Updated: Oct 31, 2022
Herve Juvin is a prominent voice among conservative politicians in Europe who are keenly interested in environmentalism and protection of local ecosystems. He is a French politician who was elected as a Member of the European Parliament in 2019 and belongs to the right-wing National Rally party in France. On a visit to New Delhi, he spoke to Hindol Sengupta.
Herve Juvin is against 'punitive ecology' and deeply concerned about local control of environmental systems to save indigenous ecologies.
Hindol Sengupta (HS): We are sitting in Delhi, autumn is here, and soon we will be plagued with air pollution, so that’s heavy on my mind. Energy prices in Europe are also exponentially rising. I wanted to begin by asking you about your thoughts on the climate crisis.
Herve Juvin (HJ): There is a lot of things to say about this issue. I am not a [climate change] denier. Of course, something is happening with global climate and of course if you go from Alaska to [the] Pacific Islands, if you go from South Africa to northern Europe, something not good, because of very difficult events like air pollution. Some are related to climate change; some are related to other things. There is a massive propaganda that [all] environmental issues are about climate change. That is not true. Many of the issues are about a lack of biodiversity.
The destruction of biodiversity at the end of the day is a major stress against human life on earth. We also have a huge problem with human excess and waste. Just as an example, in the United States around 42 per cent of population is obese. They have a ‘too fat’ diet, they have far too much sugar, and so on. This is a major problem. Climate is not the only major environmental issue we face. One major issue is the destruction of soil fertility due to the use of too many chemicals. I am cautious about the political use of climate change. In the world economic progress was linked to energy consumption, and energy consumption was mainly oil, gas, coal, and so on. On the surface, [the conversation about climate transition] is about the shift to energy sources like from windmills etc. but there is also an underlying geopolitical issue of America reducing the influence of the countries that are providers of raw materials [to the existing global economy] like the Arab states, and Russia [in terms of oil and gas]. The idea is to build a ‘soft economy’ built on financial services and [intellectual] property rights and such things. The problem is that we still need oil and gas – this is obvious. The countries benefitting from the old economy are not very comfortable with the new policies of the US and its allies. For me, this [tussle between the countries promoting the old economy and the US and its allies] is behind the conflict growing in the world.
Let me say one more thing: in the European Union [EU] I am quite involved in environmental concerns, and I am very, very afraid of what I call ‘punitive ecology’. Punitive ecology is when for environmental concerns we destroy our traditional ways of life. This way our people are turning against ecological concerns. Politically this is suicidal.
Let me add one more thing – chemicals in our soil. Overuse of chemicals are destroying the fertility of the soil and are destroying human life. This is a big problem in Europe.
HS: This is big problem in India too. I also wanted to ask you how you see the rising energy prices in Europe. Winter is going to be very hard…
HJ: First let me say that the European Union [as a whole] is irrelevant to this question because what is it about, it is about understanding that each nation state is in a very different situation. In Germany this is a huge problem because global competitivity of Germany is dependent on cheap energy prices coming from gas from Russia. In France we depend less than five per cent on Russian gas, so we are not at all in the same situation. And I hope France will take advantage of this situation to reindustrialise. Because we need to re-industrialise. In Europe we are not in the same situation as India. In India, solar panels can supply huge amount of energy. It is very interesting because solar panels and windmills are decentralized energy. In Europe it is completely different. We don’t have so much solar. It is impossible to supply [as much energy] as gas and oil only from windmills. So, this is to suggest the weakening of Europe. We can never get the kind of supply [from solar and wind] as from nuclear power plants.
HS: This brings me to my next topic – nuclear power. Despite many apprehensions about nuclear energy, France is one country which has very successfully used nuclear power, deriving a majority of its energy needs from nuclear energy. Where does the politics of nuclear energy stand in Europe at the moment? What are the lessons to be learnt from the French experience in this?
HJ: [The lesson is] never take advice from your neighbours or competitors. It is a very sad story. Thanks to General [Charles] de Gaulle, France was a leading producer of nuclear power. But because of our supposed friendship with Germany, we had to close [in 2017] our Fessenheim [in north-eastern France] nuclear power plant for no other reason than that it was close to our border with Germany, and the Germans objected to it. Not because it was dangerous, not because it was too old but only because it was close to Germany and the Germans were not too comfortable with that. Under the illusion of changing our energy source mostly to renewables [like solar and wind], we let our nuclear competencies, the talent and skills of our engineers go away. At the moment only half of our capacity for generating nuclear power is available but we need full capacity of our nuclear power plants. So, it’s a sad situation.
Let me say that on the world stage, nuclear power is the only way to supply in very good ecological conditions, because nuclear power plants are very close to net zero emissions with almost no carbon emitted, to get the energy autonomy that every nation aspires for, and to get safe energy supplies.
HS: Do you think that nuclear power is increasingly safe, then? Because that is always a concern.
