France exits fossil fuel treaty to boost renewables drive

France is pulling out of a 1994 treaty that had the effect of protecting investment in fossil fuels as Europe retools towards a greener future, President Emmanuel Macron announced on Friday.

France exits fossil fuel treaty to boost renewables drive
France's President Emmanuel Macron. Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP

“France has decided to withdraw from the Energy Charter Treaty,” he told a news conference in Brussels after an EU summit, two days after the Netherlands made a similar announcement.

The move was done to be more “coherent” with the Paris climate accord to combat global warming by relying more heavily on renewable energy sources, as well as to counter speculation in the energy market, he said.

The Energy Charter Treaty started out as a way to protect energy investment, especially in Central Asia and eastern Europe, in volatile ex-Soviet countries.

A key element of the treaty was allowing energy companies to sue governments over energy policy changes that could hurt their investments — exposing states to multi-billion-dollar compensation claims.

But as Europe transitions towards a carbon-neutral future, that treaty has become something of an albatross.

In June, the European Union struck a compromise deal — to come into force next month if no signatories objected — to revise the treaty to limit legal actions where they jeopardise climate goals.

But climate groups have slammed loopholes left in the update and say the treaty continues to put efforts to curb global warming at risk.

The Netherlands announced on Wednesday it was pulling of the treaty on grounds that it was incompatible with the Paris accord.

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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.