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POLITICS

France slams Jersey as Channel fishing tensions rise again

The French Maritime Minisiter has issued stark words to the British crown dependency of Jersey over its apparent "unwillingness" to respect the Brexit deal.

Fish lie on the deck of a boat in the Channel.
Fishing in the Channel has become an increasingly contentious point in France-UK relations in recent months. (Photo by Nicolas GUBERT / AFP)

The French government on Thursday accused the Channel island of Jersey of refusing to cooperate on post-Brexit fishing licences, rekindling tensions just weeks after Paris threatened to impose sanctions.

The island, a British crown dependency off the coast of northern France, is at the centre of a row about the granting of licences to French fisherman following the UK’s departure from the European Union.

“It is obvious beyond doubt that Jersey is not respecting the Brexit deal,” French Maritime Minister Annick Girardin said during a meeting with fishing representatives in northwest France.

READ ALSO France urges ‘rapid solution’ to UK fishing dispute

“Worse, it is showing an unwillingness to cooperate with us,” she added.

She said that 46 requests for licences from French fisherman had received no reply from the Jersey authorities, while another 52 licences had expired at the end of October “denying these fishermen access to Jersey waters.”

She said the government was preparing a rescue plan of 40 to 60 million euros ($45-$70 million) for French boat owners being forced to remain in port due to the loss of licenses.

“I hate talking about the idea of financing boats that don’t go out to sea as much as you do, but in all transparency we do need to organise the possibility of fleet reductions,” she said.

READ ALSO Macron’s dilemma over the Franco-British fishing spat

The plan raised alarm among fishermen and local officials, who saw it as an ominous sign that France would fail in convincing Jersey to comply with the post-Brexit trade accords.

“The battle is not lost, and negotiations are not over… I cannot accept that we start a massive move to destroy boats,” said Loig Chesnais-Girard, president of the Brittany region.

“We need diplomacy and the capacity to carry through with these talks so that the agreement is respected, because you know as well as I, if we give up on this, there will be other issues” subject to post-Brexit dispute, he said.

Post-Brexit trade war?

 At the end of October, France threatened to ban British boats from unloading their catches at French ports and to subject all British imports to inspections, raising the prospect of a trade war between the neighbours.

Girardin has previously raised the possibility of restricting electricity exports to Jersey, which depends on the French mainland for its power.

Several rounds of talks between the British and French governments this month had soothed tensions and staved off the threat of sanctions, but without finding a durable solution.

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

France views Britain and Jersey as unfairly targeting French boats by either denying them licences or failing to respond to requests, undermining the deal between Britain and the European Union which guaranteed EU fishermen continuing access to British waters. 

Britain and Jersey deny the accusations and say that the rejected French boats have been unable to prove that they previously fished in UK waters, now a condition for obtaining a license.

Analysts say relations between Britain and France are at their lowest in decades due to tensions over Brexit as well as cross-Channel migration.

Paris was also furious with London after learning it had taken part in secret talks with the US and Australia to form an Indo-Pacific defence pact, which saw Canberra scrap a huge submarine order from France.

Member comments

  1. I saw an interview with the Jersey minister who seemed very matter of fact about it all. He said all the French had to do was produce their log books. He also said 17 of the applications were withdrawn when asked for their logs.

      1. Bugger. I’ll have to have a word with Vladimir😎

        As a side issue. Don’t you think Frost is totally out of his depth. He always reminds me of a 70’s Millwall supporter.😄 Admittedly that’s an insult to Millwall😉

        1. I actually think it’s the EU that belongs in the ’70s. Here, though, is something to chew on. If the UK had remained in the EU it would be paying about £18BN of taxpayers money to them this year. Since UK total exports to the EU are about £300BN, the maximum tax take on that would be about £18BN. Consequently , if the UK stopped exporting to the EU altogether, the UK taxpayer would be no worse off than if we had remained.

  2. Alan. Nobody in the EU really cares anymore about your sad little Brexit. It was signed and done, but perfidious albion won’t honour what it’s signed. Never mind the 1970’s, UK is in the 1770’s. The UK government don’t care less about the standard of life of their ‘subjects, just their own self-interests. These angry, pathetic tiffs that the UK keep alive are purely for their domestic audiences and their own tawdry political survival. Wake up.

    (Do you actually live in France or are you a Kent troll? No offence)

    1. You seem to have a gripe but no actual point to make. I’m sure, however, if the UK had not honoured anything it signed , the EU would not be slow in doing something about it . Have they ?

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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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