That make no sense to propose policies to shift to political themes when people seem to oppose to it and have enough protest power to make them fail.

For instance the Grenelle Environment Round Table gave rise to a bill known as "Grenelle I" adopted almost unanimously in the Assembly in October 2008.

The Grenelle Environment Round Table introduced the HGV tax, officially the "national tax on goods transport vehicles", sometimes called "ecotax" or "ecoredevance poids lourds", should have been the French version of the service-related HGV tax applicable in France, the aim of which is to reduce road transport deemed to be polluting and energy-intensive and to finance the development of river or rail transport. The principle of such taxation "had been widely adopted by the political class during the Grenelle Environment Round Table".
But In the autumn of 2013, demonstrations and sabotage were organised in Brittany (by the Red Bonnet Movement) to protest against the HGV tax, calling it an "eco-tax", following which (in the autumn of 2013) the government decided to freeze its implementation. In October 2014, when its implementation had been postponed until early 2015, the Minister of Ecology Ségolène Royal suspended the ecotax.

The carbon tax was part of the "ecological pact" signed by all candidates in the 2007 presidential election. At the end of the Grenelle Environment Round Table on 25 October 2007, President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged to create "a climate-energy tax in return for a reduction in labour taxation". The carbon tax was finally introduced in 2014 in the form of a "carbon component" proportional to CO2 emissions. From an initial amount of €7 per tonne of CO2, it was planned to increase it each year. However, the increases have to be ratified each year by the parliament as part of the finance law. The draft finance law for 2018 foresees a level of €65.40 in 2020 and €86.20 in 2022; according to Nicolas Hulot, Minister for Ecological and Solidarity Transition, the target of 100 €/t CO2 in 2030 is not called into question6. However, following the Yellow Vests movement, the Presidency of the Republic announces that the planned increase will not be included in the finance bill for 2019.

So why do the French political parties seem to be unanimous on these environmental issues when a part of the people who have a fairly significant power of nuisance oppose them? Is there a rupture between political elites and their voters, a kind of misrepresentation? Or were these laws really shared by the grassroots of the parties - is it that these failures are only shared by a single sub-population?

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    French parties are far from unanimous on any issue, including environmental issues. However, in the last couple of years many parties have shifted their discourse to more environment-concerned tones, even when their programs don't match the greenwashing communication. The reason for this is that a majority of the population is now aware of the emergency to stop climate change, environment destruction, and their consequences on public health and quality of life. Are you asking specifically about carbon-taxes or about environmental policies as a whole ? – Evargalo Feb 13 '20 at 10:35
  • @Evargalo - What does it mean for a program to "match" communication? A program that focuses on public awareness, a program that imposes carbon taxes, and a program that seeks to ban all non-renewable energy companies might all equally and genuinely depart from the premise that environmental damage is a serious issue. – Obie 2.0 Feb 13 '20 at 11:06
  • @Evargalo I would say environmental policies but I feel that my two examples are carbon tax only. So if the " a majority of the population is now aware of the emergency to stop climate change, environment destruction, and their consequences on public health and quality of life" why do they oppose to these taxes? – Revolucion for Monica Feb 13 '20 at 11:07
  • Does it require any more explanation that that environmental regulations all require vast increase in the size of government? – puppetsock Feb 13 '20 at 13:31
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    @puppetsock more likely that people are in favor of someone else being inconvenienced to fix things – Caleth Feb 13 '20 at 13:52

Why do the French parties seem to be unanimous on environmental laws when part of the people with significant power of nuisance oppose them?

I can see why it might look this way, but there are some important assumptions/simplifications behind this interpretation. Let me try to clarify:

That make no sense to propose policies to shift to political themes when people seem to oppose to it and have enough protest power to make them fail.

Indeed, and no sane politician would ever do that. However it's easy to measure the extent of the opposition in hindsight, it's less easy to predict it (for example it makes no sense either for big banks to take risks susceptible to cause a financial crisis, yet it happens).

The underlying economic dimension of the protests

OP assumes that the backlash against these two environmental laws is entirely related to their environmental nature. It's difficult to quantify exactly the motivations of the protesters, but at least in the case of the Yellow Vests movement it's clear that the focus is much more economic than environmental:

  • The main reason protesters mention is the "difficulty to make ends meet"
  • Protests have continued although the diesel tax (original trigger) has been cancelled
  • Some of the protesters emphasize the overlap between environmental and economic concerns (example [fr]).

The Yellow Vests movement is very diverse, but its core is made of low to middle class citizens who feel that they are the losers of Macron's economic policies. It's worth noting that rising inequalities in many Western countries is arguably an important cause of political trouble not only in France (see populist politicians being elected in many countries). I'm aware that this is not the topic of the question but this aspect cannot be discarded.

This brings us to another point which is also not specific to France:

The difficult politics of fighting climate change

It's easy for everybody (countries, parties, citizens,...) to agree to protect the environment, but when it comes to deciding who should pay for it things get more complicated.

We see governments (and recently companies) promising to cut carbon emissions by X % or even to become carbon-neutral. This kind of pledge has been taken on for a while in many countries, yet very few (if any) have actually succeeded. There are a number of obstacles when it comes to financing the required measures, and maybe even more importantly the trade-off between maintaining citizens and companies/lobbies happy vs. actually implementing serious carbon-cutting policies.


