France proposes ‘crackdown’ on private jet flights amid climate crisis

France’s Transport Minister has said he wants to crack down on private jet flights, amid a growing public backlash over the number of times the country’s wealthiest citizens hop on a plane despite the climate crisis.

France proposes 'crackdown' on private jet flights amid climate crisis
(Photo: Movenoticias / AFP)

On Friday, a private jet belonging to the Bolloré Group – which owns French media giant Vivendi – flew three times on the same day, releasing tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it was revealed.

Transport Minister Clément Beaune said he was ready to “act and regulate private jet flights”, if necessary and would push the issue of private jets at an upcoming European transport ministers meeting in October, amid calls from environmentalists to ban the planes altogether. 

“I think we have to act and regulate private jet flights,” Beaune told Le Parisien. “This is becoming the symbol of a two-speed effort [to fight climate change].”

France reportedly has the highest number of private jet movements in Europe, with super-rich owners jetting into Paris and the French Riviera.  

Several options are being studied: possible commitments made by the companies owning these private planes, or obligations of transparency, regular publications by the owners of jets. 

Beaune also said he was ready to broaden the EU’s new emissions trading scheme (ETS) proposals to include private jets. 

The bloc-wide revamp of the ETS is currently on the table as part of the bloc’s efforts to reach a 55 percent cut in emissions by 2030. 

The I Fly Bernard twitter handle was set up to track the flights of French billionaire and LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault. It has since started tracking more of France’s mega-wealthy citizens and residents as it seeks to make public “the ecocidal lifestyle” of France’s super-rich.

Julien Bayou, secretary of France’s Green party, has said that the government was looking for an EU-wide response to the issue of private jets and told Libération that the time had come to “ban all private jets”. 

“This measure would have an impact on a very small number of people, with immense ecological benefits,” he said, and announced that he would table a bill in Parliament on the matter in the weeks to come.

“Some people are totally disconnected and take the plane like others take the Metro,” Bayou said.

“When the government refuses to tax companies who are making huge profits from the energy crisis we’re experiencing, it sends a clear message: impunity for the richest.

“How can we ask the population to make an effort if the richest are exempt from everything?”

But a spokesperson for the Transport ministry insisted that an outright ban was not on the cards, and that any regulation was “a matter of reflection at this stage”. 

“Business aviation is an important economic activity in France – it is not a question of banning it and the most effective way is to define rules at European level,” the spokesperson told Franceinfo.

France in 2022 placed limits on commercial carriers that banned any domestic flights where the journey could be done by train in less than two-and-a-half hours, but this rule does not apply to private jet flights.

According to data provided by the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) in 2019 France has been the country in Europe with the highest number of private aircraft movements for several years (over 120,000), ahead of Germany and the UK.

The Le Bourget airport in Paris is primarily concerned with private jet flights, while wealthy visitors to the Riviera frequently arrive by private jet – including a group from London who tried to land in Cannes for a holiday in April 2020, when France was on strict lockdown.

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Macron vs the unions: What happens next in France?

French President Emmanuel Macron is facing his biggest standoff with France's trade unions since coming to power in 2017, with the outcome of a series of strikes and protests seen as decisive for both sides.

Macron vs the unions: What happens next in France?

The 45-year-old leader has made raising the retirement age a signature domestic policy of his second term in office — something the unions and millions of protesters are determined to block.

After two days of nationwide strikes and demonstrations, AFP looks at what is likely to happen next on the streets, in parliament, inside the government, and in wider French public opinion.

On the streets

Labour leaders were delighted with their second day of protests on Tuesday, which they claimed had seen around 2.5 million people hit the streets, including in many small and medium-sized towns.

Official estimates put the figure at 1.27 million, compared to 1.1 million people during round one on January 19th, according to the interior ministry.

READ MORE: Calendar: The latest French pension strike dates to remember

Momentum is clearly with the unions who announced two further days of protests and strikes next week, on Tuesday and Saturday.

“The movement is growing and spread across the whole country,” the head of the hard-left CGT union, Philippe Martinez, said on Wednesday.

Nevertheless, unions no longer have the ability to paralyse the country and working-from-home practices mean most white-collar workers can easily adjust to transport stoppages.

The biggest fear of authorities is a repeat of the 2018 so-called “Yellow Vest” protests — a spontaneous movement drawn mostly from the countryside and small-town France that led to shockingly violent clashes with police. 

“The trauma was so big and the violence so great, I don’t see it happening again for the moment,” Bruno Cautres from Sciences Po university in Paris told AFP earlier this month. 

In government 

The government was expecting a rough ride — few major policy changes happen in France without protests, and former president Nicolas Sarkozy faced similar resistance with his pension reform in 2010.

Macron has faced numerous challenges from the unions in the past and has always succeeded in pushing through his pro business agenda and social security reforms.

The only exception was his first attempt at pension reform — also highly contested — which he withdrew in 2020 during the Covid 19 pandemic.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has been the public face of the latest proposals, while Macron has kept his statements and appearances to a minimum, as is his habit.

But with the battle lines hardening and protests growing, the president might be forced to enter the fray. 

“I think the president will speak, but not right now,” a minister told AFP on condition of anonymity. “If he did it now, it would look like we’re panicking.”

In parliament

The draft legislation will be debated for the first time in the 577-seat National Assembly from Monday.

Macron’s allies are the largest group with 170 seats, but they do not hold a majority after a weaker-than-expected showing in June elections.

Support from the 62 rightwing Republicans (LR) party MPs will be essential.

LR has long supported raising the retirement age, but there are doubts over how many of their MPs will give the government their backing.

“I’m not asking the government to give in to the protests. This reform needs to be done,” LR parliamentary party chief Olivier Marleix said on Wednesday.

The lower house debate will finish on February 17th at the latest when a vote can be called — or the government could transfer it to the Senate or ram it through with controversial executive powers that dispense with the need for a ballot.

The bill is expected to pass the conservative-dominated Senate, where a vote is to take place by mid-March.

Public opinion

The latest polling figures show a growing majority opposes the reform and supports the protests, with roughly two in three people against the proposals.

Ministers have struggled to find winning arguments, at times arguing the changes are needed to reduce government spending, at others insisting they will make the pension system fairer.

“The government has not won with the argument that it is necessary,” Bernard Sananes, the head of the Elabe polling group, told AFP. “And it is fighting on another, more intense front which is that the reform is seen as unfair.”

In private, Macron’s allies insist their best hope is for parliament to quickly approve the legislation that will never be popular but might grudgingly be accepted as necessary.

“The question is how big the protest movement will be and how long it will last,” the minister told AFP.