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PARIS – The activists, gathered on a Parisian bridge on a sunny March morning, have two enemies: US tech giant Amazon and French President Emmanuel Macron.
“We are here to denounce Amazon’s ultra-rapid expansion in France and the responsibility of Emmanuel Macron,” Etienne Coubard, campaign manager at environmental NGO Friends of the Earth, shouted into a megaphone.
“Residents go to court, take to the streets and put pressure on MPs. Today it has to go through the ballot box, too,” he added, as dozens of youthful-looking protesters unfurled a banner that read, “Macron ceded our region to Amazon.”
NGOs and local resistance groups have spent the past five years fighting both national legislation governing online sales and the construction of Amazon warehouses across the country. Now, two weeks before France’s presidential election, the groups are building on the campaign dynamic with nationwide, coordinated actions in cities such as Paris, Lyons, nantes and Belfort.
Since Macron came to power in 2017, Amazon has massively expanded its physical presence in France — a complicated market with high potential, but where the company is has lost ground.
Along the way, the US company has met open arms from some local politicians worried about unemployment, but also fierce opposition from local residents and activists fearing the potential negative impact on the environment, wary of working conditions in camps do and sues the company contribute to job losses related to e-commerce.
“Amazon has become a symbol of a kind of resistance to globalism,” said Vincent Mayet, general manager of PR firm Havas Paris and author of a book about Amazon. “There is a phenomenon of rejection, also because people can see that [the company] moves toward something disembodied and automated.”
A spokesman for Amazon said the company has “become a beacon for organizations looking to raise awareness of their causes. These groups often create intentionally misleading stories that fit their agenda, and we ask that facts, sources and stories be checked to ensure untruths and inaccuracies are not being disseminated.”
The US e-commerce company added that it will sell more than 11 billion between 2010 and 2020. Amazon also said it offers “a positive work environment” and is “fully committed to protecting the environment.”
A string of local victories
In recent years, more than a dozen local resistance groups such as Stop Amazon Briec and Gafamazon have sprung up across the country to try to stem the rise of Amazon department stores – with star-studded gains in recent months.
The grassroots opposition is often backed by NGOs like Friends of the Earth and Attac, which provide legal and sometimes financial aid, and left-leaning political organizations like France Unbowed and the Greens, who are Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s presidential candidates. They coordinate via Telegram and Signal to share best practices, tips and rumors about new projects, like Amazon has a track record waiting until the last minute to share his plans.
Just last week, a property developer working with Amazon to open a facility in Petit-Couronne, a small town of about 8,700 people near Rouen. informed local officials abandoned the project. the Stop the Amazon 76 groupa reference to the administrative number of the area, had submitted several objections to the building permits. The camp was intended to replace the former Petroplus oil refinery.
The project was supported by the country’s Ministry of Economy and even by the Elysée Palace, the mayor of Petit-Couronne, Joël Bigot. told local media.
For example, various Amazon logistics buildings have been closed or abandoned since September last year in the south of Francenear Nîmes, and to the west, near Nantes. There are ongoing lawsuits against building permits elsewhere, including the north-eastern city of Belfort.
“We made progress in the Kulturkampf. Three years ago, Amazon was only seen from a consumer benefit perspective,” said Raphaël Pradeau, a spokesman for Attac France.
“Amazon faces resistance in other countries, but especially from employees who are committed to better working conditions. Popular mobilizations by citizens are something specific to France,” he added.
A little help from above
In the five years since the last French presidential election, Macron and his government have had a love-hate relationship with Amazon.
On the one hand, the French President has made it clear that he wants to rein in Big Tech. Macron has backed legislation aimed at helping bookstores compete against Amazon and has pushed for levies on Silicon Valley companies. At EU level, France has been very active in pushing for stricter competition and product safety rules.
On the other hand, Macron – who has taken office with the inauguration of an Amazon warehouse near his hometown of Amiens and welcomed then-CEO Jeff Bezos to the Elysee Palace – is the face of the Choose France Summitto attract foreign investment to the country. He also pushedvia Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire to encourage local brick-and-mortar businesses to develop online.
During Macron’s tenure, various initiatives such as more favorable local tax regulations, have facilitated the rapid construction of logistics facilities – including those of Amazon. As Economy Minister, Macron was already behind France’s “national logistics strategy” aims to strengthen a sector seen as a key factor in the country’s competitiveness.
Last year, the government refused to impose a moratorium on e-commerce warehouses as part of the country’s climate law, despite repeated calls from opposition groups and even from the majority party, La République en Marche (LREM). As POLITICO previously reported, ministry officials were actively working – in the name of economic appeal – to block lawmakers from making it harder for online shopping companies like Amazon to build new facilities.
“A storage ban would have been a loose-lose solution. Amazon would have placed them at the borders, leading to more pollution and fewer jobs [less] Income for France,” said a senior French official directly involved in the discussions. “A moratorium would have really only prevented CDiscount from developing,” the official added, referring to one of France’s own national e-commerce champions.
However, according to NGOs, this track record is proof that the French president rolled out the red carpet for Bezos’ company — and that the only way to change the country’s policy on e-commerce is to roll it out to elect the office.
On the trail of de-industrialization
While all opposition parties are loud and clear against Amazon in the national debate, the reality on the ground is more nuanced.
“The President of the Republic is easy to blame, but everything in Belfort was dismantled by the mayor [conservative party] Les Républicains,” said Christophe Grudler, a French MEP from Renew Europe who is also a local civil servant in Belfort. “This issue is very politicized, and with two weeks to go before the presidential election, it’s not innocent.”
Left-leaning France Unbowed and the Greens generally support local resistance, but some Socialist and Les Républicains mayors have encouraged Amazon’s expansion. They see the e-commerce company filling the void left by other multinationals leaving the country, both in terms of jobs and local tax revenue.
“There is also a problem [economic] Attractiveness,” said Christelle Morançais, the conservative president of the western Pays de Loire region, where an Amazon warehouse is being built was abandoned. Morançais is now working with mayors to find another site for the project.
However, NGOs argue that the e-commerce giant is deliberately targeting economically troubled areas: “Every Amazon warehouse replaces a closure [by another company] this could become a scandal for Emmanuel Macron,” Friends of the Earth’s Coubard said.
According to Alma Dufour, the former spokeswoman for Friends of the Earth in the fight against Amazon, it’s no coincidence that the company is developing in Belfort, where General Electric – a company that obliged to create jobs when Macron was Economy Minister, before that actually cut them off — used to have a big presence. Dufour is now part of Mélenchon’s presidential campaign team.
“Amazon has a very clever strategy of exploiting areas that are somewhat neglected, deindustrialized and struggling economically – hence the [favorable] Receiving local elected officials,” she said. “They struggle more in cities with higher employment rates.”
But even in smaller towns, locals aren’t necessarily happy about job creation at any price.
In Beauchamp, a city of around 8,700 people in the greater Paris area, opposition is stirring over a suspected new Amazon warehouse to replace a facility formerly operated by US office supplies company 3M. According to Fabrice Rebert, a local who took part in March’s anti-Amazon protests in Paris and is leading the charge in Beauchamp, having a warehouse in his community would be a waste.
“It’s a loss of value for the region,” he lamented. “For elected officials, one company just replaces the other, their argument goes no further.”
This article has been updated.
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