Government issues conditions on opening up electricity market

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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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