France is fully behind Brussels’ proposals, including diversifying supply and possibly limiting energy prices, that should help the continent get through the winter unscathed, the Secretary of State for European Affairs Laurence Boone told EURACTIV France in an interview.
Boone, former deputy secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, also voiced hope that President Emmanuel Macron’s ‘European Political Community’ project will foster dialogue and help countries outside the EU respect “European values”.
Speaking about energy, Boone said it was essential “to organise, at the European level, a reduction in electricity consumption”.
In July, European Union countries agreed on a mandatory gas storage obligation, aiming for the the bloc’s storages to be at least 85% full by 1 November 2022 and 90% full for the following winters. On that front, France has filled 96.6% of its gas reserves as of 25 September, according to reports from agsi.gie.eu.
Boone also defended the tariff shield applied on retail electricity prices in France to limit household bills to a maximum 15% increase, but warned that it “implies a budgetary cost”.
Along the same lines, Boone suggested an EU-level look “at the possible effects of the action on gas prices and on the wholesale price of electricity, following the example of the Iberian Mechanism”, which allowed Spain and Portugal to limit the price of gas temporarily and be exempt from the EU electricity market during that time.
On the Commission’s proposal to introduce an EU-wide revenue cap at €180 per megawatt-hour (MWh) on low-cost energy producers, Boone said her government will defend the measure at the meeting of EU energy ministers on Friday (30 September).
Asked whether France would also be prepared to reduce electricity consumption by 5% at peak hours as proposed by the Commission, Boone said: “We support the objective”.
“We were able to do this in the 1970s. Today, we have already reduced our consumption of gas imported from Russia dramatically,” she added.
“Everyone hopes that the winter will not be too harsh,” said Boone, adding that to avoid a disaster scenario, “European solidarity is a considerable asset, precisely insofar as we do not all have the same energy mix.”
European political community
Beyond energy, Boone highlighted her support for President Emmanuel Macron’s idea for a European political community, allowing EU candidate countries and hopefuls, from the Western Balkans, for example, to be more closely involved with the bloc.
On the “European values” the community is based on, the objective is that “all countries are treated on an equal footing”, but without an institutional structure, in the manner of a G20, said Boone.
“The idea is to launch this political forum and agree on concrete cooperation projects,” said Boone, adding that this would be a way to ensure candidate countries are concerned with the interests of the organisation.
For non-candidate countries, it is a way of “agreeing on sectoral cooperation, in defence and energy, for example,” she added.
EU countries, as well as 17 other countries, have been invited to join the group. This includes Turkey, which does not follow the EU line regarding the war in Ukraine and does not boast the best relations with individual EU states.
Asked if this would pose a problem with regards to the respect of “European values”, Boone said that “we need to have an open and frank dialogue”, in a spirit of “political discussion” since the rule of law and mediation are clearly European values.
“Being part of the European family means respecting values, having a positive narrative, as opposed to what Russia or China might do,” the EU secretary of state added.
Yet confronting Russia or China “is out of the question,” she said.
“Our interest, as Europeans, is that regions, countries, citizens, want democracy, with a narrative that allows showing the concrete benefits for the well-being, for employment and for companies,” she concluded.
[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald, Zoran Radosavljevic and Frédéric Simon]