President Emmanuel Macron on Monday pledged a raft of new commitments to the environment after his ruling party was routed in local elections marked by spectacular gains for the Greens.
Macron's Republic on the Move (LREM) party failed to notch up any significant victory in the second round of Sunday's municipal elections that had been postponed for over three months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
By contrast, the Greens made gains that exceeded their own expectations, with Green mayors now set to lead key regional hubs like Bordeaux, Lyon and Strasbourg.
Seeking to quickly regain the initiative, Marcron announced 15 billion euros ($17 billion) would be invested over two years in "the ecological conversion of our economy".
The president stressed the need to "reconcile economy and ecology" in a nod to the sweeping gains of the Europe Ecology - Green Party (EELV) in elections marked by a record abstention rate of around 60 percent.
Hosting 150 members of a so-called "citizen's convention" on climate reform for a pre-scheduled meeting, Macron promised the creation of a fund to invest in cleaner transport and buildings, and to "invent the industries of tomorrow."
On Twitter, the president argued his government had a strong record on ecology, but conceded that "we need to go further, stronger."
- 'In denial' -
The EELV on Sunday also took the towns and cities of Grenoble, Besancon, Tours, Poitiers and Annecy in a green sweep unlike any France had seen before.
In Paris, Socialist Mayor Anne Hidalgo was re-elected after forming an alliance with the EELV, with the pro-Macron candidate trailing in a distant third.
The LREM, created just months before Macron's successful 2017 presidential bid, failed to take a single major city and only five of 10 ministers in his government secured wins in councils they contested.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe won the mayorship of the Normandy city of Le Havre, but he is not a card-carrying LREM member.
EELV party head Yannick Jadot said the vote proved that Macron had been "in denial" over growing public demand for ambitious measures to fight climate change.
He told Europe 1 radio the EELV would not join Macron's government, and urged the president to take on board a long list of measures proposed by the citizens' convention he had set up.
Macron said he would not oppose a 2021 referendum on some of the proposals, including rewriting the constitution to include mention of the urgency of protecting the environment and fighting climate change.
But he did not support a four-percent tax on company dividends or lowering the speed limit on national roads from 130 to 110 kilometres(81 to 68 miles) per hour.
- 'Disappointment' -
There was heated speculation Monday that Macron would reshuffle his cabinet, possibly axing Philippe who enjoys more support than he does, according to opinion polls.
Macron has promised that the second part of is presidency would take note of failings during the first.
Government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye expressed "disappointment" Sunday over the LREM's poor showing in the second round, which was held amid strict coronavirus anti-contagion measures.
She blamed "internal divisions", which were notably on display in Paris where Macron's candidate Agnes Buzyn was hobbled by maverick challenger Cedric Villani.
Traditional right-wing and Socialist parties managed respectable showings, contested more than three months after the March 15 first round was held just as the COVID-19 epidemic was gaining ground, and two days before France entered lockdown.
The right-wing The Republicans won in more than half of cities with more than 9,000 residents, capturing Toulouse and Nice among others.
The Socialists, which did poorly in the 2017 national race, took Paris, Nantes, Le Mans, Dijon and Montpellier, and just managed to beat off a strong challenge from the EELV in Lille.
Marine Le Pen's far-right National Rally claimed a big victory in Perpignan in the southwest, giving it control of a city with more than 100,000 inhabitants for the first time since 1995.
Only 40 percent of the country's 16.5 million eligible voters cast ballots, however, in a record-low turnout reflecting disapproval of Macron as well as coronavirus contagion fears.
Macron expressed "concern" over the low turnout just 22 months before presidential elections in which he is likely to face off against Le Pen.
Macron's party failed to take a single major city
Greens win control of key French cities
In Paris, Socialist Mayor Anne Hidalgo was re-elected
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has seen his popularity rise beyond that of Macron