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Friday, 19 November, 1999, 17:21 GMT
France faces EU action over electricity
Electricity becomes another bone of contention between France and the EU

France faces a second round of legal action from the European Commission after a parliamentary committee shelved a Bill to open up its electricity market to European Union competition.

Earlier this week, the EU started legal action against France after the government refused to overturn its ban on British beef imports.

Communist deputy Andre Lajoinie, one of 14 committee members, said the Bill, required by the EU's electricity liberalisation directive, would probably not be passed before February 2000, a year after the agreed deadline.

The EU directive, which forces EU states to allow the largest 25% of their electricity consumers to buy their power from other EU countries' suppliers, came into effect on 19 February 1999.

A spokesman for EU Energy Commissioner Loyola de Palacio said the Commission would be asked next week to begin legal action against France for failing to put into effect the directive.

Electricite de France has already moved into the UK market
The plan to take France to court over the electricity directive would need the support of at least half the 20 members of the Commission.

"Because, according to our information, there has been no change in the situation in France, we will push for the start of legal action at next Wednesday's Commission meeting," said spokesman Gilles Gantelet.

"We could have done this before, but preferred to give them more time because they promised the law would be voted through before the end of the year."

Call for level playing field

France has been criticised by other European countries for taking so long to implement the directive.

They say the state utility Electricite de France (EdF) is free to acquire market share elsewhere in Europe, while other countries are barred from doing the same within France.

EdF said it regretted the delay which could pose "serious problems".

It said the decision risked delaying its international expansion plans and tarnishing its image in France, even though it was prepared to face any competition.

Other EU countries, including the UK, the Netherlands and Spain, have hinted that they may keep EdF out of their more liberalised power markets if the EU directive is not fully implemented by Paris.

Mr Gantelet said EU countries were free to prevent market access to companies from other states which have not yet complied with the directive or whose degree of market opening was lower - but only if their domestic legislation allowed for such "reciprocity".

Pick and mix

"The German law includes a strong reciprocity clause, but the British one doesn't," he said.

UK Energy Minister Helen Liddell criticised the French Government for its "pick and mix" attitude to European legislation.

"The French say they believe in the European single market. They must learn to live with the consequences," she said.

Electricite de France has already taken control of London Electricity and the supply side of South West Electricity.

EdF is currently trying to buy a 25.01% stake in German company Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg

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See also:
30 Nov 98 |  The Company File
London Electricity goes to France

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