Macron backs plans to tell French to eat less cheese to help the environment

A citizens' environmental panel suggested cutting meat and cheese consumption in France by 20 per cent - AFP
A citizens’ environmental panel suggested cutting meat and cheese consumption in France by 20 per cent – AFP

President Emmanuel Macron, reeling from a humiliating wave of Green local election victories over the weekend, has embraced an unusual strategy to win back popularity: suggesting the French eat less cheese. 

The president backed a series of proposals from an environmental citizens’ panel on Monday, including that the French should cut their cheese and meat consumption by 20 per cent.

He also promised €15 billion (£13.7bn) in new funding to fight climate change, a day after Green candidates seized control of cities including Lyon, Strasbourg and Besançon. In Paris, the Socialist mayor, Anne Hidalgo, was re-elected with Green support.

On Monday, Macron met members of a citizen’s panel he convened earlier this year to shape government policy on the environment after accusations that he had failed to deliver on promises to fight climate change.

Addressing the 150-member panel in the Elysée Palace garden, he said he backed most of their proposals, including the cheese and meat cutbacks. The group stopped short of recommending spot checks of what people eat for dinner, but said office, factory and school canteens should be forced to meet the target.

It had considered calling for a reduction in France’s 40-hour statutory working week to just 28 hours, but decided to drop the idea.

Mr Macron also said he would consider putting a new crime on the statute books: “ecocide”, defined by the panel as “any action causing serious environmental damage through the manifest and significant overstepping of planetary limits, committed with knowledge of the consequences”.

He promised that suggestions to cut CO2 emissions by weaning the French off solo car journeys and capping domestic flights would be included in a government bill to be presented to parliament by the end of the summer.

Mr Macron once urged Donald Trump and other world leaders to “Make The Planet Great Again”, but his climate agenda was knocked off course by yellow-vest street protests in 2018 and 2019. The protests began as a revolt against fuel taxes amid anger at lower speed limits on country roads.

Mr Macron rejected the panel’s recommendation that the motorway speed limit be cut to to 66 mph (110kph) from the current 78 mph (130 kph), saying the issue could be debated at a later time.

He also rejected a proposed 4-per-cent tax on dividends to finance green policies, which clashed with his pro-business reform agenda, saying it would discourage investment.

He said he was prepared to call a referendum in 2021 on revising the constitution to include climate goals provided parliament approves it.