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France suspends retaliation against UK in fishing row as talks continue

French President Emmanuel Macron announced that retaliatory measures against Britain over an escalating row about fishing rights will not be implemented on Tuesday. The UK's Brexit minister will travel to Paris on Thursday for further talks.

A French fishing boat off the coast of Jersey.
A French fishing boat off the coast of Jersey. Photo: Sameer Al Doumy/AFP

Discussions “will continue” between France, the UK and the European Commission, Macron said on the sidelines of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, ruling out the application of retaliatory measures because “it’s not while we’re negotiating that we’re going to impose sanctions”.

The UK’s Brexit minister David Frost said he had accepted an offer from French Europe Minister Clément Beaune to meet in Paris. “I look forward to our talks in Paris on Thursday,” Frost tweeted.

 Announcing the invitation to Frost to come for “in-depth discussions”, Beaune tweeted that Britain had sent “the first signals… to accelerate exchanges”.

France had vowed to subject British imports to tighter controls starting from Tuesday, in a bitter row over fishing rights that has grown since Brexit took full effect at the start of the year.

It had said it would prevent British fishermen offloading their catches in French ports, after Britain and the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey declined to issue dozens of French boats with licences to fish in their waters after Brexit.

READ ALSO EXPLAINED Why are France and the UK fighting about fish?

In a statement, a UK government spokesperson added: “We welcome the French government’s announcement that they will not go ahead with implementing their proposed measures as planned tomorrow.

“As we have said consistently, we are ready to continue intensive discussions on fisheries, including considering any new evidence to support the remaining license applications,” the spokesperson said.

“We welcome France’s acknowledgement that in-depth discussions are needed to resolve the range of difficulties in the UK/EU relationship.”

Macron said he had “confidence in British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to take seriously” the French proposals and for the discussions to lead to a “result”.

“For 10 months the results have been too slow, if this new method allows us to have a result, I hope we will give it a chance,” he said.

Britain has also threatened to step up inspections of EU fishing vessels.

The head of the regional fisheries committee of France’s northern Hauts-de-France region, Olivier Lepretre said on Monday he feared that fishermen would be turned back from British waters “over the slightest issue.”

If provoked, he said, French fishermen, who have staged protests in Channel ports in recent months, would “show some muscle” and carry out further action.

France says that dozens of French fishermen are waiting for licences to ply waters between six and 12 miles from British shores, and in particular around Jersey.

After talks with Johnson on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Rome on Sunday, Macron said the two leaders had agreed to work on “practical and operational measures” but insisted: “The ball is in Britain’s court.”

Johnson however denied that Britain’s position had changed, insisting France must back down first.

A day earlier he had complained to EU chief Ursula von der Leyen over the “completely unjustified” French threats and raised the possibility of invoking a Brexit dispute tool for the first time, drawing the EU into the row.

Member comments

  1. Talks with Frost😮 Does frost even know what this is about? Judging by his previous endeavers, I would imagine he will muddy the waters even more. Of course all the British guttersnipe press with the Daily Mail at the forefront will be stating that France has surrendered once again.

  2. It seems the lessons of Trump have not been learned…you cannot apply normal diplomacy to an egomaniac/idiot (take your pick).

    The UK has always been a ‘have your cake and eat it’ style government that will demand and take all it can from international relations…so the softly softly diplomatic approach results in exactly the situation we see at the moment – the UK constantly demanding more, more and more, throwing tantrums and issuing threats…

    It would be nice to see the EU and France stop pandering to them and actually tell them, in suitable diplomatic speach, to bog off once and for all.

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ENERGY

EXPLAINED: Why are French energy prices capped?

As energy prices soar around Europe, France is the notable exception where most people have seen no significant rise in their gas or electricity bills - so what lies behind this policy? (Hint - it's not just that the French would riot if their bills exploded).

EXPLAINED: Why are French energy prices capped?

