French budget gives priority to the environment

With an annual increase in environmental spending of 6.3% - far above the growth rate of the economy - French finance minister, Laurent Fabius, has significantly boosted the fortunes of France’s protection efforts, although certain green proposals have been dropped.

Fabius increased the environmental budget of the Ministry of Regional Government and the Environment from 716 million euros (£446 million) in 2001 to 761 million euros (£474 million) in 2002, representing an increase in funding of 60% since 1997, which was greeted by the ministry as “ambitious and at the same time realistic”. Apart from creating 300 new jobs in the environment ministry “to deal with coping with a larger number of far-reaching aims”, the department has made several new proposals, some of which are responses to recent environmental circumstances and others more forward thinking in their approach.

One of the ministry’s most interesting proposals is a large cash boost for environmental organisations, which are set to have their budgets increased by 150% since 1997, with France’s Socialist government deeming it “indespensable” to develop NGOs’ “capacities of intervention and co-ordination at the international level in light of the ‘Rio +10’ summit”. The government is also promising new mechanisms to enable greater public participation in matters of environmental performance.

Other new schemes include providing a tax break of 15% to households installing insulation or modern temperature controls, and a 50% greater price incentive for owners of cars at least ten years old to trade their vehicles in for new electric, electric-petrol hybrid or liquefied petroleum gas-powered models. Extra money will also be given to a network of air quality surveillance which enables all French towns to be covered, while additional funds will also enable some 200,000 houses at risk of noise pollution to receive insulation.

In the area of conservation, the Natura 2000 directive, which protects sites to be of ecological interest by the EU, has received a 15% increase in funding in order to classify more sites and give more to existing protected areas.

As a response to what the environment ministry referred to as France’s “exceptional” rainfall of the last six months in Britanny and the Somme, extra flood relief funds will be provided, and the overall budget of protection against natural disasters increased by 104% , to also provide extra protection against landslides. An initial budget of almost 4 million euros (£2.5 million) will also fund the establishment of an agency for sanitary security, and an institute for nuclear security will also be set up in 2002.

However, there is disappointment for environmentalists in the form of the removal of two important measures that Fabius had originally set out to include in his budget, but which were axed by Prime Minister Lionel Jospin at the last moment. These were reactivation of a seven-year diesel tax escalator and revised plans for a controversial energy tax (see related story).

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