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France

Popular minister Nicolas Hulot quits French government

media Nicolas Hulot and President Macron last June in Brittany, France. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe/File Photo

Nicolas Hulot, France's star Environment minister, announced he is leaving the government. The move is seen as a major blow to President Macron, who has annonced an imminent cabinet reshuffle.

President Emmanuel Macron suffered a major political blow Tuesday as his popular environment minister resigned live on radio. He said he had not informed the president nor the Prime Minister of his decision, as he was sure they would have talked him out of it.

The Elysée Palace acknowledged Hulot's resignation shortly after, saying that the ex-minister could be "proud" of his work. The government also announced a cabinet reshuffle in the near future.

"An honest and responsible decision"

Hulot said he felt "all alone" on environmental issues within the government and that his decision was "honest" as well as "responsible".

The 62-year-old TV celebrity, who made his name as an environmental campaigner, has never been strongly attached to any political party. After a presidential campaign in 2017, he refused to support any candidate, but ultimately choose to vote for socialist candidate Benoît Hamon.

He was eventually convinced into joining Macron's government last year, 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," Hulot said to France Inter radio.

Macron under growing pressure

Hulot's resignation is likely to be received bitterly by Macron, who started a trip to Denmark to sell his EU agenda on Tuesday.

"The most basic of courtesies would have been to warn the president of the republic and the prime minister," government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told the BFM news channel.

This adds to mounting problems for 40-year-old centrist Macron, who swept to power in May last year promising to solve decades of low growth and high unemployment in France and reform the European Union.

Nicolas Hulot, France's Environment Minister, announces his resignation on France Inter radio Tuesday morning. Captura de vídeo

Due to slowing economic growth, his government is having difficulties drawing up the 2019 budget which saw Prime Minister 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.

Over the summer, the former banker also suffered the first major political scandal of his 15-month term when his former bodyguard and senior security aide was filmed manhandling protesters while appearing to impersonate a policeman.

Nicolat Hulot - a controversial yet popular figure

Hulot was formerly the star presenter of 'Ushuaia', an environmental TV programme in France. He 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 the granddaughter of former French president Francois Mitterrand had accused him of rape in the 1990s.

Hulot furiously denied the claims and said they had been extremely hurtful for him and his family.

He had also faced criticism from fellow green campaigners, who accused him of failing to influence the Macron government sufficiently after he lost battles with his colleagues in the agriculture and economy ministries.

Hulot was left disappointed when the government backtracked on a target to reduce the share of nuclear power in the country's energy mix to 50 percent by 2025, while EU negotiations on pesticides were another source of frustration.

Macron's political opponents, both from the right and the left, immediately seized 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, the head of the hard-right Republicans party.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the fiery leftist leader of La France Insoumise party, said that Hulot's resignation was like a no-confidence vote for Macron's government. 'Macroniarchy' is breaking down", he said.

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