Conservative and far-right French lawmakers said they would boycott a meeting with Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and hurled insults at the 16-year-old who has inspired a global network of young climate protesters.
Thunberg has been invited by a cross-party group of politicians to attend a French parliament committee meeting and will watch a plenary session from the public gallery on Tuesday.
But after mocking Thunberg on social media in recent days, lawmakers from the conservative Les Republicains (LR) and far-right Rassemblement National (RN) parties said they would not attend the meeting.
“I call on my colleagues to boycott Greta Thunberg. We do not need gurus of the apocalypse,” Guillaume Larrive, who is running to be leader of Les Republicains, said on Twitter.
Recent months have seen millions of young people worldwide walk out of school on Fridays to back Thunberg’s demands for urgent action from governments to curb carbon emissions.
Julien Aubert, another candidate to lead the party, which turned in its worst ever performance in European elections in May and finished behind the Greens, tweeted: “Do not count on me to go and applaud a prophetess in shorts, Nobel prize of fear.”
Thunberg began a climate protest outside the Swedish parliament last August. The Fridays for Future school strike movement has since spread to more than 100 countries.
“Using children to hawk a fatalist message about the world going up in flames, and skipping school and going on strike, that is a deeply defeatist approach,” Jordan Bardella, an RN member of the European Parliament, told France 2 television.
“You cannot bring in the Joan of Arc of climate change while parliament is voting on the EU-Canada trade deal.”
The French parliament is expected to approve on Tuesday the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta), which has been criticised by environmentalists.
But any abstentions or no-votes among President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist LREM party, which has a comfortable majority, would be damaging for Macron, who has been criticised for taking little action against climate change.
Green MPs as well as government ministers defended Thunberg and the fight against global warming, which the government has said will be a priority of the second part of Macron’s mandate.
“Boycotting the speech of a 16-year old girl, what are they afraid of?” junior environment minister Brune Poirson told Le Parisien newspaper.
“We need whistleblowers like her.”