Friday, 18 November 2011

François Hollande - the First Compromise!

Negotiation is the art of compromise!
Yesterday, the soap opera concerning the negotiations between the Socialists and the Greens (Ecologists EELV) finally came to an end.  In exchange for a policy agreement to reduce the proportion of electricity generated from nuclear power to 50% from 75%, by closing 24 out of 58 nuclear power plants between 2012 and 2025, François Hollande has offered them up to 60 seats unopposed by the Socialists.  It is expected that at least 30 will be elected. 
At first the negotiations centred on the fate of a partly built reactor at Flamanville, which the Greens wanted to abandon completely, and a temporary freeze on construction was agreed.  The agreement was then announced and immediately the Greens pointed out that a clause concerning the closing of a MOX reprocessing plant at Marcoule had been left out.  Yesterday it was agreed that its activities would be reduced by 50% but it would still continue in operation.  Exactly what that means is not clear but Eva Joly has gone into retreat for the weekend!

A gift for the UMP
This episode has handed a gift to the UMP which has lost no time, for once, in mobilising their senior spokesmen to pour scorn on the whole thing. 
Eric Besson, the Energy Minister has stated on France Inter that going down that route will increase the cost of electricity in France to the level of its neighbours, who pay 40% more, which will lead to reduced competitivity for French industry, and is a recipe for exporting jobs. 
Jean-François Coppé (UMP Party Secretary) has decried the agreement as being carried out for purely political gain and not for the benefit of the country. 
Nicholas Sarkozy has said that the nuclear power industry in France has been built up over 50 years, by a series of left and right wing Presidents, to ensure that France, which has no oil or gas, can have a degree of energy independence and he wasn't going to put that at risk. 

Finally the unions are saying that more than 8,000 jobs will be lost directly, together with many more in subcontracting companies who serve the industry.

François Hollande’s record
François Hollande has no experience of government but according to his own statements he is proud of his ability to unite the often fractious elements of the French left, but there is a big difference between political horse-trading and taking decisions which could have consequences at the national level.

I will be generous and put to one side his leadership of the Socialist Party between 1997 and 2008, when as First Secretary he presided over three lost presidential elections and sent Segolene Royale into battle in October 2007 without proper support.   She had been his partner since the late 1970’s until they separated in June 2007.  They had four children together but never married.

I also won’t dwell on the fact that, since he resigned in 2008, Martine Aubry, his replacement as First Secretary has, over four years, successfully implemented the radical concept of having an agreed set of socialist policies well before the next election.  She has also introduced the idea of holding primary elections to select the Socialist’s Presidential candidate, which have been widely supported by the public.

But he won and she lost!  I think that she was perceived as being too much on the left, too uncompromising and too likely to deliver on her election promises. 

M. Hollande continues to lead Sarkozy in the polls, but his lead is slowly being eroded.  So, if the opinion polls are to be believed, it appears that, at present, the French prefer a presidential candidate who is not likely to impose his own views or successfully reform too much, too fast.  Someone who can accommodate many strands of opinion and is open to wide ranging political compromise! 


  1. What is the stance of the further left parties on nuclear energy, i.e. the NPA and the old Communist Party.

    Is there much by the way of international or even European co-operation to develop lftr? It seems a pretty big task for a county like France to do on its own.

    Thanks for the layman's articles; just the treat for us nuclear plebeians!

  2. @James
    Hi James,
    In the first round of the presidential elections every party with a candidate has equal air time by law. After a few weeks you start to feel that the extremists are already in power. Then everyone votes for their favourite minority party, and in the second round, the top two go through to the run-off and things become more focussed. The net result is that parties like the NPA and the PCF have a lot more influence than votes to support them. Their ideas really are taken seriously however unrealistic.
    The NPA is anti- nuclear and claims to be the only party in France calling for a complete withdrawal from nuclear power generation. They think that 100% renewables is the answer. Their policy position is stated clearly here.
    Even though the starting point of the PCF Parti Communist Francais is that “everyone on the planet has a right to energy” it’s much more cautious than the NPA and calls for a national debate to agree the energy mix which is in the best interests of everyone. Their less clear cut policy statement is here.
    Both are happy to criticise the Socialists agreement with the Ecologists/Greens though for different reasons.
    As far as I am aware there is no European initiative to develop LFTR’s apart from about a million euros of European funding for the research at Grenoble. France like the UK suffers from an entrenched nuclear industry that needs to sell its existing products based on the Uranium/Plutonium fuel cycle and pressurised water reactors such as the EPR. As a consequence the nuclear industry here dismisses LFTR’s as unproven technology. I don’t think we can hope that Europe will put resources into this research unless someone else has done it first, and that will probably be China but just possibly the US!

  3. Thanks for the reply!

    Building a LFTR capacity is a major state building project and would require ideological reasoning akin to that of France in the 1970s. Both France and the UK are second tier states compared to the US and China and it is probably asking a lot for them to go it alone in developing LFTRs.

    Europe would have to unite into a proper state for it to occur and given the current eurozone crisis and the likely alienation of the population towards the EU and Germany (this is definitely happening here in Ireland), that isn't looking like it will happen very successfully in the near future.

    As an old time leftie, it's a bit disappointing that the NPA are so against nuclear. It used to be that socialists were very pro-science and pro-progress. Somewhere along the line the intellectual framework shifted from reverence of science to acceptance of post-modernism. That's a story in itself I guess.

    He's not generally my cup of tea, but I do like this snippet from Trotsky written in 1925:

    "The atom contains within itself a mighty hidden energy, and the greatest task of physics consists in pumping out this energy, pulling out the cork so that this hidden energy may burst forth in a fountain. Then the possibility will be opened up of replacing coal and oil by atomic energy, which will also become the basic motive power. This is not at all a hopeless task. And what prospects it opens before us!"

  4. @James
    I agree with your views about the UK, France and Europe. As well as the financial difficulties that are currently restricting political choices another factor is the divergence of views concerning the future of nuclear power in Europe. I don’t think that there’s any chance of Europe acting in a concerted manner to promote LFTR technology. I think it’s a great pity but being realistic, Europe will follow and not lead in this field.
    Personally I believe that campaigning environmentalists have had an enormous influence on the post-modern perception of economics, science and technology. In some quarters it even extends to the belief that economic growth is a bad thing and should be reversed in favour of the environment. They are helped by the simplicity of their message. Or should I say the simplification of their message, because in fact the subject is far from simple. This simplification is the true stuff of politics; slogans and dogma are what attracts votes and not subtle or critical thinking. Nonetheless I find it interesting that the PCF is less dogmatic than the NPA, but I’m not sure whether it’s due to their natural affiliations with the workers or some more historical reason.
    I’m impressed with your quotation from Trotsky. In 1925 he must have been basing his statement on an understanding of Einstein’s work because nobody knew about the potential of generating energy from nuclear fission in those days. He was clearly well informed and far-sighted.