04.03.2021 • Lobbying

Who’s after the French “Citizens’ Climate Convention”?

In our latest report, we lift the veil on the large-scale and particularly violent lobbying offensive against the proposals of the French Citizens’ Climate Convention.

Published on 4 March 2021 , by Lora Verheecke, Olivier Petitjean

In April 2019, at the end of a “Great National Debate” organised in response to the yellow vest movement, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the launch of a “Citizens’ Climate Convention”. 150 citizens drawn by lot were called upon to “define structural measures to achieve, in a spirit of social justice, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 40% by 2030 compared to 1990” [1].

These 150 citizens published their conclusions in June 2020, as France was coming out of the first wave of the Covid-19 epidemic. Their 149 proposals [2] are divided into five key areas: consumption, production and work, travel, housing and food. On June 29, Emmanuel Macron announced that he accepted all but three [3] of the proposals and would have them transferred “without filters” to Parliament in order to be translated into legislation.

On February 10, 2021, the French government officially introduced a bill that was supposed to follow up on the “citizens’” proposals. It will be examined by Parliament in the spring of this year, alongside legislation providing for a referendum on modifying Article 1 of the Constitution to include the protection of biodiversity, the environment and the global climate. The French government insists that the essence of the convention’s proposals has been preserved in the bill, but for environmental NGOs and for a majority of the “citizens”, who have created the association “Les 150” to defend their proposals, this is very far from the truth.

As soon as the convention’s proposals were made public, the main industrial sectors targeted by the “citizens” - particularly the automobile, aviation, agrochemicals, and advertising industries - launched a major and ultimately successful lobbying offensive to sabotage them. In the final version of the bill, some proposals were abandoned, others postponed, or had their scope reduced, were made voluntary instead of compulsory, exemptions were added, etc. Nothing much remained of the original ambition of the 150 “citizens”.

A “second line” of climate obstruction

In recent years, much of the political debate around climate change has focused on the general objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions: should they be reduced, by how much and by what date? The fossil fuel industry, by far the most important GHG emitter at the global level, has made considerable efforts for several decades to prevent any decisive action in this area. In this regard, the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement in December 2015 was a symbolic milestone. Many of the major players in the oil industry now officially accept, in principle at least, the general objective of reducing global GHG emissions.

The French Citizens’ Convention epitomises the shift to a second stage in the battle. The general objective is a given - that of a 40% reduction in French emissions by 2030, as specified in the mandate given to the 150 citizens. The question is now how to achieve this objective, which implies tackling the structural factors underlying GHG emissions: transportation, housing, the industrial agricultural system, artificialisation of soils, etc. In many ways, this is “where the rubber meets the road”. As a result to this shift to practical measures to reduce emissions, climate policy is set to affect a much wider set of well established economic interests than just the oil industry. It also has a more direct impact on consumers, a fact that business interests can take advantage of.

The focus therefore turns to a “second line” of climate obstruction, with industries such as the automobile sector, the aeronautics and airlines industries, agribusiness, logistics or advertising leading the charge. This does not mean that fossil fuel interests have left the scene. But they are less prominent, or are acting through other industrial sectors.

There is not much in common, at first glance, between these different industrial sectors. But in their attacks on the citizens’ convention, they share much of the same language. First, they seek to deny or minimise their role, even if only indirect, in the climate crisis. Secondly, they paint themselves as victims of extremists: after "agri-bashing" (a term that has been used in France for some years to defend fertiliser and pesticide manufacturers against environmentalists), they now claim to be the targets of "aviation-bashing", "car-bashing", "ad-bashing" or even "corporation-bashing”. Finally, the citizens’ proposals are systematically denounced as “freedom-killing” (liberticide) or “punitive”. We will come back to this point.

The industry strikes back

Initially, the business community does not seem to have taken the Citizens’ Climate Convention very seriously. They were probably all the more shocked when the “citizens” unveiled their proposals and when Emmanuel Macron, against the backdrop of the successes of green candidates in the June 2020 municipal elections, pledged to transfer them to Parliament “unfiltered”.

