PARIS Jan 15 French President Francois
Hollande's surprise announcement of a Franco-German energy joint
venture did not target major utilities but renewable energy and
electricity networks, his aides said on Wednesday.
A senior Elysee Palace source told Reuters a joint
French-German cabinet meeting on Feb. 19 in Paris will discuss
ways in which the two nations can cooperate in renewable energy,
and would also discuss smart grids, energy efficiency and
Industry and energy ministers will discuss ways to realise
Hollande's proposal for a Franco-German energy firm modelled on
aerospace group Airbus.
Hollande's proposal on Tuesday had baffled French and German
industrialists and raised eyebrows in Berlin, but the source
said Hollande had discussed energy cooperation with German
Chancellor Angela Merkel during her visit to Paris on Dec. 18.
"We have a strong interest in the closest possible
cooperation on energy policy whether on a political or corporate
level," a spokesman for the German Economy Ministry, which is
responsible for energy, told reporters.
He added that the exact design will be discussed intensively
in the coming days and weeks.
Sources ruled out an imminent capital operation or alliance
between French state-controlled utility EDF or partly
state-owned gas and power group GDF Suez and one of the
major German utilities such as E.ON or RWE.
"The president's goal is to coordinate our energy
transitions and to find ways to take industrial initiatives
together," the French source said.
Hollande wants French and German energy firms to pool their
capacities in the way Airbus brought together engineering and
production skills from the two countries.
"If it had not been for Airbus, our companies would now be
subcontractors to international aviation firms," the source
said, adding that while the industries were different, the
challenges were similar.
The German Economy Ministry spokesman said the cooperation
will be intensively discussed in coming weeks and months.
"If I understand it correctly, the French president was not
suggesting a 1-1 transfer of the Airbus model to other branches,
he was saying that this kind of close cooperation on different
levels can be a be a guide and we share that view," he said.
France and Germany are undertaking major shifts in their
electricity generation mix. Following Japan's Fukushima disaster
in 2011, Germany has decided to phase out nuclear energy, while
Hollande has pledged that by 2025 he will reduce France's
reliance on nuclear power to 50 percent from 75 percent now.
This accelerated shift out of nuclear, coupled with a boom
in renewable energy such as wind and solar, is putting a strain
on their power networks and could jeopardise energy security.
The source said the solar industry was an example where a
lack of cooperation between the two leading European countries
had let foreign - notably Chinese - photovoltaic panel makers
steal a march on European industry.
Hollande's Airbus example does not mean the cooperation
necessarily runs via the large listed companies that dominate
the energy sector in both countries.
"The idea is not to put the likes of Siemens, Schneider or
GDF Suez into one mega-company," the source said, adding that
capital alliances could not be ruled out.
Cooperation will likely take the form of joint ventures and
industrial alliances, and small and medium-sized companies will
play a major role.
A source at a major French energy firm said management was
completely taken aback by the announcement.
A government source said the existing French-German Office
for Renewable Energies will drive the coordination.
"We have already established the structure. Now the
ministers need to give it the necessary impetus," he said.
Former energy ministers Delphine Batho and Peter Altmaier
discussed cooperation in June last year, but the sacking of the
outspoken Batho and the German elections delayed the initiative.
Batho was replaced by Philippe Martin, and Merkel last month
appointed SPD member Barbara Hendricks as environment minister.
Initial talks on the French-German energy initiative focused
on security of supply, better interconnection of power networks
and the support for renewable energies.
(Additional reporting by Madeline Chambers in Berlin and
Benjamin Mallet in Paris; writing by Geert De Clercq and David