Macron dealt big blow as ecology minister quits on live radio

Shock departure of Nicholas Hulot damages French president’s green credentials

Outgoing French minister for ecology Nicolas Hulot: “I do not want to give the illusion that my presence in the government signifies we are up to the challenge.” Photograph: Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images

Outgoing French minister for ecology Nicolas Hulot: “I do not want to give the illusion that my presence in the government signifies we are up to the challenge.” Photograph: Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images

 

President Emmanuel Macron has again been plunged into political crisis, this time by the on-air resignation of the most popular member of his cabinet, ecology minister Nicolas Hulot.

Hulot made the shock announcement on France Inter radio’s breakfast programme on Tuesday morning, with no advance warning to Macron or prime minister Edouard Philippe.

“I know it’s not protocol,” Hulot said. “If I had told them beforehand, they might have tried to dissuade me, yet again.”

Hulot (63) became known to virtually all of France when he launched the nature and adventure television programme Ushuaia 20 years ago. He refused to head the environment ministry under two previous French presidents and was considered a great “catch” by Macron.

When US president Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accord last year, Macron coined the slogan “Make our planet great again.” Last December, the French president held the “One Planet Summit” to continue the work of the conference that drew up those accords. Hulot’s departure on ethical grounds leaves a gaping hole in Macron’s credentials as a defender of the environment.

Hulot was the third-ranking cabinet minister, after the prime minister and the minister of the interior. Philippe said he would suggest names of possible replacements to Macron “in coming days”.

Global warming

During the summer heatwave, Hulot regretted that “one minister on his own” cannot solve global warming. It would take a “sacred union”, he said.

As if to drive home Hulot’s point, Météo France announced on Tuesday that 2018 has been the second-hottest year on record, after 2003.

In the interview in which he announced his resignation, Hulot said the “tragedy foretold” of global warming continues amid general indifference. “The planet is becoming an oven. Our natural resources are being exhausted. Biodiversity is melting like snow in the sun. And we are reviving the economic model that is the cause of all these disorders.”

To save the planet, it would be necessary “to take control of the economy and finance” whereas le macronisme “attempts to reconcile laissez-faire and ecology”, said Laurent Joffrin, the director of Libération newspaper.

Hulot has been the Macron administration’s ecological alibi. He repeatedly threatened to resign, and Macron has described him as “never satisfied”.

“To be or not to be a minister?” Joffrin wrote. “Like a Hamlet of politics, Hulot asked himself the question every morning.”

The former conservative ecology minister Roselyne Bachelot said Hulot “didn’t seem to have strong enough nerves to be a minister”. When he joined the government, she said, “He left the land of teddy bears for the lions’ den.”

Hulot listed what he sees as the failures of his 15 months in office. “Have we begun to reduce our greenhouse emissions? No. Have we begun reducing the use of pesticides? No. Or stopping the erosion of biodiversity? No.”

Hulot saw his role as one of damage limitation, but ultimately felt he could no longer condone government policies. He called the decision “the most difficult of my life” and added, “I no longer want to lie to myself. I do not want to give the illusion that my presence in the government signifies we are up to the challenge.”

Nuclear power

Perhaps the greatest humiliation to Hulot was being forced to announce last November that France was abandoning plans to reduce the amount of nuclear power in the country’s energy mix to 50 per cent by 2025. France currently derives three-quarters of its electricity from nuclear plants.

The nuclear goal was made official in 2015, under François Hollande. Macron had promised to respect it. Hulot alluded on Tuesday to “this useless folly” of nuclear energy, regretting that he had been “unable to convince” Macron.

Hulot also lost a battle with the agriculture ministry to outlaw the herbicide glyphosate, made by Monsanto and known by the commercial name Roundup.

But it was the power of the hunting lobby that pushed Hulot over the edge. He recounted on France Inter having been surprised to find Thierry Coste, the lobbyist for the national federation of hunters, at a meeting at the Élysée on Monday evening, where Macron decided to half the €400 annual licence fee for hunters.

The federation says the move will “democratise” hunting as a “leisure activity.” There are 1.2 million hunters in France, split evenly politically between left and right.

Hulot called the presence of Coste at the meeting “symptomatic of the presence of lobbyists in the circles of power”.

“The hunting, nuclear and pesticide lobbies have all won battles against Nicolas Hulot,” said the green MEP Yannick Jadot.

The hunters did not hide their glee at having shot down Hulot. “He spent 30 years dumping on hunters and fishermen,” said Willy Schraen, president of the national federation of hunters. “As far as I’m concerned, this isn’t the worst news this week.”

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