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23.07.2019 Europe

French MPs urge boycott of climate activist Thunberg's address to parliament

By RFI with Alison Hird
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER / AFP
JUL 23, 2019 EUROPE

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is due to speak before the French parliament on Tuesday. But some MPs don't approve and are calling for a boycott.

The 16-year-old eco warrior has been invited by a cross-party collective of MPs called "Accélerons" (Let's accelerate) to spread her message that there needs to be urgent action to tackle climate change.

The meeting is open to other MPs and Thunberg will sit in the gallery of honour and listen to government question time.

But several MPs from the opposition right-wing Republicans (LR) and the far-right National Rally (RN) are unhappy about the invitation.

On Saturday Guillaume Larrivé (LR) called his fellow MPs to boycott Thunberg's session, tweeting: "We don't need apocalyptic gurus to fight climate change intelligently, we need scientific progress and political courage".

Julien Aubert (LR) stopped short of calling for a boycott but said he wouldn't be there to "applaud a prophetess in shorts".

Referring to Thunberg as the "winner of the Nobel fear prize" he said "yes to the planet, no to green business”, reiterating some peoples' belief that Thunberg and her followers in the Friday school strikes are puppets being used to further ecological business interests.

Meanwhile Benedicte Peyrol, from the ruling LaREM party, distanced herself from Thunberg and questioned why France couldn't "honour its own scientists who've been active for years in trying to save the planet.

The CETA paradox
Tuesday evening, just a few hours after Thunberg is due to speak, French MPs will vote on the controversial CETA free trade agreement between the EU and Canada.

Approved by the European Parliament two years ago, it must also be ratified by each of the member states of the European Union to become permanent.

It will remove tariffs on 98 percent of goods and services between Canada and Europe, doing away with close to 600 million euros in customs duties each year. 

Backed by President Macron and the government, MPs with the ruling LaREM party are expected to allow it to be ratified, but there's plenty of opposition notably from the far-right RN, hard left France Unbowed and the Greens.

Questioned about the vote earlier today, RN spokesperson Laurent Jacobelli told RFI it was more than ironic that some of the very same who are welcoming Thunberg as an environmental activist will vote to ratify CETA. 

“It is ridiculous, we've got MPs signing free trade agreements which are going to wreak havoc on the planet and at the same time they welcome a child to talk about ecology," said Jacobelli. "As if they had lessons to learn from this child who, at the grand age of 16, is predicting the end of the world!

"If our MPs want strong ecological measures they should vote against CETA: in 10 minutes they'll have done more for the planet than this child has during years of protest."

Latent "climate scepticism"
Several MPs have come to Thunberg's defence.
Delphine Betho, president of a green party called Génération écologie, defended Thunberg and said the criticism of her had offered "useful clarification" over what was a form of "climate scepticism lurking in the background" since Thunberg was simply "making public what scientists were saying".

Meanwhile Olivier Faure, head of the Socialists, said we should be sharing Thunberg's anger "rather than boycotting her" and "admit we're not doing enough".

"She's playing an extraordinary role in raising awareness not only in Europe, but in the world, over our responsibility in tackling climate change", said Faure. 

On Sunday Thunberg was given France's first “Freedom Award” in Caen, in Normandy, in the presence of several D-Day veterans.

Thunberg said she was “very grateful” and accepted the prize "on behalf of the whole Fridays for Future movement because it had been a joint effort".

She said she would donate the €25,000 to "four different organisations working for climate justice and helping people in the global south who are already affected by the climate and the ecological emergency".

On Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel conceded that her government was driven to act faster on climate change by young activists such as Greta Thunberg, who was speaking at a rally in Berlin the same day.

“They certainly drove us to speed up” efforts to change policy, said Merkel at a press conference while the Swedish activist addressed the latest “Fridays for Future” rally.

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