To sum up:

  • the political landscape in France is very unstable, at least in part due to economic reasons... like in many other countries.
  • the will to tackle climate change is shared by the vast majority of the population (and political parties), but how to do it exactly is a major issue... like in many other countries, and between countries.
  • +1 It's easy to forget that before the (French) yellow vests there were (Italian) "pitchforks" etc. The latter didn't have an environmental agenda at all but were otherwise very similar to the YV protests and in highsight explain the later success of the Italian alt-right, much like the YV votes mostly went to the FN/RN later. france24.com/en/… – Fizz Apr 11 '20 at 3:33
  • Here's an article that draws a parallel between the YV and Forconi ("pitchforks"), while also noting some (context & duration) differences. And another (this one in French) which has links to some more. – Fizz Apr 11 '20 at 3:47

This is a good question, but really fits with the wider disarray in French governance. Ever since Mai 1968, the French have the fairly unique romantic notion among democracies that disorderly public protests, often with significant property damages, and generalized strikes are a legitimate, and indeed virtuous way to signal disagreement with laws or reforms passed by the government.

Rather than voting them out of office at first opportunity. Yes, other countries have disorderly protests too, but there is more empathy, support, and less legal prosecution of vandals, in France.

You can see this with the Gilets Jaunes and Macron, but it is much older than that.

With regards to the environment, in France, like everywhere, there is some urgency to reducing emissions and the government and most parties are taking action. But that still leaves them with the problem that people who stand to lose from increased taxes are going to protest. That's not helped by the very large tax take in France - people are fed up with paying so much and an extra emissions levy is easily seen as a cash grab.

To answer your question, if a government was really cautious not to upset anyone with powers of nuisance in France, then they'd best not do anything at all. In this instance, it's kind of a good thing they don't act as you'd expect.

BTW, Hulot has resigned as Environment Minister since a long while, check your sources.

  • " Ever since Mai 1968"? And here I was thinking that behavior predated that by a bit. ;-) – Just Me Feb 14 '20 at 0:10
  • "if a government was really cautious not to upset anyone with powers of nuisance in France, then they'd best not do anything at all." like "le bon docteur Queuille" as coined by the British historian Philipp Williams and his so-called _"immobility"_^^ – Revolucion for Monica Feb 14 '20 at 11:02

French political system is not entirely democratic

Your notion is that when political parties push for unpopular law (in this case various "green taxes") , people could simply vote them out of office. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. French have two round runoff voting for their parliament (National Assembly) and president. This system allows marginalization of rising populist parties that oppose current elite. Typical example is National Rally (formerly known as National Front), party with probably single highest support in French electorate. Yet, they hold only 7 out of 577 places in National Assembly, but 23 of 74 French places in European Parliament. Why ? Because European Parliament has proportional system.

Anyway, usual practice in France, when a party appears that drastically oppose established system of value (i.e. French "elite"), it rise is capped to 20-30% . This happens in this manner: in a second round of runoff elections all establishment parties (no matter are they nominally on left or right) would call their supporters to vote for establishment candidate, and against "rebel" candidate who is usually labeled as "fascist", "danger", "disgrace" etc ... Therefore, any new and radical change is easily stifled - fence-sitters who might consider voting for "rebel" party see that they do not get elected and are not even viable parliamentary opposition, not to mention party in power. Therefore, they decide to vote on "lesser evil" in primary round of elections, i.e. one of establishment parties that appears closest to their worldview and interests.

Therefore, as a conclusion, it is almost impossible to change something drastically in France in institutional manner. Every party that wants to be part of the mainstream has limited freedom of political maneuvering, and must not challenge certain ideas like for example man-made global warming. This leaves French people with only one recourse, and that is to take it to the streets and fight for their rights there.

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    So because people vote in two rounds instead of just one it is less democratic? Preposterous! Parties are allowed to advice anyone to vote for whoever they want but there's no pressure exerted on their voters. The FN lost because aside from their core supporters the rest of France openly dislikes them. – mario mario Feb 17 '20 at 14:22
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    @mariomario Because the people vote in two rounds, establishment parties have an opportunity to gang up on emerging non-establishment party. Like it or not, FN has 25-30% support in French electorate, therefore in democratic system these voters would have fair share of representatives in parliament. Since they don't , only recourse is to take it to the streets. And that is exactly what is happening - logical consequence of flaws in French system. – rs.29 Feb 17 '20 at 20:54
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    Thing is, France IS a democracy, and in democracies, you need over 50% of the votes, not "betwen 20% and 30%". For the legislatives, in which members of the parliament are elected, over half her voters didn't even bother to show at the urns. Lastly, you're conflating French protesters with Le Pen supporters. The only shred of truth is that yes, Marine has tried to "join" the movement to get more voters. – mario mario Feb 18 '20 at 9:52
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    @mariomario You completely miss the point. Representation, my friend representation. "No taxation without representation". You have 20-30% of the electorate practically without representation. They could be minority, their propositions could be voted down, but they need to have a voice in parliament. Otherwise, you don't have a democracy, and pressure will build until it bursts in the streets. And if NR cannot have representatives in National Assembly, what could other, smaller anti-establishment parties expect ? If France does not sort this out, things could eventually get really ugly. – rs.29 Feb 18 '20 at 18:34
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    @mariomario Do you really think someone would vote in less important European elections, and not vote in more important national elections ? – rs.29 Feb 19 '20 at 19:37

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