Events / Member and neighbour States

France, the EU and the energy development challenge

Wind energy, part of the future energy-mix (Flickr)

Wind energy, part of the future energy-mix (Flickr)

Is France a dunce country as regards energy development and fight against climate change? This is the provocative question discussed by the participants to a conference about the energy development challenge organised by the European Commission and L’Express, a French weekly, on the 30th of April. People coming from institutions or civil society, such as Anne Houtman, Head of the permanent representation of European Commission in France, Daniel Bour, managing director from the Compagnie générale du solaire (CGS), Isabelle Delannoy, blogger and co-writer of the script for the film Home by the photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand, and Aude Faravelli, blogger and member of Les Cabris de l’Europe, a pro-European association. 

Contrary to some stereotypes, France has a polyvalent attitude towards the fight against climate change and energy development, according some opinion polls. Indeed, Guénaëlle Gault from the TNS-SOFRES institute, French people are better and more informed and consequently their behaviour increasingly and regularly evolved, especially since the crisis which contributed to connect the climate change issue with quality of life. This new behaviour can be observed in daily life and puts France in the European average of countries taking into account climate change challenges and energy development at the citizens’ level.

Nonetheless, if French people’s behaviour is evolving, the State’s one may be clearly questioned. According to Anne Houtman, France did not make much efforts vis-à-vis energy policy. Daniel Bour agreed and denounced a too much centralised France and reluctant political decision-makers who hinder an ambitious energy strategy, mainly in solar energy. Despites the Grenelle de l’Environnement meeting in 2008, France, very attached to its nuclear policy, seems to experience corporatist resistances which forces it into the background, regarding sustainable development, compared with the rest of Europe. What is more, the Grenelle de l’Environnement strategy was only a tool for France to catch up its delay and be in conformity with the EU objectives, according to Isabelle Delannoy.

In spite of all, some concrete progress should be put forward both on the European stage and the local one. For instance, at the 2009 Copenhagen Summit on the future of climate the EU-27 spoke on one voice, proposing concrete measures to reduce greenhouse gases. Then, at a local level, the European Social Fund participates in some social or professional re-inclusion projects, taking into account sustainable development issue, as explained Aude Faravelli. All the initiatives place the EU in the forefront in the fight against climate change and for energy development.

So, is France really a dunce country? As the various speakers explained, if the public is globally ready to embrace energy development and change its way of life, this is not yet the case of political decision-makers. But, for Anne Houtman, if this transition is not realised, the financial and human consequences will be much more important. In fact, it is a real shift of paradigm that is needed for political and economic decision-makers who still have difficulties thinking about future investments and sustainable development, said Daniel Bour. This is all the more surprising that energy development may be bankable politically and economically speaking. For example, the CGS managing director explained that a solar plant costs three times cheaper than three years ago. So, in fact, the 2014 French local and European elections should be the occasion for politicians to consider sustainable development issue and really ask the real questions.

Gilles Johnson

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