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FRENCH POLITICS

What now for France’s public service broadcasters after TV licence axed?

Questions remain over the future of France’s public service broadcasters after bill abolishing annual €138 licence fee leaves future funding plans for the broadcasters vague.

What now for France's public service broadcasters after TV licence axed?
French public media workers during a protest against the government's intention to abolish the TV licence fee. (Photo: Thomas Coex / AFP)

Households in France will no longer have to pay for an annual TV licence after parliament approved scrapping the annual €138 per household charge, meaning that this November the usual tax bill will simply not arrive.

The measure is part of a €65 billion package of financial aid to help people cope with the spiralling cost of living.

Revealed: What will you get from the cost-of-living package?

But abolishing the TV licence was not without its critics, while questions remain over the future funding of France’s public service broadcasters.

The €138 annual fee has been used to finance the TV and radio channels in the public sector.

It raises €3.7 billion a year – 65 percent of which is allocated to France Télévisions, 15.9 percent to Radio France, 7.5 percent to Arte, 7 percent to France Médias Monde, 2.4 percent to audiovisual archive agency INA and 2.1 percent to TV5 Monde, a Senate report revealed.

TV licence funding currently supplies about half of the total turnover of France Télévisions, while the rest comes from advertising.

Proposing the licence fee cut, president Emmanuel Macron said he wanted to define a budget “with multi-year visibility”, with fixed financing amounts. But, no long-term concrete plans are currently in place.

The government has said there is no question of public service broadcasters losing money, insisting it will replace the licence fee “euro for euro” with public subsidies financed by VAT. 

This model, however, is guaranteed only to the end of 2024 – after which the government will have to present different financing strategies to Parliament.

Despite the bill passing, Senators lined-up to criticise the absence of a concrete long-term funding strategy.

Les Républicains’ Jean-Raymond Hugonet said the plans were being pushed through too quickly for populist reasons and argued it was a change that should have come with a definitive public broadcasting strategy. 

Socialist senator David Assouline said Malak had “hailed the glory” of French public broadcasting but was “creating the conditions to weaken it”.

Assouline has long been a critic of the plan. “From the moment there is no more dedicated funding and we have to draw from the general state budget, we will end up being told that it all costs too much and that we have to cut expenses, close a channel, or even, as we already hear sometimes, privatise,” he told a demonstration against the plans in July.

Concerned staff at France Télévisions and Radio France went on strike at the end of June in protest at the changes, saying that getting rid of the fee amounted to a “threat” to the independence of the channels in question. 

Unions and cultural experts have expressed concern about the possibility that broadcasters’ independence would be eroded if financing was at the whim of the government of the time. Bruno Patino, the head of Arte France, has told AFP that he feared for his channel’s future if the funding model changed.

Another critic, cultural economist Françoise Benhamou told Le Monde: “The disadvantage of budgeting is that we are much less protected from the vagaries of politics, since the latter decides on the budget.”

And LFI MP and journalist Clémentine Autain said in July: “This is a highly political and dangerous measure. Democracy needs a strong public audiovisual service, with a fair financing system that guarantees independence.”

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ENERGY

Reader Question: Why has the price of fuel for log-burners doubled in France?

The cost for one tonne of the wood pellets used to power wood-burners or stoves has doubled since the beginning of 2021.

Reader Question: Why has the price of fuel for log-burners doubled in France?

Question: We have a poêle in our home in south west France and we have noticed that the price of the wood pellets has rocked in recent months – is this an issue all over France? And why?

Although French consumers are largely shielded from the rocketing prices of gas and electricity seen in many European countries, there is one heating method that has not escaped rising costs – wood-burners.

Many French homes have either open fires or log-burners known as poêles, and the most efficient thing to burn in these are specially created wood pellets known as either pellets or granulés de bois

How much do they cost?

On September 20th, Eric Vial, the director of Propellet, the national association of wood pellet heating professionals, told Actu France that the price has almost doubled since last summer.

“Today, a tonne can be bought for about €600. At the beginning of 2021, it would be €300, €350”, Vial told Actu France on September 20th.

