yet known whether the president will replace him to try to re-energise the government for the last two years of his mandate.
Mr Philippe, who may have presidential ambitions of his own, will leave Le Havre, an industrial port city, in the hands of a deputy until he quits as prime minister.
Centre-right politicians maintained their dominance of small-town local governments in the two rounds of this year’s local elections, suggesting that they will continue to control the Senate as well because municipal councillors help to elect senators.
Christian Jacob, Les Républicains leader, said the party was “finding victory again” and held more than half of French towns with more than 9,000 inhabitants.
But Louis Aliot, of Marine Le Pen’s extreme-right Rassemblement National, faced down a so-called “republican front” of temporary allies seeking to keep the party out of power to win the south-west city of Perpignan, the biggest municipal victory for the far-right since it took Toulon in 1995.
Ms Le Pen boasted of the victory in a one-word statement on Twitter — “PERPIGNAN!” accompanied by an image of the French flag.
Mr Macron has been shedding leftwing and green supporters since his election victory in 2017, and has been trying for months to re-establish his green credentials while continuing to reform the country’s state dominated economy.
He rejected only three of the climate convention’s 149 proposals: a 4 per cent tax on dividends, which he said would discourage investment; an immediate reduction of the motorway speed limit to 110km/h from 130km/h; and the introduction of environmental protection as a primary goal in the preamble of the French constitution.
Turnout was estimated to have been an exceptionally low 40 per cent, largely because the country was about to start its coronavirus lockdown when the first round of voting was held on March 15. Sunday’s second round was supposed to have been held on March 22 but was postponed because of the pandemic.
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