There are readings that make you jump. At the beginning of September, Jean-Marie Girier, the prefect of Vienne, was informed of the content of the latest issue of Poitiers Mag, the magazine of the municipality. What he discovered did not please him, as he related in a letter he sent to the town hall of Poitiers and to the urban community of Grand Poitiers, on September 12. On pages 14-15, the town hall highlights the “village of alternatives” of the Alternatiba association, a public event organized on September 17 and 18. “He will, for example, offer civil disobedience workshops”, specifies the last sentence of the article. The program of the event, available online, confirms this activity. It is a question of a “training in civil disobedience with the XR association”, that is to say Extinction Rebellion, of a “moving debate around a small coffee: Violent / non-violent actions”, with XR and Greenpeace Poitiers, or even an animation entitled “Let’s take action! Civil disobedience”, also with XR and Greenpeace.
Jean-Marie Girier immediately asks the town hall as well as Grand Poitiers to withdraw the subsidies previously granted to Alternatiba for this event, up to 5000 euros for the city of Poitiers and 5000 euros for the urban community. His reasoning? This aid contravenes the law confirming respect for the principles of the Republic, often called “separatism law”, which created the “republican commitment contract”, a charter that any association wishing to obtain a subsidy must sign. However, this “contract” provides that the associations cannot encourage non-compliance with the law. Otherwise, the grant must be withdrawn.
“I consider that it is not legal to allocate subsidies to associations which encourage the commission of illegal acts”, justifies Jean-Marie Girier today. “It seems to me that this is the very object of civil disobedience. On the sidelines of these workshops, a facilitator called for the destruction of construction machinery belonging to farmers. This is related to the subject of basins, well known in Vienne. We must take the context into account: we are coming out of a summer when substitute water reserves were vandalized in Vendée, Deux-Sèvres and Vienne. I can’t see myself telling farmers that public authorities fund organizations that encourage degradation, and that we can’t do anything because it’s ‘civil disobedience’. There was also encouragement to move around without your identity card, to say that your name is “Camille” if you are the subject of a check”, he laments to L’Express. Marie Cohuet, the spokeswoman for Alternatiba acknowledges that the Stop Bassines collective was indeed present at the forum and probably “had to recall their actions in the summer” but disputes that this is a “promotion” of actions of civil disobedience.
The town hall refuses to withdraw the subsidies
“There were three things in these workshops: a historical reminder of what civil disobedience is, advice in case of arrest and a ‘mock’ action, namely the hanging of a banner on the facade of a company that would practice the greenwashing. At no time have we called for civil disobedience in general”, she assures. The association manager, who evokes the precedents of the “manifesto of 343” on abortion or the “strike before the right to strike”, adds that “in certain cases”, civil disobedience is the “last resort to protect the environment, and therefore our lives”, a principle “which the Council of Europe has described as one of the most important to freedom of expression”.
Contacted by L’Express, the town hall of Poitiers refuses to accede to the request of the prefect. “I do not share your interpretation of the rules resulting from this law [séparatisme] and the application that you make of it concerning the organization of the ‘village of alternatives'”, writes Léonore Moncond’huy in her letter of response to the prefect, dated September 22. The city councilor indicates that “nothing foreshadowed trouble serious harm to public tranquility and security, or incitement to non-compliance with the laws of the Republic” during this event. “The conditions in which the event was held have moreover demonstrated that there was nothing,” she adds. The elected official specifies that the municipal council of Poitiers on October 3 will reconsider the question, but is in favor of maintaining the subsidy. Florence Jardin, the president of Greater Poitiers, delivers exactly the same response, in a letter also dated 22 September.
“The law is not à la carte”
The spokeswoman for Alternatiba, for her part, also wishes to point out that this decision seems to her to be proof that “the separatism law is dangerous” in that it makes it possible to undermine freedom of association and recalls that the prefect was “Emmanuel Macron’s campaign director”, which “questions” in his eyes as to the meaning of this referral. “My referral does not affect freedom of expression, freedom of association, or disturbance of public order,” retorts Jean-Marie Girier. “My only subject is to verify the legality of the acts of local authorities. In this case, it is a recent law that we are undoubtedly the first to apply, the law confirming respect for the principles of the Republic. Article 1 of the Republican Commitment Contracts specifies that associations applying for grants “must not undertake or incite any action manifestly contrary to the law, violent or likely to cause serious disturbances to public order”. public cannot finance actions contrary to the law.”
Does this mean that the state will henceforth oppose any subsidy granted to organizations that promote civil disobedience, such as Greenpeace or Extinction Rebellion? “If a community wants to finance an Extinction Rebellion forum on ecological transition, that is not a subject”, assures the prefect. “Concerning Alternatiba Poitiers, two years ago, its forum was subsidized by the Environment and Energy Management Agency (Ademe). But there were no workshops on civil disobedience The philosophical debate is certainly interesting and it is not a question of pointing Alternatiba as a whole, but the law is not à la carte. Respect for the law applies to all. So I hope that this case of figure will not happen often but I reserve the right to reproduce this referral in the event of breaches of the law”, warns the person concerned, who refutes that this is a request from political power. And to announce that he will seize the administrative court following the refusal of the town hall to withdraw the public subsidy.