A major step towards liberalisation of France’s energy market was taken by the French national assembly on 22 July when legislation was adopted to change the status of Electricité de France (EdF) and Gaz de France.

The French government will release 30% of the companies to private investors in a move that finance minister Nicolas Sarkozy said will give the firms the legal and financial means to operate within a liberalised market. EdF shares could go on sale next year but Sarkozy has said that the state will release no more than 30% in a bid to stifle unrest among powerful trade unions.

The change will also remove EdF’s state guarantees, which the European Commission considers anti-competitive.

Sarkozy said that without fair competition in the energy market, long-term problems at EdF would have been masked. He said EdF “has a debt of €24 billion to which you have to add liabilities for pensions and nuclear decommissioning. If that is not condemning a company, I don’t know what is.”

In addition, Francois Roussely, chief executive officer of EdF said the company will need to invest some €20 billion to remain competitive.

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