Coming right on time for Paris’ yearly Pride Parade, the French government has announced its intentions to end one discriminatory practice over women’s reproductive rights. Earlier in June, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced his intention to Parliament, during his state of the nation address, to lift a band that prevents single women and lesbian couples from accessing medical assistance to have children, such as in-vitro fertilisation procedures.
Philippe said that new legislation – that would give all women equal rights to medically-assisted pregnancy – will be examined starting at the end of September, adding that he believed that France has reached a point of being able to “calmly, profoundly and seriously debate” the issue. Afterwards, several legislators responded with a standing ovation.
As reported in French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, this new law would allow the French healthcare system to cover the cost of medically assisted reproduction for all women under the age of 43. It would also allow children to learn the identity of the sperm or egg donor once the child reaches the age of 18, so long as the donor agrees.
However, the government has not yet decided whether these procedures should be legally recorded, or if the parents are required to tell their children that they were conceived via technological means. Nor does the bill cover surrogacy, which is banned in France.
Turning Over a New Leaf
Currently, France only allows heterosexual couples who have been married or living together for two years or more, to access reproductive procedures such as IVF, sperm donation, or artificial insemination. Couples who do not fall within this narrow category need to go abroad to Spain, Belgium, Denmark, or the UK, where these procedures are more widely available for any woman. As a result, French equality groups have long considered the current law sexist discrimination against single women and same-sex couples.
The National Consultative Ethics Committee, France’s highest bioethics body, had already stated back in 2017 that the law should be expanded to include single women and lesbian couples. Marlène Schiappa, President Emmanuel Macron’s minister for gender equality, called it a “matter of social justice.” However, the new bill was postponed several times due to fears its passage would spark mass protests among conservatives, including French Catholics.
In 2013, France was the only country for whom legislation of same-sex marriage sparked months of large street demonstrations in protest, so the fear has some merit. These clashes led to an increase in homophobic attacks and saw violence between far-right protesters and the police.
Now, however, this new legislation being brought before Parliament is part of a series of reforms designed by the prime minister to help win back left-wing supporters who had deserted Macron for other parties, like the Greens (the push has been dubbed “Macron II”) . To that end, Phillippe said that both the environment and social justice would be the focus of policies from now until the end of Macron’s mandate in 2021.
“Social justice means making sure it pays to work”, Phillipe commented.
Similarly, in the wake of the yellow vest street protests, Phillippe said the government would continue to press on with plans to liberalise the French economy, but without leaving behind the French people. He added that France will reduce unemployment benefits for high earners who are made redundant further to company reforms, while offering incentives to those who work beyond the retirement age of 62, as part of a bid to simplify France’s byzantine pensions system and slash costs.
“Our country needs to transform itself. Our enemy is not action, it is the status quo”, Philippe told parliament.
France has also become the first country to secure Facebook’s agreement to provide its courts with the IP addresses of individuals accused of spreading hate via its platform. In an attempt to curb hate content online, Facebook will now transmit identifying data to the French justice system, which will in turn be able to sue suspects. French parliament is also debating legislation that would give a new regulator the power to fine tech companies up to 4 percent of their global revenue if they don’t do enough to remove hateful content hosted on their networks; this agreement may be to forestall such a scenario.
Climate Change Emergency
One of the new policies being rolled out is a crackdown on single-use plastics, like disposable cups, cutlery, and plates. The government seeks to banish them from state administration and ministries starting next year. However, environmental groups say that this is far too little, and want France to outpace the EU’s similar proposed ban on single-use plastic cutlery and straws, which is due to come into force by 2021. In fact, France is falling behind on tackling the climate emergency, despite their ambitious goals. A new report from France’s independent advisory council on climate shows that France needs to strengthen climate policies, especially with regard to transportation, car usage, and building renovation to meet their climate goals.
Emissions for cars and public transport haven’t seen reductions in the last ten years. Corinne Le Quéré, chair of the advisory body that drew up the report, notes that “there is not enough modernisation of transport, or if there is, it’s going towards private cars and not public transport”.
France has since voted into law the first article in a climate and energy package that sets goals for France to go fully carbon-neutral by 2050, in line with the 2015 Paris climate agreement and EU climate goals. This makes France among the first countries to adopt concrete measures to achieve carbon-neutrality.
The new law includes quantified emission reduction targets, which will require reducing fossil fuel consumption by 40 percent by 2030. It also includes measures to hasten the development of new low-carbon and renewable energy technology, as well as renovate poorly insulated homes to reduce energy waste. Currently, the housing sector accounts for 25 percent of all carbon emissions in France, and 45 percent of energy consumption. Emissions from buildings have decreased three times more slowly than anticipated, and renovations have thus far not been effective enough.
The bill also allows the government to force France’s four remaining coal-fired power plants to close by 2022 via the imposition of restrictive emissions targets, as well as the provision of a roadmap for the application of France’s 2019 to 2028 energy policy known as the PPE.
France has also banned the destruction of unsold luxury goods, which will primarily affect Amazon and luxury brands. According to Phillippe’s office, over 650 million euros worth of new or returned consumer goods are thrown out or destroyed every year. This is more than five times the amount of similar items that are donated. This new law would make it compulsory to turn over these goods for re-use or recycling, instead of tossing them into a landfill.
“It is a waste that shocks, that is shocking to common sense. It’s a scandal”, said Philippe, as he launched the measure at a discount store in Paris.
French Ecology Minister Francois de Rugy said in a statement, “at a time when we are confronted by climate change, with phenomena such as the current heatwave, we reaffirmed our ambitions with this law (…) by inscribing in marble the principle of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050”, he said. Currently, France and other Western European countries are battling a record heatwave. France has endured its hottest day on record.
“France’s commitments are ambitious, but at the current rate, they are unlikely to be met”, Le Quéré said. “As long as actions to cut carbon emissions remain at the margins of public policies, France does not stand a chance of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.”
Le Quéré said that it wasn’t enough to leave the climate crisis to an environment ministry. “It must be a national priority, central policy in all of government.”