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POLITICS

France will not be drawn into ‘stupidity contest’ with populist Italy, says minister

Paris will not be drawn into a "stupidity contest" with the populist government of Italy, where officials have launched verbal attacks on the French president, Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau said Wednesday.

France will not be drawn into 'stupidity contest' with populist Italy, says minister
Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini meets the foreign press in December in Rome. Photo: AFP

“Our intention is not to have a stupidity contest,” the French minister said, adding that the government would not wage a war of words or otherwise seek to retaliate against Rome.

The remark came after Italy's far-right interior minister worsened already strained relations between Rome and Paris by saying he hoped the French could soon free themselves of their “terrible president.”

“The opportunity will come on May 26 (the European elections) when finally the French people will be able to take back control of its future, destiny, (and) pride, which are poorly represented by a character like (Emmanuel) Macron”, Matteo Salvini said in a Facebook video.

Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister, said he felt “close, with all my heart… to the French people, the millions of men and women who live in France under a terrible government and terrible president.”

The fresh attack on Macron was one of a barrage of taunts and criticisms coming from Italy’s government this week.

On Monday, Salvini blamed French oil interests in Libya for Paris’ alleged lack of interest in “stabilising the situation” there.

And Italy’s ambassador was summoned by the French government on Monday in protest after Italy’s other deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio blamed France for impoverishing Africa and accused the country of continuing to “colonise” African nations.

The Five Star Movement (M5S) leader reportedly said on Sunday: “In order to keep the Africans in Africa, it would be enough for the French to stay at home.”

Relations between the two capitals, usually close EU allies, have deteriorated sharply since the M5S-League coalition became the European Union's first populist-only government in June last year.

Italy's far-right populist League (formerly the Northern League) is a close European ally of France's National Rally, led by Marine Le Pen, formerly the National Front which, like Salvini's party, changed its name early last year in attempt to shake off its reputation for racism.

 

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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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