The pellets are usually sold in either DIY stories, specialist outlets or hypermarkets and of course the retail prices vary, but in most cases stores have had no choice but to pass the cost increases on to customers.

Why the increase?

Wood pellets have increased in price for several reasons, namely increased demand and higher production costs.

First, demand for wood pellets increased significantly this year. It also came earlier than it normally does, as people began preparing for winter earlier. Many customers placed order before the start of production for 2022.

“The supply is restricted compared to the demand,” explained a spokesperson for Propellet to La Depeche.

The increased demand amid concerns of energy shortages this winter came alongside a general trend of more installations of pellet-burners in France, as installations are supported by the government in an effort to reduce pollution and dependence on fossil fuels. Households can benefit from State aids and subsidies to install new or refurbish old heating systems.

READ MORE: Heating homes: What are the rules on fires and log burners in France?

Between 2020 and 2021, sales of pellet stoves have increased by 41 percent and sales of pellet boilers by 120 percent.

Stores across the country have been forced to limit sales with demand outpacing supply. One such shop is the Weldom store in Fleurance, near Toulouse, who found themselves out of stock in late September. Store owners told La Depeche that they have “a lot of demand at the moment” and if the re-stock delivery “does not arrive, it will be a loss for the store.”

Prices are also rising is due to increased production costs.

According to Propellet, production expenses first increased during the pandemic when plastic and metal elements needed for the creation of pellets were more difficult to find. Currently, the issue facing the industry is the price of electricity. 

Vial explained Actu France that “To manufacture pellets, you need electricity. Because of what is happening in Ukraine, [the price of electricity] has increased a lot.”

According to Christian Lejeune, the manager of the sawmill in Grand-Est, several companies that supply wood pellets are more directly impacted by the war in Ukraine. “They imported their supplies from Ukraine or Belarus,” explained Lejeune to Republicain Lorrain.

Unlike electricity and gas, wood pellets have not fallen under a government price shield to protect consumers from price increases related to inflation. 

READ MORE: LATEST: France to set maximum 15 percent gas and electricity price rises for 2023

Some local politicians, such as the MP for the Ardennes area, Pierre Cordier, have begun pushing for wood pellets to be covered by a price shield, as well as for action to be taken to protect against possible shortages. 

The Minister of Environment, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, responded to Cordier’s requests on September 13th, saying that the government has “taken measures to promote the production of pellet and not be in a supply impasse.” 

The details of such measures were not yet communicated as of September 26th, but according to the Prime Minister’s press conference detailing the extension of the energy shield for electricity and gas, households that use wood-burners will also benefit from the cheque energie, depending on their level of income.

Is there concern about a shortage?

Propellet told La Depeche that “we are not yet in a situation of shortage” instead they are concerned about “temporary strains.”

The association of wood pellet heating professionals expects that the situation will have “smoothed over in the coming months” but this will depend largely on the weather. A colder winter would increase demand.

In the event of a harsh winter, France might need to import wood pellets from other countries, which could prove problematic, as the situation for many other countries is “similar” to France in that there is increased consumer interest in purchasing wood pellets, according to Vial. 

The sector hopes to double its production capacity by 2028, and to distribute an additional one million tonnes between 2021 and 2024. 

On September 22nd, TotalEnergies inaugurated a new pellet bagging and bulk centre.

The plant, which was set up in partnership with the organisation Sea Invest, is intended to boost supplies by increasing the site’s processing capacity from 25,000 metric tons to 50,000 metric tons within three years. Pellets produced will be distributed in a 200 km area around Rouen.

What about firewood?

Consumers have also found themselves paying more for firewood due to a rise in demand – prices have gone up 20 percent since June, according to BFMTV.

When asked about the rising price of wood, the prime minister said that her administration would “look carefully at why wood has a high cost” adding that she believes it “can be produced on our territory.”

“We have forests in France so it will also be interesting to look at whether some people are not taking advantage of the crisis to increase prices,” said Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne.

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