Industries then embarked on an all-out lobbying offensive to have them annihilated in the drafting of the final bill, drawing on all their usual allies and levers of influence, including at the very heart of government:

* Trade associations, in charge of defending the common interests of an entire sector at national or international level – e.g. the National Association of Food Processing Industries (ANIA), the French Automotive Platform (PFA), or IATA (International Air Travel Association).

* Employers’ and business organisations, such as Medef or the French Association of Private Enterprises (Afep), which come in support of the industrial sectors and are in charge of the lobbying on cross-cutting legal or tax issues, such as the proposed creation of an new “ecocide” offence in French law.

* Lobbying firms such as Boury Tallon or Batout Guilbaud (hired by Air France on the Citizen’s Convention file), as well as PR firms such as FleishmanHillard, or even law firms whose role will be to put forward legal arguments against proposed regulation.

* Local or national officials and representatives personally close to some industries, or whose districts have important factories or other industrial establishments. Many elected officials from the Southwest of France have been vocally supportive of the aeronautics sector in recent months.

* Other potential allies can be found in some union representatives worried about employment, or even in some “grassroots” consumer associations often created from scratch by specialised lobbying firms, or deliberately maintaining a confusion between defending consumers and defending industrialists, such as 40 millions d’automobilistes in France.

* Think tanks funded by corporations, which often promote reforms favourable to their interests or criticise the proposals that threaten them.

* Greenwashing and voluntary initiatives that are supposed to demonstrate that binding public regulation is not needed. In their offensive against the proposals of the Citizens’ Convention, the automobile sector was all about electric cars, the airline sector all about “green airplanes” and the advertising industry all about its contribution to the climate transition.

The limits of lobbying transparency
Only part of the lobbying offensive against the proposals of the Citizens’ Convention was carried out in public, via the press, the publication of position papers or the organisation of corporate events. Traces of it can also be found on social media. In a few cases, internal documents have been leaked to the public (e.g. a letter from the ANIA, the food industry lobby, against the ban on junk food advertising, made public by Foodwatch).
There is now in France an official register for “interest representatives” managed by Haute autorité pour la transparence de la vie publique, where they are supposed to declare their lobbying activities and the amounts they have spent on it. Unfortunately, these declarations are subject to very restrictive criteria, and are only retrospective: we will not know until April 2021 the lobbying activities carried out in the second half of 2020, and not until April 2022 those carried out this spring during the parliamentary discussion of the Citizens’ Convention Bill. Only snippets of information can be found in this register at this stage: a recently created lobbying agency named Argonium discloses that it has been in contact with several ministries on this file, but without specifying (as it is supposed to do) on whose behalf.

Citizens and the industry-government bubble

The Citizens’ Convention process has opened a breach in the comfortable bubble where industrialists and political and administrative officials responsible for regulating them usually operate. This bubble is the result of several factors: the multiplicity of consultation bodies and other regulatory structures where the same civil servants and industry representatives meet on a quasi daily basis; the similarity of their social and professional backgrounds and their recruitment from the same higher education institutions; revolving doors, i.e. the recruitment of public officials by the private sector or vice versa (such as Luc Chatel, former minister and now head of the automobile lobby group PFA). Dedicated events, such as the "meetings" organised by M&M Conseil which will be discussed later, also participate in creating and maintaining this bubble: they are designed so that decision-makers and business executives can rub shoulders “among serious people”, sheltered from any divergent opinions.

It should not come as a surprise, in these conditions, that industry has been able to find many allies... in government departments. The Minister for Transport has himself publicly denounced “aviation-bashing”, while the Minister for Agriculture declared himself opposed to “injunction-based ecology” - language coming in both cases straight from the industry playbook. One of the main vehicles of this internal lobbying within government has been the drafting of impact assessments intended to discredit the proposals of the “citizens”. A key example is an undisclosed study from the General Directorate for Civil Action (DGAC) evaluating the cost of a green tax on airfares at 3 billion euros and 70,000 jobs - figures that were widely taken up by industry. The Ministry of Agriculture also published a note criticising the proposal for a levy on synthetic fertilisers for its “lack of relevance” and its risks to “competitiveness” [4]. Both assessments have been challenged for their partiality, their rudimentary methodology and for failing to take into account the environmental and economic benefits of the proposals.

