Lawmakers will debate an amendment to include the country’s environmental commitments in Article 1 of France’s Constitution.

By Fabrice Fages

MPs in France have adopted an amendment to include a new paragraph in Article 1 of the French Constitution. The amendment reads:

France acts towards the preservation of the environment and biological diversity, and against climate change.”

The Constitutional Law Commission of the National Assembly adopted the amendment on June 27, 2018, as part of France’s upcoming constitutional reform. A plenary session beginning on July 10, 2018 will debate the amendment.

The amendment represents an interesting shift from the previous constitutional reform proposal. The previous proposal addressed the protection of the environment and the fight against climate change via the modification of Article 34 of the Constitution.

As currently drafted, Article 1 reads as follows:

“France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion. It shall respect all beliefs. It shall be organized on a decentralized basis.

Statutes shall promote equal access by women and men to elective offices and posts as well as to position of professional and social responsibility.”

Enshrining environmental protection and the fight against climate change in Article 1 means that these objectives would sit beside the key principles set out above. These principles define the French Republic and its core values, and are used by the Constitutional Council in creating the French Republic’s jurisprudence.

From an environmental non-governmental organization standpoint, incorporating these principles into Article 1 has been a success. However, some MPs for the most part argue that this amendment is essentially symbolic. Certain law practitioners add that such reforms tend to render the fundamental law of the land needlessly verbose, and do not assist in enhancing the protection of the environment.

Others, including MPs from the Presidential majority, have suggested that including the non-regression principle in the Constitution would be far more effective in protecting the environment than affirming principles already agreed upon in the Charter, and in a variety of international commitments signed and ratified by France.

The non-regression principle affirmed in Article L.110-1 II 9° of the Environmental Code enjoys statutory status. Practically, the principle means that any environmental regulations the government adopts will be consistently ameliorative and progressive.

The principle reads:

“In the framework of statutes which shall define its scope, [the protection of the environment], shall be inspired by the following principles: (…) 9°) the non-regression principle, according to which, the protection of the environment is enforced by statutory and regulatory provisions which may only be subject to a constant improvement, in consideration of the current state of scientific and technical knowledge.”

The Constitutional Law Commission’s reluctance to insert the non-regression principle is understandable. Although including the principle as a core constitutional value may be desirable, this might deprive France’s Parliament of the flexibility to protect the environment in such a way as it sees fit.

This post was prepared with the assistance of David Desforges, Avocat à la Cour.