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French Presidential Elections: Crunch Time for the Country’s Energy Mix

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French Presidential Elections: Crunch Time for the Country’s Energy Mix

France is facing its most divisive presidential elections since Jean-Marie Le Pen shocked pollsters in 2002 and booked a surprise place in the second round.

In the following special report, we analyze the impact of the main candidates’ energy views.

Whether Emmanuel Macron will defeat Marine Le Pen in the second round on May 7 with a similar margin as Jacques Chirac defeated her father back in 2002 remains to be seen, but In terms of policy and world view the two candidates again offer an almost antagonistic choice.

This is also true in energy terms with a number of key nuclear issues to be decided under the next president’s watch. Equally, France’s nuclear industry is at the cross-roads – shaken by delays and cost-overruns at Flamanville-3 as well as safety fears at existing reactors that saw power prices spike to record-highs last winter.

The next French president will be the first since Chirac to open a new nuclear power plant. That person will also need to decide the future of France’s oldest reactors, now approaching the end of 40-year life-spans. EDF’s program to extend reactor operation – the ‘Grand Carenage’ – is hugely expensive, but the alternative of closures would hardly be cheap, with impacts on security of supply, power price, cross-border flows and France’s carbon footprint.

Debates on the need to strengthen carbon prices in the context of the Paris Agreement are therefore to be seen in France’s national interest, but will only work if France can convince its neighbors of shared benefits.

In this special report, S&P Global Platts analyses the range of possible impacts of the two candidates’ views on energy. A victory for the front-runner, center-left ex-banker and former economy minister Emmanuel Macron, could be structurally bullish for electricity prices and in the long term result in France, Europe’s largest electricity exporter, becoming increasingly dependent on imports.

Macron’s views are also closest to business-as-usual with the candidate set to expand on President Francois Hollande’s energy transition path, while far-right candidate Marine Le Pen favors of a ‘return to glory’ for the French nuclear industry and campaigns for a moratorium on wind power.