Executive Privilege Invoked for Approving French Nuclear Waste Site

For many years, the French nuclear establishment has been struggling to overcome public opposition and legislative obstacles to its plans to bury high-level, long-lived nuclear waste in the rural village of Bure. During the summer of 2015, the socialist government of Francois Hollande took the desperate measure of tacking the issue onto an omnibus bill called the loi Macron, which is supposed to be concerned only with growth, equality and economic opportunity. Just about anything could be subjectively judged to  promote economic growth, so the government took an expansive view and included whatever it wanted under a very flexible definition of matters which favor “growth, equality and economic opportunity.” Once the nuclear waste project was in the Macron Bill, the government then took advantage of an executive privilege called Article 49.3. 

About Article 49.3
(compiled from the two sources listed in this section)


Resorting to Article 49.3 of the Constitution, (Le recours à l’article 49.3 de la constitution). Vie Publique, June 16, 2015.
Article 49.3 Executive Weapon, (L'article 49.3, coup de force de l'exécutif), Le Figaro, February 17, 2015.

Article 49.3 gives the prime minister the possibility, after consultation with the Council of Ministers, to claim the right of the government to pass a bill that is up for a vote in the National Assembly, any bill concerning national finances, the financing of social security, or any other project or proposed law being debated there. It is a “weapon with only one bullet,” as it can only be used once in each legislative session.
The decision of the prime minister to use Article 49.3 leads to the immediate suspension of parliamentary discussion of the laws. The project is considered adopted, without being put to a vote, unless a motion of censure [by the Constitutional Council] is made within twenty-four hours under very precise conditions: the motion to censure has to be approved by a majority vote in the National Assembly.
Resort to Article 49.3 makes parliamentarians uneasy because they see it as an abuse of executive power. In 2006, Francois Hollande, the leader who invoked Article 49.3 in the summer of 2015, declared, “49.3 is an assault on and a denial of democracy. 49.3 is a way of stopping and impeding parliamentary debate.”

Translation of:

It is decidedly difficult to get rid of nuclear waste. It has managed to surreptitiously embed itself in the Macron Bill concerning growth, equality and economic opportunity. At the last minute, an amendment concerning the Centre industriel de stockage géologique (CIGEO) was introduced into the text, which will be adopted on Friday July 10, without a vote because the government has resorted once again to the use of Article 49.3 [see explanation above]. Ecologists are “furious” and they have denounced this “unacceptable abuse of power.”
The CIGEO project, managed by l’Agence nationale pour la gestion des déchets radioactifs (ANDRA), aims to bury nuclear waste 500 meters under the village of Bure. The wastes consist of 80,000 cubic meters of high-level, long-lived waste produced by French nuclear facilities. The project was estimated to cost 16.5 billion euros in 2005, but an estimate done in 2009 set the figure at 36 billion euros. The final cost is unknowable. For several years, anti-nuclear activists and residents have opposed what they call a “nuclear garbage dump.”
So how did nuclear waste find its way into a bill with 400 articles related to economic growth? In fact, pro-nuclear parliamentarians have been trying to clear this path into legislation for CIGEO for two years. First it was written into the law on energy transition, but the Minister of Ecology, Ségolène Royal, withdrew it under pressure from environmentalists. Then it appeared in the Macron Bill while it was being reviewed in the Senate. Until recently, members of parliament had barred its path.
On the morning of July 9, in a special commission of the National Assembly, a special amendment by the senator for the Meuse region, Gérard Longuet (Republican Party), brought up the CIGEO project. The matter was taken up by the head of the commission, Francois Brottes (Socialist Party) and it was put into the Macron Bill, thus evading the possibility of debate during the present session thanks to the invocation of Article 49.3.
This does not yet mean that CIGEO has a green light to bury the most radioactive wastes at Bure. In 2017, ANDRA has to submit an application for authorization of the creation of the facility. Furthermore, an “industrial pilot phase” of 100 years is planned before authorization of the full-scale project.
CIGEO is nonetheless still engraved in the bill. Article 201 of the Macron Bill is committed to defining the notion of “irreversibility” of nuclear waste storage while this reversibility must be the object of a specific law before the creation of the facility will be authorized.
The EELV party (Europe Ecologie-Les Verts) protested, “At the last moment, without debate or vote, CIGEO made its surprise appearance in the Macron Bill. This imposed decision will have a disastrous impact on health and the environment in our country. This assault makes a definitive end to the trust environmentalists once had in this government.”
For the ecologist members, Denis Baupin, vice president of the National Assembly, Francois de Rugy and Barbara Pompili, vice presidents of the EELV party, a “red line” has been crossed. They plan to seek recourse in a motion of censure which the Republicans are planning to submit to the Constitutional Council. They hope to have the article related to CIGEO withdrawn as it has nothing to do with growth… [the Macron Bill is ostensibly concerned with growth, equality and economic opportunity.]
Among the groups and residents opposed to CIGEO, anger is also growing. The Collectif contre l’enfouissement des déchets radioactifs (CEDRA) denounced the “audacious assault” while Bure-Stop condemned the process as “beholden to the power of industrial lobbies and horribly disdainful of the opinions of citizens.”

August 6, 2015: Result of the Motion of Censure

What the Macron Bill will Contains (from now on),” [Ce que contient (désormais) la loi Macron,] Le Monde, August 6, 2015.

At the last moment, the government added an amendment to the bill concerning the management of radioactive waste at Bure, in the Meuse region. This was censured by the Constitutional Council which found it was a legislative rider* that should be presented in a separate bill.

*A rider is an additional provision added to a bill or other measure under the consideration by a legislature, having little connection with the subject matter of the bill. Riders are usually created as a tactic to pass a controversial provision that would not pass as its own bill.

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