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France's Charter for the Environment : of Presidents, Principles and Environmental Protection
Modern & Contemporary France
France amended its constitution in 2005 to include a Charter for the Environment. The Charter lays out France's commitment to supporting the right to a 'balanced environment'. This article first traces the Charter's origins to a legacy-building presidential initiative. Jacques Chirac decided to invest in a neglected policy domain in which his own majority had shown little interest. He was obliged to intervene repeatedly in order to bring this project to a successful conclusion. In doing so, he staked out environmental affairs as an area of potential presidential supremacy. Next, the content of the Charter is examined. In this document, French traditions of universalism come together with an international movement for anticipatory environmental protection. This is reflected in the constitutionalisation of the precautionary principle, which emerged as the most controversial part of the Charter. The debates this provoked tended to caricature a risk-management principle whose meaning has been carefully refined to forestall objections. Finally, the Charter's potential efficacy is analysed. The post-Charter record of legislative and judicial activity concerning the environment is meagre, but not wholly inauspicious.
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