French President Emmanuel Macron is calling for a sharp 10% reduction in the country’s energy use in the coming weeks and months to avoid the risk of rationing and cuts this winter, amid tensions with supplier Russia over the war in Ukraine.
Macron warned on Monday that forced energy savings might have to be considered in coming months if voluntary efforts aren’t sufficient.
He said energy rationing plans are being prepared “in case” they’re needed, and that “cuts will happen as a last resort.”
“The best energy is that which we don’t consume,” the French leader said at a news conference, where he urged French businesses and households to save energy, including by turning down heating and air conditioning.
France is among many European countries tightening their belts as energy costs soar. Russia’s main pipeline carrying natural gas to Germany remains shut down, and the European Commission president says the EU’s electricity market “is no longer operating” amid knock-on effects of the Ukraine war.
Macron did not explain how the 10% energy-saving goal would be policed or measured. Many French homes are already reining in gas and electricity use because of rising prices, but not everyone will heed Macron’s call. France’s prime minister last week raised the spectre of two-hour household blackouts in the winter if solutions aren’t found.
Speaking after a videoconference on Monday with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Macron announced a plan to boost gas supplies to Germany from France to make up for a drop in Russian gas supplies from the east. In exchange, Macron said Germany will continue supplying electricity to France to compensate for shortages caused by maintenance underway on many French nuclear reactors.
The leaders spoke before an emergency European Union energy ministers meeting Friday about how the continent can coordinate to keep warm this winter if Russia cuts off gas supplies.
Macron said France and Germany support the idea of requiring energy companies that are making big profits on recent spikes in gas and oil prices to make a “contribution” to public coffers.
French activists and opposition politicians have been calling in recent days for a tax on oil and gas companies making “super-profits” amid Europe’s energy crisis.
Macron avoided using the word tax, instead saying he and Scholz support “a mechanism of European contribution sought from energy companies whose production costs are much lower than the market sale price.”
Macron also spoke in favour of a price cap on Russian gas, which EU leaders are also pushing.
The French leader reiterated his opposition, however, to boosting pipeline capacity from neighbouring Spain to supply gas and eventually other energy sources to the rest of Europe. Macron argued that two existing gas pipelines between Spain and France are only used at 53% capacity.
“I don’t understand why we are jumping like Pyreneen goats on this subject to say this would solve the problem. It’s false,” he said. “We need more electrical interconnection. I’m not convinced we need more gas interconnections, whose consequences, particularly on the environment and ecosystems, are greater,” he said.
Iberia has several liquefied natural gas plants but little way of getting the gas to the rest of Europe, unless a new, much bigger pipeline is built. Meanwhile, the EU is seeking to move away from gas altogether over the long term.