“The busy man”. From the far-left press to celebrity magazines, Gabriel Attal has already earned his nickname, borrowed from the eponymous novel by Paul Morand. “Procrastination” and “hesitation” are not part of his vocabulary. However, stakeholders in the energy world are still waiting for this rapid pace that the new Prime Minister intends to impart to government action. This is evidenced by the saga of multi-year energy programming and the bill supposed to prepare it, called energy sovereignty… which continues to fail to come out. What are we talking about ? Nothing less than the setting to music of the famous slogan repeated over and over for months: making France “the first country to get away from fossil fuels”, with quantified objectives and deadlines to back it up.
Obviously, the reshuffle and, above all, the return of energy to the fold of industry after fifteen years of exile at the Ministry of Ecological Transition, do not facilitate a smooth process. It is not surprising that the new minister responsible for energy, Bruno Le Maire, wants to put his mark on an expected text. What is surprising, however, is that it seems that the latest version of the text is emptied of what formed its very foundation. This major law was to be to energy what the military programming law is to defense – ambitions, programs, budgets. However, the entire programmatic aspect of the law was ignored, including the energy production objectives, both nuclear and renewable. This is unusual in a country where crises are resolved with “one check, one law” – if possible a “major” law bearing the name of the minister who defends it!
Bruno Le Maire justifies this clear cut by the need to take more time for “consultation work”… which has nevertheless been going on for months. What if the truth was not to be sought elsewhere? The fact is that this long-awaited program comes at the wrong time: France has been working for months in Brussels to replace the target for the proportion of renewable energies planned for 2030 with a low-carbon energy target, which would leave each Member State free to define the share of nuclear power and that of renewables. This is a major issue in the discussion opening within the EU on climate and energy objectives for 2040. If Gabriel Attal is a man in a hurry, Bruno Le Maire is an experienced man. The first is, like Morand’s hero, capable of becoming bored, “as in German grammar, waiting for the verb”. The second, on the contrary, knows German well, and the Germans: he knows that this subject is an irritant for those to whom, with his hat as Minister of the Economy, he must make swallow France’s budgetary snakes .
And what about the nuclear sector?
The difficulty is that he is also Minister of Industry. However, the entire energy industry would like to work within a clear, long-term framework, especially since financing low-carbon, very capital-intensive projects has become a combat sport in a world of high interest rates. This is the case of the offshore wind sector, which is being overtaken by China. And what about the nuclear sector? Yes, the executive power continues to declare its love for the atom, but, for the moment, the industry has no firm orders, and, above all, the policy of redevelopment of civil nuclear power suffers from hemiplegia. There is a lot of talk about reactors, but where are the necessary decisions on fuel cycle technologies? Let us recall the words of the boss of the Nuclear Safety Authority, Bernard Doroszczuk, in December 2022, before the Senate: “In your discussions, you must have a systemic approach […]. We cannot separate nuclear power production from the downstream or upstream end of the cycle, nor from waste management. It is the entire system that must be the subject of an integrated vision and programming.”
The energy industry is a long-term industry, but by slowing times, we accumulate wasted time. And this one won’t catch up.