On most international comparisons of rising energy prices, France is the outlier – but the government control of energy prices is not in fact a new policy and was in place well before the Russian invasion of Ukraine sent gas and electricity prices soaring.

At present prices for domestic gas are frozen at 2021 levels and electricity prices can only increase four percent per year. According to economy minister Bruno Le Maire, without these measures French bills would have risen by 60 percent for gas and 45 percent for electricity.

Both these measures – collectively known as the bouclier tarifaire (tariff shield) – are in place until at least the end of 2022, and could be extended into 2023.

The extension of the price shield was confirmed by parliament earlier in August – part of a €65 billion package of measures aimed at tackling the cost-of-living crisis – but had been in place for much longer.

Tariff shield

The reason that gas prices are frozen at 2021 levels is that the freeze came into effect on November 1st 2021 – well before Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

The measure was initially put in place to help people deal with the economic after-effects of the pandemic, but was extended in the spring of 2022, when electricity prices were also capped at four percent.

Price regulation

But although prolonged price freezes are unusual, the French government involvement in price-setting is completely normal and during non-freeze periods, a rate is set each month.

If you read French media (or The Local), you’ll notice regular articles on ‘what changes next month’ which include gas and electricity prices, usually expressed as a month-on-month percentage rise or fall. This refers to the maximum rate that utility companies are allowed to increase their charges per month.

The government-set rate refers to the basic price plan from EDF. Some people are on special deals or time-limited tariffs, so if their deal or payment plan ends and they go back onto the basic rate, they can see a rise above the government rate.

Around 85 percent of households in France get their electricity from EDF. 

READ MORE: Reader Question: Why did my French electricity bill increase by more than 4%

State-owned utilities

So, why is the government involved? Well, it’s the majority stakeholder in EDF, the country’s largest electricity supplier, and owns Gaz de France (Engie). 

At present EDF isn’t completely state owned – although there are plans to fully nationalise it – but it owns 84 percent.

The French state owns a lot of service and utility companies including the country’s rail provider SNCF, postal service La Poste and France Télévisions. One notable exception is the country’s autoroutes, which are run by private companies, although the government sets limits on toll charges. 

Nuclear 

France is less exposed to energy shocks than some other European countries because of its nuclear sector.

It is unusual among European nations in the size of its nuclear industry – around 70 percent of electricity comes from its own domestic nuclear power plants, although during the heatwave several plants have had to lower output as rivers have become too hot to effectively cool the reactors. There are also ongoing technical issues that have seen some of the older plants shut down or forced to lower output.

READ ALSO Why is France so obsessed with nuclear?

France is usually a net exporter of electricity, but at peak times it has to import electricity, usually via the high-priced international spot market.

It does, however, import its gas, mostly via pipeline – in 2020 its biggest supplier was Norway, followed by Russia.

The French government has launched a sobriété energetique (energy sobriety) plan to cut its total energy consumption by 10 percent this year, which it hopes will allow it to get through the winter without Russian gas. 

Riots

Even before the recent €65 billion aid package, the French government was taking a pro-active role in helping people deal with rising prices – from the price shield to fuel rebates for drivers, €100 grants for low-income households and financial aid for industries such as agriculture and logistics so they could avoid passing prices on the consumers.

Cynics say this happened for two reasons – because there were elections in April and June and because the French would riot if their utility bills suddenly doubled.

There’s a kernel of truth in both – cost of living became a major issue in the April presidential elections and one that far-right leader Marine Le Pen very much made her own from early in the campaign, leaving Emmanuel Macron slightly on the back foot, although in truth his government had already introduced several measures to ease the burden on ordinary voters.

It’s also true that the French have a robust approach to holding their government to account, and high living costs have previously inspired noisy and sometime violent protests – the ‘yellow vest’ movement of 2018 and 19 began as a protest over living costs.

But it’s also true that the French State is generally quite involved in people’s everyday lives – as evidenced by those monthly gas and electricity price rates – and taking a laissez-faire approach such as that seen in the UK would be unusual for any French government, even outside of election season.

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