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France

Eye on France: More bad news for Macron as Green MP quits government

media Matthieu Orphelin, the departing deputy. AFP/Jacques Demarthon

It's been a bad week for French President Emmanuel Macron. Yesterday, another member of his ruling Republic on the Move (LREM) party, the MP Matthieu Orphelin, announced that he was jumping ship.

Le Monde says the departing deputy, a Green activist and close friend of the already-departed Ecology Minister, Nicolas Hulot, has been on the way out for a while.

But the timing could hardly be worse. The announcement came the day after fifty majority MPs refused to vote in support of the government’s latest law and order bill, aimed, if you believe its supporters, at putting an end to the violence that frequently erupts on the fringes of demonstrations. Opponents of the legislation were using expressions like “draconian”, “police state” and “fascism”. According to Le Monde, the fifty abstentions by LREM MPs mark the first public fracture in the ruling party’s parliamentary group.

Matthieu Orphelin was among those who refused to vote with the majority this week, but he’s been thinking about leaving for a long time. Le Monde suggests that he held fire at the height of the yellow vest protests, simply to avoid putting the executive under additional strain.

An unhappy rebel in the presidential party ranks

Orphelin was the first majority MP to object, in the summer of 2017, to government plans to reduce rent allowances by 5 euros. He’s been a vocal supporter of the so-called green transition, under which we will all waste less and so extend the planet’s sell-by date. He was the deputy who tried, unsuccessfully, to get the weed-killer glyphosate banned in France.

In his letter of resignation, Orphelin speaks of his disappointment at the “collective failure” of the government to put any of the major ecological transition projects into action. He says the Green faction is not taken seriously by the executive because there’s no money available and because of short-term political decisions.

Orphelin’s departure comes barely five months after Hulot gave up his seat in the cabinet, and is sure to spark a new debate on this government’s commitment to ecological issues.

A not-very-green government

“It’s a sharp reminder,” says one majority colleague who is not leaving. “It comes as further proof that we’re not up to the mark on environmental questions.”

Others within the ruling party think running away won’t solve anything, especially with the great national debate in full flow and the question of transport soon to be given a bright new orientation.

“Green activists are never satisfied,” says another LREM MP, “there’s always something more, something better. But it serves no positive purpose to withdraw from a government that offers a real space for political debate.”

Orphelin apparently plans to join the cross-party initiative known as Accélérons (Let’s get moving), with a view to force progress on crucial environmental issues. His long-term political future is an open question.

He’s not sure who he’s going to vote for in the up-coming European elections, saying that he’ll aim to support pragmatic environmental programmes. Which doesn’t sound like good news for Macron’s men and women.

The government has been quick to play down any talk of rupture, fissure or division.

“He’s gone, but he’s not taking a crowd with him,” says an insider. “There’s no problem.”

That's political positive thinking at its very best!

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