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POLITICS

French sports minister’s resignation ‘linked to tax inquiry’

The surprise resignation of French Sports Minister Laura Flessel on Tuesday was linked to her "fiscal situation", a source close to the case told AFP, confirming press reports in the wake of her departure.

French sports minister's resignation 'linked to tax inquiry'
Macron (R) stands with former French Sports Minister Laura Flessel in 2018.
Laura Flessel, a popular former Olympic fencing champion, said in a statement she had stepped down for “personal reasons”, without elaborating.
   
Flessel “decided to leave for reasons linked to her fiscal situation,” the source told AFP.
   
French investigative website Mediapart reported that tax investigators had recently notified France's tax infraction commission (CIF) due to suspicions she had under-reported her earnings.
   
Officials suspect that up to tens of thousands of euros of earnings from her media rights business, Flessel & Co., might not have been properly declared over the past three years, the report said.
 
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Macron plugs holes in cabinet as popularity sinks to new lowPhoto: AFP

If confirmed, she could face criminal charges.   

“She did not make any mistake, that is not why she's leaving,” a source close to the former minister said, adding that “her husband was the director” and co-owner of the media rights company.
   
The company, in which Flessel owned 87.5 percent and her husband Denis Colovic 12.5 percent, was wound down in September 2017, according to records seen by AFP.
 
France's tax authority said it was unable to comment on a confidential fiscal matter.
   
Despite keeping a low profile, Flessel had some of the highest poll ratings among President Emmanuel Macron's cabinet after taking office last year, four months before Paris won its bid to host the 2024 Olympics.
   
She had been overseeing preparations for the Games at a time of growing tension between French sports federations and the state over funding, though a source close to Flessel had denied that was her reason for leaving the cabinet.
   
Macron replaced her with Roxana Maracineanu, a silver medalist in backstroke at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
 
The cabinet change, which included a new environment minister after Nicolas Hulot suddenly quit last week, comes as Macron attempts to rebound from his lowest approval ratings since taking office in May 2017.

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ENVIRONMENT

French energy firms urge ‘immediate’ cut in consumption to avoid shortages this winter

France's top three energy providers are imploring the public to reduce their energy consumption this summer in order to save resources and avoid shortages this winter as cuts to Russian gas and oil begin to bite.

French energy firms urge 'immediate' cut in consumption to avoid shortages this winter

In a rare joint statement, the leaders of the three top French energy companies came together to urge the French public to reduce their energy consumption.

The heads of TotalEnergies, EDF and Engie published an open letter in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday calling on the French to “immediately” reduce their consumption of petrol/gasoline, diesel, oil, electricity and gas in order to help stave off the shortages and soaring prices that could threaten “social cohesion” in France this winter.

The letter begs people to begin “acting this summer,” on cutting energy and fuel usage, adding that this “will allow us to be better prepared to face next winter and in particular to preserve our gas reserves.”

Why is there a risk of shortage this winter?

In light of the war in Ukraine, deliveries of Russian gas to France and other European nations via pipeline have been significantly decreased. Thus France, like the rest of Europe, is attempting to fill its gas reserves in preparation for this upcoming winter. The goal is to have French gas reserves at 100 percent by this fall

As Americans prepare for ‘driving season’ (when many families use their cars to go on vacation) and China begins to relax some of its lockdown measures, the world oil market is looking at high demand that may not be in line with current production capabilities. 

France is a relatively small consumer of Russian gas, but does depend heavily on domestic nuclear plants for energy – production of nuclear energy is however threatened by two things; droughts that mean shortages of water for cooling purposes at plants and maintenance issues that have lead to several plants being temporarily shut down for safety

Concern for adequate energy resources has been on the minds of energy providers for several years, according to the manager of France’s Electricity Transmission Network (RTE).

France has been anticipating that the winters of 2018 to 2024 would be “delicate” as this is a pivotal period for energy transition after several coal-powered plants were closed. France’s oldest nuclear plant, Fessenheim, was also shut down and disconnected from the French grid in 2020.

As of late May, almost half of France’s nuclear reactors were offline due to planned closures, as well as issues related to corrosion.  

What is the real risk of shortage this winter?

“There is no risk of shortage in the short term,” assured France’s Ministry of Environment in May, as there are up to “90 days worth of strategic stocks, as well as commercial stocks, which can both be distributed throughout the country as needed.” 

Experts like Professor Jan Horst Keppler, from Paris-Dauphine University, also do not anticipate a widespread shortage, though, “potential spot shortages are possible.”

Horst Keppler clarified that it is not possible in many cases to substitute one quality of oil for another, which could mean that some refineries may experience “spot shortages.” Therefore, he urged that consumers and providers will have to pay close attention to “the availability of gasoline, diesel and heating oil” even more so “than the availability of crude oil.”

Other European countries, however, are sounding the alarm. Germany, for example, will return to coal-powered energy in order to meet demands this winter. 

What are the energy companies doing to combat risk of shortage?

According to their statement, the heads of France’s top energy providers accept their “responsibility to act on the supply side” by implementing short term plans such as “diversifying gas supplies, proactively filling storage facilities, speeding up liquified natural gas (LNG) imports, and reactivating ‘mothballed’ facilities.”

Additionally, the leaders hope to launch a “major energy efficiency program” and a “national hunt for waste.”

In addition to ensuring adequate energy stocks for the winter, the three leaders also urge the French public to consider reducing consumption as a means for increasing household purchasing power in the fight against rising cost of living, as well as an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They also said that reducing energy “immediately” will show solidarity with other European nations at greater risk, particularly those in Eastern and Central Europe. 

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