Blow for France's Macron as star minister quits
PARIS, France – President Emmanuel Macron suffered a major political blow on Tuesday, August 28, as his popular environment minister resigned live on radio – without informing the French leader beforehand.
Nicolas Hulot, one of the most respected members of the cabinet among the public, took his interviewers and government colleagues by surprise by announcing the news on France Inter radio.
"I am taking the decision to leave the government," Hulot said, explaining that he felt "all alone" on environmental issues in a government committed to the same economic model "that is the cause of all the problems."
"I hope my departure will trigger deep soul-searching by our society on the realities of our world," Hulot added.
The 63-year-old TV celebrity, who made his name as an environmental campaigner, was lured into government last year by Macron but has repeatedly clashed with his cabinet colleagues over policy.
"We're taking little steps, and France is doing a lot more than other countries, but are little steps enough?... the answer is no," he added.
Hulot, whose future in the government had been a subject of speculation for months, said he had not informed Macron or Prime Minister Edouard Philippe of his plans to resign.
His departure adds to mounting problems for the 40-year-old centrist president, who swept to power in May last year promising to end decades of high unemployment in France and reform the European Union.
Due to slowing economic growth, his government is having difficulties drawing up the 2019 budget which saw Philippe announce at the weekend that he was dropping targets for reducing the deficit.
At the diplomatic level, Macron is struggling to convince his European partners of the need for a more integrated EU as nationalist governments make gains across the continent.
Hulot's exit also risks undercutting Macron's credentials as a leading campaigner internationally against climate change which has seen him adopt the catchphrase "Make our planet great again".
Anger in government
The resignation was likely to be received bitterly by Macron, who was starting a trip to Denmark to sell his EU agenda on Tuesday.
Over the summer, the former banker suffered the first major political scandal of his 15-month term when a senior security aide was filmed manhandling protesters while wearing a police helmet.
His poll ratings have slumped to their lowest ever levels and Hulot made a series of other damaging remarks, denouncing the influence of "lobbies" and "targets that we know in advance we won't meet".
"The most basic of courtesies would have been to warn the president of the republic and the prime minister," government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told BFM television.
Hulot was formerly the presenter of the hit Ushuaia environmental TV programme in France and had repeatedly turned down offers to enter government by previous French presidents.
He was widely reported to be close to quitting in February after media reports that he had been accused in the 1990s of rape, which he denied.
He had also faced criticism from fellow green campaigners who accused him of failing to influence the Macron government sufficiently.
Hulot was left disappointed when the government backtracked on a target to cut back on nuclear power, while EU negotiations on pesticides were another source of frustration.
On Monday, the cost of a hunting license was cut in half – a final bitter pill for the vegetarian and animal rights campaigner.
"Do you do an environmental revolution in one year? The response is no," government spokesman Griveaux said. "I prefer little steps to not moving."
Macron's record on the environment is mixed.
He has made the battle against global warming one of his foreign policy priorities, organising a major conference in Paris last year in an effort to compensate for Trump's scepticism about climate change.
He also led efforts at the EU level to reduce the use of the controversial weedkiller chemical glyphosate and has scrapped a proposed airport in western France, partly on environmental grounds.
Macron's political opponents pounced on the resignation.
"I don't necessarily share the same opinions as Nicolas Hulot, but I can understand that he feels betrayed today, like a lot of French people, by the strong promises that were made and the sense that in the end they have not been kept," said Laurent Wauquiez, head of the rightwing Republicans party. – Rappler.com
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