The new French prime minister, Jen-Pierre Raffarin, has promised a progressive privatisation of the state controlled energy giants Electricité de France and Gaz de France while keeping them in the public sector. The French leader emphasised his belief in decentralisation, and the government’s determination to withdraw from the competitive sector except where strategic interests are at stake and repeated the similar commitments his party made during its election run-up. But the policy statement was as vague as those of its predecessors, containing no figures for the partial privatisation nor any schedule, and there was no positive commitment to moving EDF and GDF out of the public sector or to further opening up of the energy market to competition.

The legal status of the two utilities will be changed so as to allow them to ‘… develop their strategies in the outside world, while still respecting the demands of public service and remaining in the public sector’. However a partial sell-off would provide the capital income the government needs to help finance the state pension scheme and prop up the loss-making railway network, and may mollify growing criticism from the EU and its individual states over EDF’s aggressive acquisition policy while the French market remains protected from outside acquisitions. M Raffarin also promised a new approach to overall energy policy – a public debate, followed by new laws to encourage an increased role for renewables and recognition of the value of nuclear power.

The Socialist opposition has warned that the left would fight to prevent any change in EDFs status.

l Following a customer survey about what its ‘mission’ should be, EDF has committed itself to burying 90 per cent of new medium voltage transmission lines as of this year, which amounts to 150 000 km in 10 years, in keeping with a policy of ‘enhancing network security and protecting the environment’.