All this perhaps helps to understand the violence and contempt shown by many industry representatives towards the “citizens”, systematically pictured as "not serious", ignorant of economic and technical realities, and manipulated by radical environmentalists [5]. Behind these violent charges, the real “sin” of the “citizens” is to have burst through the industry-government "bubble", which has always served as a formidable machine for neutralising reforms and avoiding binding regulation.

“Recovery” versus “the world after”: the battle for social imagination

The proposals of the Citizens’ Climate Convention were developed and made public in a very particular context: that of the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, which in France and elsewhere has revealed a public aspiration to change, expressed by the motto “the world after”. The stringent lockdown of early 2020 demonstrated the possibility of a world where people would work and consume differently, and where travel by car and especially by plane would be less necessary. In a way, the proposals of the “citizens” seemed to embody to a certain vision of this “world after” - a world that would be more ecological and inclusive.

At the same time, however, the health crisis has hit very hard some of the very same economic sectors targeted by their proposals, such as the aviation and automobile industries. Hence the pandemic has also served as a justification for not going too far with the reforms, so as not to further weaken these industries and avoid job destruction.

This context no doubt explains why the lobbying offensive against the proposals of the “citizens” has often taken the form of a confrontation of imaginations and visions of the future. A kind of anti-ecological guerrilla warfare has been orchestrated by industry and its supporters, drawing on old clichés - such as the return to the “oil lamp” or the “Amish” taken up by Emmanuel Macron himself - as well as on recent events. “What the Convention aims to do is to return to an economy of perpetual lockdown”, is how TV pundit François Lenglet summed up the proposals – in a video clip that was widely picked up on social media by the opponents of the “citizens”.

In the same outrageous register, the proposals of the "citizens" have been systematically presented as the expression of a "radical" and "extremist" ecologist ideology that promotes “degrowth”, if not outright “collapse”. In reality, however, and the industrialists are well aware of this, many of these proposals have been on the table for a long time and in some cases have even been advocated by public institutions that it would be difficult to suspect of extremism.

Another common accusation is that the “citizens’” proposals are based on a “punitive” logic of prohibition and taxation. Hence the accusation of “ecological populism” or of “feeding populism”, in the words of pesticide manufacturer BASF. This pattern of decrying “punitive ecology”, which has been omnipresent in the discourse of business and industrial lobby groups for several years, is questioning the very principle of climate and environmental regulation. From there, it is only one step to denounce the “eco-totalitarian” tendencies of the “citizens”. A journalist close to the automobile industry has even gone so far as to compare their proposals on SUVs to the obligation to wear the yellow star under the Nazis.

Finally, industry representatives do not miss an opportunity to suggest that the “citizens” have been the willing or unwilling puppets of an ecological conspiracy. “I wonder if it was really them who wrote their proposals, such difficulty they had answering our questions”, declared for example the head of agribusiness union FNSEA Christiane Lambert, while columnists talked of “a chance assembly, quite manipulated” with “members not totally chosen at random” [6].

Monsanto lobbyists to the rescue of aviation
The aviation industry has experienced spectacular growth in recent years but has recently come under fire for its climate impact, with the rise of “flight shame”. To counter this threat, the industry - through its international lobby group International Air Travel Association (IATA) - has called on one of the world’s leading public relations firms, FleishmanHillard, to oversee its influence campaigns at the European level and in countries including France and the Netherlands (where it campaigned a few years ago against a proposal for an eco-contribution on airline tickets similar to that of the French Citizens’ Convention).
In France, FleishmanHillard now operates under the brand Omnicom, probably because of its bad reputation. The firm is indeed the historical partner of Monsanto; its dubious strategies have been highlighted by the “Monsanto Papers” and it has been directly involved in the controversial “filing” of opponents to GMOs and pesticides revealed in 2019. There are striking similarities between the two missions entrusted to Fleishman, especially the emphasis on the theme of “freedom”. In 2019, Alexandre de Juniac, head of IATA and former CEO of Air France, hammered out that “Air transport is first and foremost FREEDOM”, an argument that is often used against the Citizens’ Convention. This is exactly the same argument that was put forward to support Monsanto and the “freedom” of farmers to use Roundup and GMOs.

