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Hot Topic: Macron vs Le Pen – The future of French energy politics

Friday, April 28, 2017


When it comes to energy and climate policy, the two contenders for the French Presidency have very contrasting views – one embraces globalisation and RES while the other focuses on protectionism propelled by nuclear and hydrogen power

Macron-LePen comparison table

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French elections and the two contenders

France is undergoing one of the most divisive and controversial elections in the history of the Fifth Republic, with significant consequences for the established parties and political system that will likely be long-debated. In the first round of the elections held on 23 April 2017, voter turnout was 78,69%. The two contenders that will continue on to the second round are Emmanuel Macron with 24,01% of the votes and Marine Le Pen who came in second with 21,3%.

The self-proclaimed centrist, Macron, and the nationalist leader, Le Pen, could hardly stand further apart in their agenda, with widely diverging programmes and proposals for reforms. While the former supports France being a leading force in the EU and a more globalist liberal approach, the latter outlines a so-called “intelligent protectionism” and “economic patriotism” of the French Republic outside the Union. This main difference translates also into their views on energy and the environment, their proposed reforms, and their idea of the way forward for French and EU energy policy. With the second round just around the corner on 07 May 2017, it is worthwhile to compare where the two candidates stand on energy and climate issues and analyse the potential impact of their respective position.

See below the comparison table for the two candidates’ energy positions.

Macron

macronEmmanuel Macron, the leader of the party En Marche! (“On The Move!”) created in 2016, is a former investment banker who characterises himself as being a centrist pro-EU outsider to the French establishment, even though he held the position of economy minister in one of the socialist governments of President François Hollande. Macron also held the position of Deputy Secretary General of the Presidency.

His vision on energy policy and climate action is based on continuing some of the current policies, as well as reform proposals centred on a shift from the current model based on fossil fuels towards RES energy. According to the candidate, the transition towards RES will be positive for France since it will create new jobs. In his presidential programme, the centrist candidate states that climate change is a pressing problem in the 21st century, and that RES energy should be the future. Additionally, when it comes to international climate action and transnational treaties, Macron has pledged to make the implementation of the Paris Agreement a priority for his administration, as well as to propose trade sanctions at EU level for countries that do not comply with the environmental clauses of trade agreements with the Union.

Furthermore, the ex-minister supports the complete closure of all French coal plants by 2022 as well as a realistic reduction of the current cap on nuclear power’s share in the French energy mix – from 75% to 50% in 2025. He stated that the gap in the energy mix after such closures could be resolved by RES and he is also outlining a new target, namely to double current French wind and solar capacity by 2022. Macron has also pledged not to grant any new hydrocarbon exploration permits, which is in stark contrast to his actions as Minister of the Economy, when he issued a number of oil and gas exploration licences.

Finally, Macron has also pledged to support energy storage and grid technologies as a way to reduce demand/supply imbalances, as well as to help the acceleration of the rollout of charging points for electric vehicles. In addition, he pledged to include ecological costs into the carbon price and to firmly follow the planned increase of the carbon tax from €22/tCO2 in 2016 to €100/tCO2 by 2030.

In their own words:

Macron:

“We have a dependency problem because it is not good to have 75% of our electricity depend on nuclear power. I will maintain the cap from the energy transition law [50% cap on nuclear power by 2025] because I think it is good.”

Le Pen:

“Without [French] intelligent protectionism, we will watch jobs be destroyed.”

Le Pen

le penMarine Le Pen, who announced after the first round that she will (temporarily) step down as a leader of the French nationalist party Front National (FN), focuses on a policy of “intelligent protectionism” and “economic patriotism”. In terms of energy policy, according to the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the former President of the FN, this type of approach is aimed at modernising and securitising the French nuclear industry, which is set to play a key role in Le Pen’s future energy plans. Furthermore, Le Pen plans to introduce an immediate moratorium on wind energy. However, other types of RES like solar and bioenergy will receive support as long as they are French.

The right-wing leader who is a self-proclaimed environmental advocate launched a nationalist environmental movement back in 2014. The ‘New Ecology’ movement has been opposing international climate talks and voicing its support for the French nuclear industry. This vision is reiterated in Le Pen’s main presidential proposals for the future of French energy and environment policy, which include achieving a shift towards local production and consumption and recycling waste on site, as well as extending the life of French nuclear power plants (known as Grand Carénage) and to 100% renationalising Électricité de France S.A. (EDF).

In contrast to Macron, the rather extreme right-wing candidate does not explicitly outline in her presidential programme the future of French coal plants, or whether she will support a carbon tax. Furthermore, Le Pen differs from the ex-minister on the issue of transportation since she does not mention support for EV infrastructure or greener vehicles but rather pledges to support the continuation of diesel subsidies. Instead, in order to reduce the state dependence on oil she pledges to support the French hydrogen industry and to promote hydrogen cars.

Conclusion

The choice by French voters of these two candidates who do not represent either of the two French established parties – the Socialist Party (Parti socialiste) and the Republicans (Les Républicains) – shows the general dissatisfaction of the French with the established order and the deep divisions on crucial issues from social matters and economy to energy and the environment.

The two contenders that are continuing onto the second round seem to speak more to the French electorate. Their nearly opposing views on what the future energy mix in France should be – from a reduction of nuclear energy and doubling RES capacity to a reliance on modernised nuclear plants and an immediate moratorium on wind power – seem to reflect the French public’s divide on the topic.

A win for Le Pen could possibly downplay French global climate actions and would probably favour some support for national nuclear power, while a Macron victory would perhaps continue a number of policies from the current administration and would focus on a more realistic phasing out of fossil fuels. It remains to be seen whether whoever is elected as the new President will actually deliver on the energy pledges from his/her campaign.

Regardless of who will be the eighth President of the Fifth Republic, the discourse in French politics has shifted. With such diverse views on almost all energy and climate related policy options for France, the implications for the future of French and EU energy policies will be substantial. However, without firm support from the National Assembly (for which elections are in June 2017), it is highly unlikely that the next President would materialise drastic changes from the current course.

 

Macron-LePen comparison table

Links:

Ministère de l’intérieur

Vox

Platts

Ministère de l’Environnement, de l’Énergie et de la Mer

The Energy Collective

The Carbon Brief

The Guardian (i)

Deutsche Welle

The Guardian (ii)

BBC News

TruthOut

Reuters

BFMTV