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ENVIRONMENT

French MEPs demand EU action as British water companies dump sewage in the Channel

Images of pipes discharging raw sewage into the Channel have sparked disgust in the UK, but also fury in France - just 42km away from the south coast of England.

French MEPs demand EU action as British water companies dump sewage in the Channel
The English Channel has once again become a political battleground between France and the UK, this time over sewage. (Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP)

The UK government’s post-Brexit decision to allow water companies, in certain circumstances, to discharge untreated water and sewage into the country’s rivers and the sea has led to more and more pollution alerts, with some beaches declared unsafe for swimming.

But pollution in the Channel also affects France, and now three French MEPs have demanded that the European Commission take action to protect the shared waters of the Channel.

Three MEPs – including France’s former Europe minister – have released a statement accusing the UK of breaking both its post-Brexit commitments and UN conventions by allowing sewage to be discharged into shared waters.

“The Channel and the North Sea are not dumping grounds,” said Stéphanie Yon-Courtin, member of the EU Fisheries Committee and a regional councillor for Normandy.

“We cannot tolerate the environment, the economic activity of our fishermen and the health of our citizens being seriously endangered by the repeated negligence of the United Kingdom in the management of its wastewater.”

Fellow MEP Pierre Karleskind, Chairman of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee, added: “We cannot accept that the United Kingdom parks its environmental commitments made at the time of Brexit and calls into question the efforts that have been made by Europeans over the past twenty years.”

Natalie Loiseau, who was Emmanuel Macron’s Europe minister before becoming an MEP for his LREM party, said: “The violation of the principle of non-regression of environmental protection levels provided for in the trade agreement with the United Kingdom must call for a response from the Commission.”

The UK government did not respond directly to the French MEPs’ claims, but a spokesman told the BBC: “The Environment Act has made our laws even stronger on water quality than when we were in the EU, from targets to tackle nutrient pollution to new powers to tackle harmful substances in our waters.

“We have also made it law for water companies to reduce the frequency and volume of discharges from storm overflows and made it law for water companies to install new monitors to report in real time any sewage discharges in their area.”

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POLITICS

Income tax, property grants and cigarettes: What’s in France’s 2023 budget?

France's finance minister has unveiled the government's financial plans for the next year, and says that his overall aim is to 'protect' households in France from inflation and rises in the cost of living - here's what he announced.

Income tax, property grants and cigarettes: What's in France's 2023 budget?

The 2023 Budget was formally presented to the Council of Ministers on Monday, before economy minister Bruno Le Maire announced the main details to the press. 

The budget must now be debated in parliament, and more details on certain packages will be revealed in the coming days, but here is the overview;

Inflation – two of the biggest measures to protect households from the rising cost of living had already been announced – gas and electricity prices will remain capped in 2023, albeit at the higher rate of 15 percent, while low-income households will get a €100-200 grant. The energy price cap is expected to cost the government €45 billion in 2023.

EXPLAINED: What your French energy bills will look like in 2023

Property renovations – the MaPrimeRenov scheme, which gives grants to householders for works that make their homes more energy-efficient, will be extended again into 2023, with a budget of €2.5 billion to distribute.

Income tax – the income tax scale will be indexed to inflation in 2023, so that workers who get a pay increase to cope with the rising cost of living don’t find themselves paying more income tax. “Disposable income after tax will remain the same for all households even if their salary increases,” reads the 2023 Budget.

Pay rises –  pay will increase for teachers, judges and other civil servants as inflation is forecast to reach 4.3 percent next year after 5.4 percent in 2022. Around €140 million is assigned to increase the salaries of non-teaching staff in schools. 

New jobs – nearly 11,000 more public employees will be hired, in a stark reversal of President Emmanuel Macron’s 2017 campaign promise to slash 120,000 public-sector jobs – 2,000 of these jobs will be in teaching. 

Small business help – firms with fewer than 10 employees and a turnover of less than €2 million will also benefit from the 15 percent price cap on energy bills in 2023. The finance ministry will put in place a simplified process for small businesses to claim this aid. In total €3 billion is available to help small businesses that are suffering because of rising costs. 

Refugees – In the context of the war in Ukraine, the government plans to finance 5,900 accommodation places for refugees and asylum seekers in various reception and emergency accommodation centres. The budget provides for a 6 percent increase in the “immigration, asylum and integration” budget.

Cigarettes – prime minister Elisabeth Borne had already announced that the price of cigarettes will rise “in line with inflation”.

Ministries – Le Maire also announced the budget allocation for the various ministries. The Labour ministry is the big winner with an increase of 42.8 percent compared to last year, coupled with the goal to reach full employment by 2027. Education gets an increase of €60.2 billion (or 6.5 percent more than in 2022), much of which will go on increasing teachers’ salaries, while the justice and environment ministries will also see increased budgets.

Conversely, there was a fall in spending for the finance ministry itself.

Borrowing –  the government will borrow a record €270 billion next year in order to finance the budget. “This is not a restrictive budget, nor an easy one – it’s a responsible and protective budget at a time of great uncertainties,” said Le Maire. 

The government is tabling on growth of one percent, a forecast Le Maire defended as “credible and pro-active” despite an estimate of just 0.5 percent GDP growth by the Bank of France, and 0.6 percent from economists at the OECD.

The public deficit is expected to reach five percent of GDP, as the EU has suspended the rules limiting deficit spending to three percent of GDP because of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Parliament

The budget plans now need to be debated in parliament where they are likely to face fierce opposition. Emmanuel Macron’s centrist LREM party and its allies lost their majority in elections earlier this year.

Macron also plans to push ahead with a pension reform that would gradually start pushing up the official retirement age from 62 currently, setting up a standoff with unions and left-wing opposition parties.

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