Technological solutionism

In contrast to the “punitive” and “populist” conception of ecology they attribute to the “citizens”, industrialists put emphasis on progress and technology as the only solution to our climate problems. At the same time as the proposals of the Citizens’ Climate Convention were developed and published, various post-Covid rescue or recovery plans were being discussed, and industry was standing to benefit from a massive influx of public money. All the more reason to promote “technological promises” such as the electric car, the decarbonised airplane or hydrogen.

Indeed, many industrial sectors have developed their own “proposals” or “programs for the future”, which generally insist on the need for public support to industry, that have served as counter-fires to the recommendations of the “citizens”. A few days before the publication of their proposals, Rexecode, a business-funded institute, announced the creation of a new energy-climate programme, financed by several major corporations and industrial federations. This programme would later conveniently conclude, in one of its very first studies, that the French recovery plan is largely sufficient for France to reach its climate objectives. Consulting firm BCG, a long-time partner of the aviation sector, also published in July 2020 a study on “sustainable recovery “ on behalf of Entreprises pour l’environnement, the CAC40’s green lobby.

The aviation sector has been particularly active in promoting technological solutionism. Aircraft corporations Thales, Airbus and especially Safran have all vied to defend the cause of the “decarbonised airplane” and hydrogen, individually or collectively through events such as the Paris Air Forum in November 2020. In October, the Safran group even invited some of the 150 citizens to visit one of its plants.

In its efforts to woo the public and decision-makers, the aviation industry could count on the support of Bertrand Piccard, the Swiss engineer, psychiatrist and investor associated with the "Solar Impulse" solar airplane. Piccard took a strong stand in the media against “aviation-bashing” and against the proposals of the Citizens’ Convention [7]. A green credential that was particularly welcome for the industry. Typically, however, Bertrand Piccard is not devoid of conflict of interest in this file, since his Solar Impulse foundation is supported by large multinationals such as Air France or Engie. Among the arguments put forward to encourage firms to join his “alliance”, Bertrand Piccard and his foundation commit to “actively promoting labelled solutions to media, the public and decision-makers highlighting the benefits of clean and profitable solutions. Invitations at numerous networking events are opportunities for companies to showcase their innovations”. Where is the line between sincere ecological commitment and lobbying? This type of approach has a clear goal: to spread the idea that there is no need for binding regulation to achieve our climate objectives, and that voluntary corporate initiatives and market mechanisms will suffice to solve the problem... one day perhaps.

Who is behind the “defence of consumers”?

The Citizens’ Convention was a response to the “yellow vests” movement, which in turn had been triggered in part by an increase in green fuel taxes. A commonly heard criticism at the time was that it was always the less well-off who pay the price for ecological objectives. Hence the inclusion of the “spirit of social justice” in the mandate given to the 150 citizens, which was indeed reflected in several of their proposals.

This did not, of course, prevent industry representatives from setting themselves up as defenders of the “little people”. “Customer is king”, Renault chair Jean-Dominique Sénard argued against the measures targeting large cars such as SUVs, adding: “I don’t see why [the consumer] should be blamed for this”. It goes without saying that the proposals of the “citizens” were not aimed at consumers, but rather at car manufacturers who have been betting for years on the widespread adoption of these heavy and polluting (but extremely profitable) vehicles through massive advertising campaigns.

