The French cabinet has approved legislation that will ultimately break Electricit√© de France’s (EDF’s) 52-year monopoly over domestic electricity production.

The legislation would leave EDF as an integrated state-owned entity with responsibility for running the national grid. The bill will be presented to parliament in mid February.

The Industry Minister, Christian Pierret, stressed that EDF would remain state-owned, and that it would continue to operate as a generator, transmitter and distributor. “Its legal framework will be adapted so that it will be able, as will its competitors, to offer those industrial clients that can select their supplier a service in line with their overall needs. This is a controlled opening of the market to competition, in line with our European obligations.

“There will be some 400 companies which will be able to choose their electricity provider, as from 1999. EDF will keep, I hope, many of these clients, but other providers, French or foreign, will be able to offer to provide electricity to these 400 companies.

“This changes nothing at all in the public sector mission of EDF or its status as a public company.” The 400 companies represent 25 per cent of French consumption. The EU electricity directive, which comes into force in February, requires member states to open their power sectors to competition for large consumers as a first step to full liberalisation.