“For lobbies, the crisis is an excuse to lift regulations”

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© JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK
A Total refinery near Lyon, January 7.

In a report released Wednesday, Friends of the Earth France and the Observatory of Multinationals denounce an “epidemic of lobbying” on the part of big companies, which are sheltering behind the health crisis to push their pawns. Interview with Juliette Renaud.

Everyday, find the Green thread, the environment meeting of Release.

Large companies have taken advantage of the Covid-19 health crisis to intensify their lobbying activities, denounce the NGO Friends of the Earth France and the information site Observatory of multinationals in a report released this Wednesday. Interview with Juliette Renaud, campaign manager “regulation of multinationals” at Friends of the Earth.

You denounce the fact that the multinationals have “exploited the pandemic in order to dismantle social and environmental standards”. Can you cite examples?

Lobbies are indeed using the pandemic’s excuse to try to recycle old requests and postpone, suspend or remove social and environmental regulations they had fought against. For example, the plastics industry has tried to challenge the ban on single-use plastics on the pretext that they would be more hygienic, would prevent the spread of the virus. Fortunately, this request has so far been unsuccessful, but it is hoped that the government will stand firm and not reverse a measure that had been difficult to pass.

Same thing in agribusiness. The FNSEA or the major agricultural cooperatives are asking for a suspension of the provisions of the Egalim law passed at the end of 2018, in particular the separation between the activities of selling pesticides and advising farmers … when there is a flagrant conflict of interest there.

At the same time, agribusiness lobbies have succeeded in shortening the spreading distance of pesticides from homes during the pandemic, when these distances were already ridiculous. Decision taken without any consultation of residents … on the pretext that there was an emergency and that consultations could take place later, after the crisis. The crisis is an excuse to lift, adjust or suspend a certain number of regulations, which we do not know exactly when they will be put back in place. It is extremely worrying.

You also say that large companies have received public aid without real consideration. Air France or Renault were however asked to “green” their activities …

In the speech yes. But, as usual, when you dig a little deep behind, you realize that there is not much. A 20 billion euro fund was approved in the amending finance bill in April to save “strategic” businesses. With complete opacity over the identity of these companies, even if we already know that significant sums are allocated to polluting industries such as Air France, Renault or the oil company Vallourec.

With the NGOs Greenpeace and Oxfam, we tried to bring forward proposals for amendments to make these public aids subject to restrictive conditions, particularly in environmental matters. This was relayed by parliamentarians, but ended up being blocked by the government in return for a vague reference to “corporate social responsibility”. The health crisis accelerates the decision-making process: they are taken in a few days, one-on-one between the government and manufacturers, without consulting civil society and unions. And parliamentarians cannot really do their job when asked to pass laws like this in a matter of days. This health crisis highlights the lack of transparency and supervision of lobbying in France.

Take the case of Air France. The government asked him for commitments …

Yes, but they are not really binding. And you have to look in detail at what it is. Abolishing internal lines when there is a rail alternative, it is a good idea, which had been formulated a year ago in a bill by deputies Delphine Batho and François Ruffin. When we look closer, these lines could simply be transferred to a low-cost Air France subsidiary, such as Transavia. Another thing: the so-called “green” plan provides for increased use of biofuels. So here, we wonder if there was a lobbying by Total which had already fought last year against the abolition of the tax advantage granted to palm oil to save its biorefinery in La Mède (Bouches -du-Rhône) or if it is the government which has already internalized Total’s lobbying…

The commitments requested from Air France also provide for the use of carbon offsets. This is a false solution, which we have been denouncing for years. The principle is that a company that emits greenhouse gases (GHG) offsets these emissions with GHG reductions made elsewhere. Except that very often these reductions are fictitious, and are done through plantations of fast growing trees, often in replacement of primary forests which are much more important for carbon capture, all while violating the rights of traditional communities which depend of these primary forests.

There are a lot of things that show that there is nothing green behind the commitments requested from Air France. What also strikes us is the “double standard” between Air France and SNCF. Immediately after granting aid to the airline, the government said that we should wait a bit for the SNCF. However, rail is a very important sector, to be preserved and developed if we want to fight climate change.

What do you recommend?

We recommend in particular the creation of an independent observatory of the response to the crisis. It would allow real monitoring of delayed or suspended regulations, with deadlines defined for their (re) entry into force. And to have more transparency on the public aid granted to companies, on the markets and public contracts that are being awarded during the crisis and on the contracts and missions of consulting firms. Because these decisions which will be taken quickly will impact us for a long time. There must therefore be full transparency and be the subject of a real democratic debate.






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