Other industries are even less justified in posing as defenders of the freedom of small people. Air travel, for instance, concerns only a fraction of the population. The same goes for the pesticide industry. However, the chief lobbyist of the chemical group Corteva (born from the merger between Dow and DuPont) has pushed the confusion to the point of accusing the 150 citizens of “reinforcing the divide between a disadvantaged, peri-urban France and the large cities ... two countries that no longer understand each other”. It can be assumed that the 150 citizens are much more representative of "peri-urban France" than he is.

The curious case of 40 millions d’automobilistes
The association 40 millions d’automobilistes (“40 million motorists”), ever at the forefront when it comes to challenging car traffic regulation, did not fail to attack the proposals of the Citizens’ Convention. It has launched an online petition against the convention’s “anti-drivers measures”, which it describes as “extremist environmental ramblings” and claims to have collected over 400,000 signatures.
The association portrays itself as the voice of millions of anonymous drivers. What it does not specify is that it was created – and is still funded - by “automobile clubs” (whose members do not exactly belong to the working classes) and that it is financed by corporations, whose donations represent about two-thirds of its budget.

Media warfare

The lobbying offensive against the “citizens”’ proposals is remarkably concentrated in a small number of media outlets that are not in their majority business focused: Le Figaro, L’Opinion, Le Point or news channels like Cnews, which have in common an aggressively conservative editorial line inspired by US models. All of them give disproportionate space to the most ferocious critics of the Convention, and stage pseudo-contradictory debates in which citizens and their supporters are under-represented or completely absent [8].

It is not insignificant that these media are all owned by businessmen and industrial groups, some of which are directly interested in the fate of the Convention’s proposals like Dassault (owner of Le Figaro) or Vincent Bolloré’s Vivendi (owner of the Canal+ group including Cnews and of advertisement firm Havas). According to our sources, television group TF1 (owned by construction firm Bouygues) has itself directly lobbied against the Citizens’ proposed curbs on advertising, via the lobbying outlet Boury Tallon. These media serve as a bridge between different industrial sectors, the libertarian networks discussed in the next section, and - since they also share a deliberately outrageous approach to issues such as immigration or islam - with the extreme right. Their editorial strategies, alongside their use of social media, imply that contradictory political discussion gives way to insults. This degeneration of the public debate to the benefit of industrialists was analysed – mostly about biotechnology - in the recent book Les gardiens de la raison [9]. One even finds among the defenders of the industry against the “citizens” the discursive strategy favoured by extreme right-wing columnists, which consists in presenting themselves as victims (of "bashing") in order to justify their own violence.

The media is all the more useful in lobbying battles as it generally retains a certain air of objectivity. Editors and journalists have the power to decide which position is worthy of being defended and heard. Through their choice of “experts”, they determine which opinion has some objectivity or, on the contrary, is ideologically biased. Many of the journalists and columnists who have taken a stand against the recommendations of the “citizens” combine their regular work with paid services – such as conferences - on behalf of the private sector.

Who are the “experts” criticising the “citizens”?

In the debates on the Climate Convention, a considerable role was also played by think tanks. Institut Montaigne, for example, blamed the "citizens" for favouring binding regulations rather than market mechanisms. Similarly, the director of Fondapol sharply criticised the convention’s proposals on television and during an event organised by Union des semenciers français (French Seed Manufacturers Federation), where he decried the “citizens” as “competent in nothing, elected by no one”. As usual, Ifrap published several notes to denounce the exorbitant cost of the Convention’s proposals.

Other less well-known think tanks, such as Institut Sapiens which will be discussed in the next section, were also very present in the media. All these "institutes" and "foundations" are financed by corporations, which also have a strong presence on their boards. Is it a surprise that they defend positions favourable to their interests? Many of them also benefit both from direct state subsidies and from the French sponsorship system, which allows corporations to compensate part of their donations through tax credits. One ends up wondering whether they are not above all very convenient lobbying vehicles, which offer an appearance of quasi-scientific objectivity, while being largely financed by public funds.

