Emmanuel Macron faces revolt: French protesters rage as President panders to EU demands

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Dubbed the Hercules project, Macron’s Government’s proposal to privatise EDF sparked the furious reaction of unionists across all sides of the political spectrum. Unions representatives protested against the proposed EDF split as the government has opened the door to what they see as the “plan B”.

Wednesday marked the fifth day of strikes at the call of the inter-federal CGT, CFE-CGC, CFDT, FO since November 26, and the second day in 2021.

EDF, which refused to comment, believes more than one in four workers to be on strike.

The Minister for the Ecological Transition, Barbara Pompili, explained that it would be necessary to “find a plan B” if France does not agree with the European Commission on the future of EDF.

But eight MPs from the left and the right co-signed a letter of protest and asked the government to receive representatives of the EDF inter-union.

Sébastien Menesplier, federal secretary of the CGT Mines Energie federation said: “We won the battle of ideas.

“We believe there is a problem somewhere.

“We consider that we have never been so close to obtaining the withdrawal of the project, so it is important to remain in the streets.”

The unions have shown their frank opposition to the project since its first presentation in June 2019.

They fear a “dismantling” which could result in a split into three entities of the enemy company, owned in 83 percent by the State: a public company (EDF bleu) for nuclear power plants, another (EDF vert) listed on the stock exchange for the distribution of electricity and renewable energies, and a third (EDF azur) which would cover the hydroelectric dams.

The unions are calling for EDF to retain its status as an “integrated group,” whose activities range from the production of electricity to the management of the network and its distribution to households. The project, which was initially due to be presented at the end of 2019, has fallen behind schedule because it is conditioned on the progress of discussions between France and Brussels.

On Friday, the former Minister for the Ecological Transition Nicolas Hulot reassured the protesters by declaring in Le Monde that this “project risked making taxpayers bear the astronomical additional costs of nuclear power and completely privatising the economic opportunities and benefits of renewable energies.”

He also asks to “postpone” Hercules and launch a real debate on the future of EDF, faced with the challenge of its modernisation while its debts are suffocating the company.

Opposition members voiced their concerns and support for the unionists on Twitter.

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La France Insoumise’s Adrien Quatennens said: “Before the hearing at the National Assembly of @J_B_Levy and @BrunoLeMaire, EDF agents demonstrate against the Hercules project.

“Stop the destruction of EDF to satisfy the European Commission!”

He added: “From the perspective of citizens, there is no justification for the Hercules project and the liberalisation of EDF.

“Competition had to lower prices.

“No one believes it anymore. This whole mess has only one goal: to meet the demands of the European Commission.”

EDF CEO Jean-Bernard Lévy claims project Hercules is necessary for the energy company.

On Wednesday, Mr Lévy told the Senate Economic Affairs Committee: “This Hercules reform is necessary because our development, our growth, our investments are seriously hampered by the level of debt that we have accumulated for years.”

The Hercules project must give the group the means to grow, particularly in the energy transition.

EDF is now targeting 50 gigawatts (GW) of renewable capacity by 2030 and with the reform, it could “aim for a doubling” to 100 GW, according to Mr Lévy.

Hercules would finally make it possible to settle an old dispute with Brussels, which considers EDF to be in a dominant position on hydroelectric concessions, he said.

The CEO added: “The Commission does not like EDF very much.”

But Les Patriotes’ leader Florian Philippot blasted Mr Lévy.

He tweeted: “EDF CEO claims ‘the Hercules reform is necessary’ … for his personal career …

“Because Hercules is the dismantling of EDF to obey the orders of the European Union!

“Fighting against this dismantling means getting out of the EU as quickly as possible. Otherwise, there is no salvation!”

According to the current plan, the reorganisation would result in the creation of a public company (EDF bleu) with the nuclear power stations and the transport network, which would also control the hydroelectric dams. Another entity (EDF vert) would bring together commercial activities, electricity distribution and renewable energies. It would be listed on the stock exchange.

Additional reporting by Maria Ortega

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