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France

France

Government issues conditions on opening up electricity market

France will open its electricity market to competition but not yet, not entirely and only under certain conditions, according to industry minister Nicole Fontaine. In preparation for a new EU directive on energy, she recently set out her government's thinking on the subject. A law passed in February 2000 laid the basis for a progressive opening of the French market, but this and subsequent measures make a distinction between "professional" or industrial consumers and domestic consumers. Over the foreseeable future, only the very largest professional consumers will get to choose their electricity supplier. Domestic consumers have a choice of only one supplier, in most cases utility Electricité de France (EDF), and there is no one else on the horizon who they can turn to -- whatever European legislation says. The Commission would like this changed by 2005 but that is too soon for the French government. "France," says Nicole Fontaine, "is willing to accept a date but on certain conditions." The first of these is a reasonable timetable. France could only be ready for competition in the domestic market between 2007 and 2009. And then only if the opening up of the industrial market is a success. The third condition is that France will be bound by "specifically French" needs of public service -- a special needs case which, says the minister, is "understood by our European partners." One translation of this is that France is determined not to break up the monolithic EDF.

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