Electric madness

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Electric madness

ICI NOUS ALLONS encore. The French have a way of getting under the skin of the Energy Minister, John Battle, particularly when it comes to electricity. The latest cause of friction is France's failure to open up its domestic power market to competition from the likes of British Energy.

The EU directive requiring the French to open up a quarter of their market to other suppliers has been in force now for five months, but since they show no willingness to do so, who's counting? Mr Battle is. In fact he's so irritated that he has written to his opposite number in Paris warning that Britain will retaliate by pulling the plug on French electricity imports unless it implements the new law inside three months.

Some hope, you might think, given the leisurely Gallic attitude to EU directives at the best of times and the fact that the French political classes will soon be heading to their gites for August. This is not the first run-in between Mr Battle and the French. He failed to persuade Brussels to refer Electricite de France's acquisition of London Electricity back to the UK, thus missing a chance to lever open the French market.

Now the European Commission has helpfully pointed out that actually there is no provision in UK law allowing us to retaliate against French electricity imports. Even if ministers get around to enacting such a law, it would probably be academic since there are no British generators who could compete on price with EdF's heavily subsidised nuclear power. The issue may shortly be academic for Mr Battle too if the leaks about the forthcoming ministerial reshuffle are accurate.