Rural French communes forced to cut services due to rising energy bills

Soaring energy prices have seen France's smaller communes forced to close swimming pools and meeting spaces and turn off street lamps as they struggle to pay the bills.

Rural French communes forced to cut services due to rising energy bills
Small communes are struggling with rising energy bills. Photo by LOU BENOIST / AFP

In rural France, small communes have been forced to make cutbacks as heating bills have swallowed up more and more of their budgets. 

In Oissel-sur-Seine, Normandy, the local authority was forced to close the swimming pool because heating it had become too expensive. 

“In the first two months of 2021, we had to pay €40,000 to heat all the buildings in the town. This year, over the same period, the bill went up to €165,000,” Mayor Stéphane Barré told Libération

Administrative buildings have turned down the heating and some party venues have been closed to avoid unnecessary costs. Barré is calling on the government to reduce or even scrap VAT on gas purchased by local authorities. 

The Oissel-sur-Seine case is far from isolated, with one unpublished study from the Fédération nationale des collectivités concédantes et régies (FNCCR) pointing to energy cost increases of up to 300 percent over the space of a year – and that was before the invasion. 

The commune of Bohain-en-Vermandois in the northern Hauts-de-France region, described the current situation as “unprecedented” and has put a number of public works on hold. 

Over the weekend, it will cut street lamps between midnight and 5am, starting on Saturday. During the week, lamps will be cut between 11pm and 5am. 

“I know that some fear a heightened risk of burglary and theft but studies show that this is not the case,” wrote the Mayor in a Facebook post

Meanwhile in Sainte-Néomaye in the south west Nouvelle Aquitaine region, where energy costs have nearly doubled in the space of a year, heating has been cut off at the public gym, renovation works accelerated and other public works cancelled. 

“For us it is enormous,” Mayor Roger Largeaud told Libération. “No one would have thought we would get to this point one day.” 

Job cuts 

A number of communes have also been forced to reduce staffing. 

The 7,000-person town of Sénas, in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, does not intend to hire any replacements for five staff who are retiring. 

“It will have concrete consequences for certain services, like the médiathèque, which will have opening hours reduced. There will also be an overload of work for other employees of the town hall,” Mayor Philippe Ginoux told Libération.

“But it was either that or an increase in tax. If the price increases continue, who knows whether we will not have a choice?” 

So what is the government doing? 

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent western sanctions, energy prices have been soaring across Europe. The French government has reduced taxes on electricity and introduced a special rate for communes that employ less than ten people, while individual households have had gas prices frozen until the end of June. 

Some rural authorities are asking for this price freeze to also apply to rural authorities.  

“As soon as we ask for help, no one responds. When we are in the s*** and cry for help, they let us suffer,” said Ginoux.

In the long term, the French government is seeking to end France’s dependency on Russian gas and oil supplies by 2027.

In the short term, a system of ‘load-shedding’ has been discussed as a last resort, whereby energy supplied to different parts of the country on a rotating basis. Hospitals, schools and retirement homes would not be subject to this policy. 

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France ‘strongly condemns’ Russia’s expulsion of its diplomats

France "strongly condemns" the expulsion of 34 of its diplomats by Russia, the foreign ministry said Wednesday, a tit-for-tat move by Moscow after Paris ordered some Russian staff to leave.

France 'strongly condemns' Russia's expulsion of its diplomats

Saying the step had “no legitimate basis”, the ministry said in a statementthat “the work of the diplomats and staff at (France’s) embassy in Russia… takes place fully within the framework of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic and consular relations” — whereas Paris expelled the Russian staff in April on suspicion of being spies.

Moscow said Wednesday it was expelling 34 “employees of French diplomatic missions” in a tit-for-tat move following the
expulsion of Russian diplomats from France as part of joint European action over Russia’s campaign in Ukraine.

“Thirty four employees of French diplomatic missions in Russia have been declared persona non grata,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement, adding that they have two weeks to leave the country.

Moscow made the announcement after summoning France’s ambassador to Russia, Pierre Levy, and telling him that the expulsion of 41 employees of Russian diplomatic missions was a “provocative and unfounded decision”, the statement

“It has been stressed that this step causes serious damage to Russian-French relations and constructive bilateral cooperation,” the foreign ministry said.

French President Emmanuel Macron initially led diplomatic outreach to the Kremlin over Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine but his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin have eventually tapered off and overt French military
support to Ukraine has increased in recent months.