French courts weigh penalties for mischievous climate activists
LYON, France — Is stealing a presidential portrait a prison-worthy crime? Or a laudable act of civil disobedience?
Courts around France are grappling with this question in response to an unusual new environmental movement that’s aiming to push French President Emmanuel Macron to do more to fight climate change.
One by one, environmental activists around France have removed Macron’s official portraits from more than 130 town halls this year, from the foothills of the Alps to the Left Bank of Paris.
Their point: Even as Macron portrays himself on the global stage as Mr. Climate, the centrist, business-friendly president isn’t acting boldly enough to change his own country’s planet-damaging ways.
The portrait-removers have been facing trials around the country, with some fined, others acquitted. An appeal of the first court case was heard last week in Lyon with the ruling still pending.
The protesters don’t fit a single mold — one’s a math teacher, another works for the SNCF national rail company, another is an organic vegetable farmer.
At last week’s hearing, defendant Helene Lacroix-Baudrion argued that the portrait removal was “an act aimed at taking care of life and our environment.”
“We just want Macron, who holds himself up as a climate defender, to respect France’s commitments under the COP21 (the 2015 U.N. climate agreement signed in Paris),” she told the Associated Press.
French law says the acts may be considered “group theft,” which can be punishable by several years in prison. No court seems willing to go as far as locking up the portrait-removers, but the verdicts have been mixed.
Six portrait-removers were convicted in the first trial, in Bourg-en-Bresse in June, but five were only given suspended fines. The sixth was fined 250 euros ($280) because he already had a criminal record.
The trials themselves have turned into public debates on civil disobedience, France’s rich tradition of protest — and of course, the environment.
France is divided over how, and how fast, to cut emissions blamed for worsening climate change. Macron argues that he’s doing more than most, and has stood up to President Trump on the need to cut emissions.
Nicolas Vaux-Montagny is an Associated Press writer.