MUCH over-optimistic nonsense about the death of ‘Net Zero’ is being written after a few critical words by French President Emmanuel Macron during another of his windy speeches about ‘reindustrialising’ France on May 11. Some claim to have spotted signs of a reverse as Europe’s leading technocrat expressed his hope that Brussels wouldn’t bring in new regulations which might put the brakes on his fragile growth plans for France. The fury of the wobbly-headed left apparently being the yardstick by which to measure the ‘volte-face’, commentators are suggesting that reality may have finally caught up with Monsieur Zéro Carbone, faced as he is with a growing revolt against his presidency nationwide, and the rise and rise of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in deindustrialised areas.
The idea, though, that France is trying to free itself from the shackles of carbon neutrality is wishful thinking at best, naïve at worst. Indeed, only six weeks ago Environment Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher was boasting about an 8.5 per cent drop in carbon emissions at the end of 2022, after massive public campaigns exhorting everyone not to heat their homes above 19°C lest the whole energy grid collapse. Meanwhile the head of the national bank, showing that the powerful like nothing more than socking it to the powerless, continues to lobby for a carbon tax, the very thing that triggered the uprising of the populist Yellow Vest movement in 2018. Regardless of whether France introduces its own version, the European Union has just imposed one on imports to the Continent, which will have an effect on consumer prices in the medium term.
Instead, the call for ‘no new rules’ is simply to give France, staggering under its astronomical debt, some breathing space to develop its ‘green industries’. Determined to ape the USA’s ‘clean energy’ Inflation Reduction Act, France is trying to hoist itself into the position of being the European leader in all things green and useless: heat pumps, windfarms, solar panels, hydrogen fuel and lithium car batteries. It’s doing this by offering enormous subsidies and tax breaks, but also an unrivalled source of cheap (to the consumer) power through its existing, and expanding, nuclear park.
It is stymied in this, however, by the (principally) German refusal to accept that nuclear power is a ‘decarbonised’ energy as Berlin seeks, through the EU, to impose its own flaccid ‘renewable energy’ on the Continent. For a while, Macron, knowing full well who was going to bankroll his country’s three trillion euro (and growing) debt mountain, blithely kow-towed to his German paymasters, for instance closing the Fessenheim nuclear reactor (built on the once-disputed territory of Alsace-Lorraine) at their request.
Faced, though, with the spiralling cost of funding the proxy war in Ukraine, paying the phenomenal wage bill of the country’s state functionaries and splurging all sorts of funny money trying to ‘control’ inflation (that is, throwing more euros on the currency bonfire), Macron has realised that cheap electric power is about the only thing France has done well for the last 50 years. Sticking his presidential Tesla EV into reverse, he is now desperate to make use of that strategic advantage over the Germans to kickstart some white elephants and attract some overseas cash (or stop it going to America).
None of this means that Macron is abandoning Net Zero. Au contraire. Only last month, he was organising meetings with the ‘pro-nuclear’ EU states, trying to work out how to get some of that lovely European lolly by making France the Net Zero champion. He doesn’t want to abandon it. It’s his lifeline. It’s just that Germany sees things differently.
Despite appearances of co-operation, France and Germany are at loggerheads with each other, fighting over whatever scraps of ‘green investment’ they can get. Germany managed to secure Sweden’s Northvolt electric battery factory by offering it a bigger subsidy than the US was promising, while France has secured a place for Taiwan’s ProLogium factory in Dunkirk with some unspecified ‘sweeteners’, beating the Germans to the punch. Both of these projects will run the gauntlet of EU approval under its recently revised state subsidy rules, which means Germany could in reality still have the last word over whether the project on which Macron is staking so much will go forward as planned. Hence the French president’s warning to ‘back off, Brussels’. He wants to be the Green Giant of Europe.
Far above the economics of green industrialisation, however, Net Zero is not going away because it is too politically useful. It remains the most powerful ideological arm in the state’s weapons store for forcing people to comply. In the land which happily waved into law a ‘vaccine passport’ for the ‘good of everyone’s health’, why not a similar carbon pass to keep us all in check, as seeded by leading cable TV news network BFM? In March, former Health Minister, now Government spokesman Oliver Véran, wheeled out saving ‘the environment’ as a key argument against the rising wave of anti-Macron protests. Meanwhile, Western governments are keen to bring saving ‘the environment’ to promote a new form of eco-imperialism.
We are free to dream that our elites are not going to continue expanding their power and crushing our living standards with their insane zero-carbon policies; but we all need to wake up to the reality that the green nightmare is not over, and Macron doesn’t want to be our Neo – he wants to be our Freddy Krueger.