The French Parliament not too long ago revealed the ultimate report from a particular inquiry committee wanting into why France misplaced vitality sovereignty and independence. EURACTIV spoke to its lead rapporteur, centrist MP Antoine Armand.
Learn the unique interview in French right here.
After months spent interviewing consultants and politicians, together with two former French presidents, about France’s vitality independence, Antoine Armand got here to an sudden conclusion: he was in search of one thing that doesn’t exist.
“Power independence doesn’t exist and has by no means existed,” mentioned Armand, who was the lead rapporteur for the French Parliament’s particular inquiry committee arrange final yr.
Fairly, sovereignty refers to “the capability of a rustic to provide whereas being much less depending on others and due to this fact much less weak,” he informed EURACTIV in an interview.
In his view, France has not suffered a “loss” however a “delay” in its vitality sovereignty, as the continuing vitality transition will see France leaving imported fossil fuels in favour of domestically sourced low-carbon and renewable energies.
The particular Parliament committee was arrange in October final yr on the initiative of the conservative Les Républicains get together to look at the insurance policies applied in France’s vitality sector over the previous three many years.
In a sequence of hearings, the committee interviewed 88 stakeholders below oath, together with vitality consultants, scientists, enterprise leaders, and two former French presidents – Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande – a primary for the nation’s parliament.
A key indisputable fact that emerged from the hearings is that France remains to be closely reliant on fossil fuels, regardless of its low-carbon fleet of 56 nuclear reactors. In 2021, greater than 46% of France’s major vitality consumption certainly got here from fossil fuels, in line with authorities figures.
It’s because a big share of the vitality consumed within the nation will not be electrical energy based mostly however is imported oil and gasoline, which dominate transport and industrial processes. Final yr, France additionally skilled widespread failures throughout its nuclear energy stations, which have suffered from continual under-investment over the previous many years.
‘The EU should play its half’
France is “nonetheless very depending on fossil fuels, our electrical energy fleet is weak, and the event of decarbonised sectors is prey to a really Franco-French debate opposing nuclear and renewable energies,” Armand mentioned.
“The EU should play its half” to resolve these points,” notably by way of the availability of supplies”, provides Armand, who says this is the reason President Emmanuel Macron “typically speaks of ‘European sovereignty’ as a substitute of French sovereignty.”
In accordance with Armand, European sovereignty means “strengthening nationwide sovereignties” and never the opposite means round. He underlined “the precept of subsidiarity”, which stipulates that selections should be taken as shut as attainable to residents and contain the EU degree solely when it presents clear added worth.
In France, the nationwide debate on vitality has typically advanced across the function of renewables, which are sometimes seen in opposition to nuclear vitality – a supply of nationwide satisfaction and independence.
So is the EU encroaching on member states’ sovereignty when it units a 42.5% renewable vitality goal for Europe by 2030?
Armand acknowledges that such targets have “penalties for the vitality mixes of the member states,” whereas that is purported to be a nationwide competence within the title of the European precept of ‘technological neutrality’.
However, in line with him, the larger goal is decarbonisation, not renewables. “If the European goal is carbon neutrality, let’s not take a look at the issue in reverse: let’s begin from the target of decarbonisation fairly than from a technological bias,” he provides.
“Particularly when some member states suppose it’s proper to exclude nuclear energy from the European aims, regardless that it’s a decarbonised vitality, they’re scoring an personal aim,” he argues.
EU nations are divided on nuclear, with France and a dozen different member states supporting its formal recognition to fulfill EU local weather objectives, whereas others, together with Germany, Austria and Spain, are fiercely opposed.
In a foreword to the French inquiry committee report, right-wing MP Raphaël Schellenberger slammed Germany’s unilateral determination to exit nuclear energy, saying it “creates a precedent that may have repercussions” on France’s vitality coverage.
Armand, for his half, refuses in charge Germany.
“We should always not blame our neighbours for what we have now performed. That’s populist and anti-European. The EU is just a area of affect,” he mentioned.
Nonetheless, he admits that “the closure of reactors exhibits that, in some nations, the precedence is to not get out of carbon as rapidly as attainable,” saying German coverage decisions have “undoubtedly” performed a job within the French determination to shut the Fessenheim nuclear energy plant, which turned efficient in June 2020.
“The one factor we all know for certain is that the closure of Fessenheim was not based mostly on industrial, technical, financial and security concerns,” added Armand.
On the similar time, the French centrist MP refuses to accuse the EU of being anti-nuclear, saying European selections end result from tripartite negotiations involving member states, European Parliament and European Fee.
“So there are not any selections towards the member states,” he mentioned.
Armand additionally reminded that the 1957 Euratom Treaty, which promotes analysis and protected use of nuclear energy, demonstrates that EU cooperation on nuclear continues to exist.
Nonetheless, the treaty is “not at scale economically,” he provides, saying that additional initiatives are wanted to assist the event of Europe’s nuclear business.
“If the EU doesn’t want to develop a bigger funds [for nuclear], then allow us to multiply interstate cooperation alongside the strains of the ‘nuclear alliance’ led by France, which brings collectively 11 member states,” Armand suggests.
“And if EU competitors coverage at instances weakens our industrial capability and isn’t able to preserving our vitality provides, then it should be modified,” the MP added. “This is without doubt one of the six classes of my report: vitality will not be a commodity like another that may be traded on a deregulated market.”
In his report, Armand additionally denounces the French “phantasm” in the case of the nation’s electrical energy manufacturing capability, which hides the surge in electrical energy demand projected within the coming years because of the decarbonisation of the financial system.
“In consequence, we are actually confronted with an ‘vitality wall’,” Armand says, which suggests scaling up electrical energy manufacturing in Europe to an unprecedented scale to fulfill future electrical energy demand.
By way of vitality safety, this implies opening new mines in Europe in order that native firms are able to producing wind generators, batteries and photo voltaic panels on European soil with out being depending on international imports.
“If there was one takeaway from this report, it’s that we face this ‘vitality wall’,” Armand mentioned.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon/Alice Taylor]