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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French ex-minister convicted in fake jobs scam

A French court on Thursday found former justice minister Michel Mercier guilty of embezzlement in a fake jobs scheme he ran for the benefit of family members.

French ex-minister convicted in fake jobs scam

Mercier, 75, who served under former president Nicolas Sarkozy between 2010 and 2012, claimed tens of thousands of euros for his wife and daughter for parliamentary jobs  they never carried out.

The court handed him a suspended prison sentence of three years.

Mercier gave “personal gain precedence over the public good”, the court said in its verdict, calling Mercier’s actions “serious”.

As senator, Mercier claimed 50,000 euros ($54,000 at today’s rate) in salary for his wife Joelle between 2005 and 2009, and  €37,000 for his daughter Delphine between 2012 and 2014.

During that time, Delphine Mercier was living in London and did not set foot in the French Senate, but her father claimed she was acting as his “cultural advisor”.

Neither Mercier nor his daughter were able to provide any proof of actual work done.

Joelle Mercier, meanwhile, claimed during the trial that she had served as her husband’s representative at village fairs and funerals.

She was found guilty of conspiracy to embezzle public funds and of receiving stolen money and sentenced to a suspended prison term of 18 months and a €40,000 fine.

The court handed the daughter a 12-month suspended sentence and a fine of €10,000.

Prosecutors had asked for the ex-minister to serve one year behind bars, accusing him of “creating smoke screens” in his defence and seeking to mislead the court.

Mercier had based part of his defence on his rural roots, pitting his “common sense” against the “Parisians” of the national financial crimes unit PNF.

Several French politicians have been convicted for similar offences committed before France in 2017 banned National Assembly deputies and senators from employing family members.

The move came in reaction to a public outcry over a high-profile case involving former right-wing prime minister Francois Fillon, who was found guilty of providing a fake parliamentary assistant job to his wife that saw her paid hundreds of thousands of euros in public funds.

The “Penelopegate” scandal, revealed in a media report while he was the front-runner in the 2017 presidential race, torpedoed  his political career and cleared a path for then-relatively unknown Emmanuel Macron.

Last year, a court trimmed Fillon’s sentence to four years in prison with three suspended — down from five years with three suspended when he was first found guilty in 2020.