Unfortunately, there are also conflicts of interests within otherwise respectable scientific or academic institutions. For example, Professor Marc Fontecave, holder of the chair of biology and biological processes at the Collège de France, has taken a stand against the proposals of Citizens’ Convention, contrasting them with an “knowledge-based ecology”,which basically means for him nuclear energy. These arguments are summarised in his recent book Halte au catastrophisme! Les vérités de la transition énergétique, published in October 2020, that was immediately reviewed by the usual media and brandished as a weapon against the Convention’s proposals. The illustrious professor generally omits to mention that he is a member of the scientific council of EDF and that his laboratory recently concluded a financial partnership with Total on the transformation of CO2 into fuel.

Similarly, the “Pégase University Chair” was created in 2019 at the University of Montpellier in the midst of mounting controversies over the climate impact of air travel, with funds from... the aeronautics industry. Coincidence? Its very first study, often mentioned in the debates on the citizens’ proposals, was devoted to minimising the environmental impact of air transport. The head of the Chair, Paul Chiambaretto, publicly spoke out against the ban on domestic routes and against the “shaming” of those who travel by plane [10].

In all of these examples, there is a deliberate confusion between publicly defending a well-argued opinion as an “expert” and defending the interests of an industry with which one is otherwise financially linked. As in other areas of science and research, a more proactive approach to transparency and the prevention of conflicts of interest would be required, both on the part of those concerned and on the part of the media and institutions that provide them with a platform.

A libertarian turn?

The insistence on the theme of “freedom” (always conceived as the individual freedom of the rich), the staging of a “culture war” against environmentalists, the repeated suggestion that introducing binding rules for economic activities would lead straight to Soviet or Nazi totalitarianism [11]... Many of the lobbying arguments put forward against the Citizens’ Convention in France are eerily reminiscent of those developed in the United States by libertarians.

The context of the health and economic crisis, the radicalisation of positions as "the rubber hits the road”, increasingly polarised debates in the media and social networks, and no doubt also the fact that this time the proposals are put forward not by NGOs or green politicians but by a randomly selected representative sample of citizens... all of this seems to have led at least a part of the business world to cross a threshold: it is the very principle of public regulation of the economy that is now being challenged, and all those who defend it that are presented as dangerous fanatics. There seems to have been a silent consensus among the business community to give free rein to these more radical attacks on the Climate Convention, perhaps with the aim of appearing by comparison “moderate” in their opposition.

This libertarian turn explains the additional degree of violence in public discourse against the “citizens”. And it also explains a more or less open proximity with the far right - which until recently was taboo for the business community. This proximity can be observed in the media, as seen in the previous section, but sometimes goes even further, as when the General Delegate of 40 millions d’automobilistes appeared on Boulevard Voltaire, a conspirationist far right website to attack the Citizens’ Convention, or when Laurent Alexandre and Olivier Babeau of Institut Sapiens, alongside Figaro columnist Ivan Rioufol, participated in Marion Maréchal’s “Convention de la droite”.

“Culture wars”, French style

It is no longer really a matter of old-fashioned climate denial. The libertarian turn is closely intertwined with the claim that “innovation” will provide all the answers to ecological issues. This is why it often draws, as in the United States, on "transhumanist" ideals of overcoming the human condition through technology. This strand of argument is particularly evident when it comes to aviation: “Humans need airplanes for their own development”, said pundit Nicolas Bouzou, founder of the lobbying firm Asteres, at the Paris Air Forum. It is even “a tool at the service of humanisation”, he explained during a meeting organised by Students for Liberty [12].

Institut Sapiens, a neoliberal and pro-technology think tank, and its director Olivier Babeau, are typical of this new orientation. “Reading the proposals of the ’citizens’ convention’, one is stunned by so much nonsense, simplistic views, inconsistency... They would transform France into Venezuela in two months”, he reacted on Twitter. In an opinion piece published by Figaro Vox, which was advantageously quoted in a BASF press release, he drives home the point: the Citizens’ Convention Convention has been “hijacked as a mouthpiece for the craziest eco-totalitarian fantasies... The project is the abolition of property and the determination, by the officials of the green state, of how you should seek happiness”.