HJ: Even if you look at all the nuclear power plant accidents including the catastrophe in [the erstwhile] Soviet Union and compare them to the many other industrial disasters that keep happening including the chemical gas tragedy [at Bhopal] in India, it is clear that relatively nuclear power is much safer. But there is tremendous propaganda against it because it is a way for countries to achieve energy sovereignty. You have a lot of big powers who do not want countries to be independent. If you want to be an independent country, you must supply your own energy, and if you do not have oil and gas, you must have nuclear power.
HS: Since we are on the question of national autonomy, I can pivot to my next question on national identity. Major political upheavals have happened in Europe recently, in Sweden and Italy, with right-wing political parties sweeping to power. How do you see this?
HJ: There is a lot of misunderstanding about this. For me what is called nationalist, or populists, is really about the will of the people to take back control. This is the way Brexit worked. This is the way the Swedish or the Italian nationalist parties have worked. It is about people wanting to regain power from supra-national institutions like the European Union institutions having too much power. And these institutions are taking from our legitimate government, our legitimate elected processes, some powers we want them to keep. For instance, the European Union, for the sake of climate change, they have decided to manage forests [across Europe] was a European Union competency. This makes no sense for France because we have one of the oldest forest management systems in the world and we know perfectly well how to maintain our forests. This is also stupid because the way you have to manage forests in Finland is not the same as the way you need to manage forests in Spain or on the Mediterranean coasts. This is a misinterpretation of European Union action. This should be managed locally by locals. This gives a lot of European people the feeling that we have to take back control.
HS: Can the French Right and Marine Le Pen [the leader of Rassemblement National or National Rally, the party to which Juvin belongs] come to power in this manner?
HJ: Of course, because the party [National Rally] is predominantly now a party of young people. People who are 30 years old or younger are massively in favour of the party and Le Pen. A lot of people who have voted against [the party] are older people who see that the European Union protects their retirement benefits and their financial assets. So young people who are interested in doing business, in entrepreneurship, in moving forward are for National Rally. With so many difficulties to come, this will increase.
HS: We have been talking about the EU. It is a unique institution where countries voluntarily gave up economic freedom but retained political freedom. This of course is unique in political economy where these two elements go hand-in-hand. What is its future?
HJ: It is clear that if we have to save the common currency, we have to yield greater political power including on things like budget deficits and social systems. The problem is that many European people don’t want the European Union to decide what is good for Italian people and French people and so on.
A European Union based on the sovereignty of nations where nations willing give some legitimacy for common action to some European Union institutions is workable as long as they retain complete independence to take back control on the things that are important. And importantly, we have to bring back the very important concept of ‘subsidiarity’ where local and regional peoples take all decisions related to their lives. [Subsidiarity is the principle whereby the EU does not take action (except in the areas that fall within its exclusive competence), unless it is more effective than action taken at national, regional or local level.]
The concept of subsidiarity was the main concept of the European Union in the early years, in the 90s, but in recent years this has totally been forgotten. We must come back to subsidiarity. The European Union must manage just a few things and leave the rest to the individual states.
HS: As a senior politician in the EU, I wonder what you see about how young people are thinking about politics there. There are often lazy assumptions that all young people are woke or something like that.
HJ: There are many young people in Italy and France and other countries which are voting for conservative parties but there is something bigger in this. That is digital dictatorship and its impact on young people. The incredible power that companies like Twitter, Facebook etc. have to determine who says what and to disconnect anyone whose views do not match with what they like. This is a new kind of totalitarianism.
HS: As we come to the end of this conversation, I have one last question for you. That is the question on Islamism. France of course has been badly affected by this issue, Charlie Hebdo, the beheading of the schoolteacher, I wonder what you think about this issue and its impact today in France and across Europe.
HJ: There is no problem is that there isn’t much strength and will in France to gain power in the world whereas globally speaking there is a lot of power and ambition in Islamism to gain power around the world. They want to prevail. They want part of France to be under sharia law and they want people complying with their values and their way of life. This is of course a huge problem. What can I say about this? We are not alone. There are a lot of countries that are facing this problem. This has a lot to do with demography, on the number of children produced by various communities. This is an issue in Europe. In Europe, you can say what you want but we need immigration, and we need young people for our economies. The question of accommodation is not easy especially at a time when there is a lot of debate happening within Islam. The point about better education and facilities is not accurate as we have seen many terrorist acts done by highly educated people. The history of the Muslim Brotherhood is also there to show us that this connection with education keeping away radicalism is not correct. There are many people who are engineers and highly educated in other fields in the Muslim Brotherhood. So, this is not the answer. Maybe the answer is separation. We have to take back control. We have to take back control of our borders, we have to reassert our values, we are very weak in Western Europe about the way we live, about the ways of our culture, our territories – we have to strongly reassert our culture.