Conservation, Environmentalist

Death of Young Activist Leads to Investigation of French Dam

Flags in front of the European Commission
The European Commission will investigate claims against the Sivens dam.
Image: Shutterstock

In the aftermath of the death of Rémi Fraisse, a 21-year-old environmental activist protesting against a dam being built in southwestern France, public outcry regarding both environmental issues and police brutality have continued to plague the area, leading to the involvement of the European Commission.

Fraisse’s death in late October was due to a stun grenade protesters say was thrown by a police officer trying to subdue the crowd. Protestors had been camping at the construction site of the Sivens dam, which was being built on a forested wetland the activists wanted to protect. The police at that location were members of a national military force called the gendarmerie, which is controlled by the minister of the interior.

When Parlaiment met after Fraisse’s death, members of the Party of the Left called for the resignation of Bernard Cazeneuve, Minister of the Interior and leader of the gendarmerie. Their grievances were aired on national television, as was Cazeneuve’s decision to prohibit the further use of the type of “offensive” grenade that killed Fraisse. In addition, Sègolene Royal, Minister of the Environment and Economic Development, suspended work on the dam.

The purpose of the dam was to provide irrigation for value-added crops, such as corn, on 40 farms in the area.

In the aftermath of these events, the European Commission, which originally provided 30% of the funding, has stated it will look into the project, particularly after it was revealed that local officials were so eager to proceed, they may have violated environmental legislation, including the Natural Habitats directive, which is meant to maintain biodiversity. The Commission is set to discuss the controversy on November 27, at which point they may choose to launch an infringement procedure. This procedure would involve sending a formal notice to Paris and asking the Sivens dam area to resolve the environmental issues within a certain time period in order to continue work on the dam. If an agreement is not made, the issue can be taken to the Court of Justice.

 

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