It is no coincidence that many of the actors of this libertarian turn in France are closely or remotely linked to Students for Liberty and its French branch “Les Affranchis”, an organisation created in the United States and financed by the Koch brothers and their allies to recruit and train students who would then flood public and private institutions with their ideas. In the opposition to the Citizens’ Climate Convention, the usual resistance of French industrialists to any form of climate or environmental action converges with an ideological enterprise conceived in the United States. The discourse has become more radical, but the strategy of encircling and capturing public debate and political decision-making remains fundamentally the same.

Students for Liberty and libertarian networks in France

The creation of Students for Liberty in 2008 was part of the libertarian project to recruit and train intellectuals to wage the “battle of ideas” in universities and major public and private institutions. Like other organisations in the libertarian movement, it was supported by the Koch brothers and their allies, particularly through the Cato Institute. It was launched in France in 2011 where it took the name "Les Affranchis". Students for Liberty boasts of having actively contributed to the removal from office of left-wing president Dilma Rousseff in Brazil by taking the lead in protests. Nothing is known about its current funding.

The strategy of Students for Liberty, developed in the United States and also adopted in France, is to present itself to potential recruits and to the media under a sympathetic, even smiling face, as an organisation defending “all freedoms”, including when it comes to alcohol, drugs, tobacco or sexuality, to better disseminate its message of radical economic liberalism and rejection of public regulation. A sister organisation, Women for Liberty, was created to fight against feminism and has been particularly active in France in criticising the “Balance ton porc” movement and defending men’s “freedom to pester”. Like many organisations in the Koch galaxy, Students for Liberty has a tradition of supporting climate skepticism [13].

Its members went on a rampage against the Citizens’ Convention, as did its coordinator Ferghane Azihari, a media veteran, and its general secretary Guillaume Bullier. Members of Students for Liberty can be found in think tanks such as Gaspard Koenig’s Génération libre or Institut Sapiens, in lobbying and PR firms such as Nicolas Bouzou’s Asteres or CommStrat, in consulting firms such as Wavestone, which often works for the French government, including the General Directorate of Civil Aviation. The former national coordinator of Students for Liberty from 2015 to 2019, Sacha Benhamou (now at CommStrat) was even current French Health minister Olivier Véran’s parliamentary assistant for a time.

Another organisation from the Koch galaxy, which has many links with Students for Liberty, also tried to influence the French public debate: the Consumer Choice Center, which specialises in so-called "astroturfing", i.e. the creation of fake consumer associations to actually defend the interests of industry. The Consumer Choice Center lobbied in 2018 and 2019, then again in 2020, to condemn the end of certain domestic airline connections and plans for green taxes on air travel as unacceptable attacks on individual freedoms.


Independent information on corporate power is critical, but is has a cost.


Boîte Noire

Research: Lora Verheecke
Coordination and writing: Olivier Petitjean
Additional research from: Barnabé Binctin
Drawing: Rodho
Infographics: Guillaume Seyral
Original in French here


[2A 150th proposal, for a 4-day work week, was eventually dropped for lack of sufficient consensus among the “citizens”.

[3These were: including the preservation of the environment in the preamble of the French Constitution ; a 4% tax on corporate dividends to “help fund ecological transition efforts” ; and a reduction of highway speed limits to 110 km/h.

[6https://www.lemonde.fr/planete/ article/2020/09/02/la-convention-climat-entame-un-marathon-de-rencontres-pour-de- fendre-ses-propositions_6050699_3244.html; https://www.lepoint.fr/ editos-du-point/brice-couturier-convention- citoyenne-pour-le-climat-le-pari-risque-de- macron-14-01-2020-2357741_32.php; https://www.lsa-conso.fr/imaginez,359268

[8A good example here: Un bon exemple ici : https://www.telerama. fr/ecrans/yves-calvi-declare-la-guerre-aux- khmers-verts-de-la-convention-pour-le-cli- mat-6659339.php

[9Stéphane Foucart, Stéphane Horel et Sylvain Laurens, Les gardiens de la raison. Enquête sur la désinformation scientifique, La découverte, 2020.

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