Greenpeace has begun planning an international boycott of French state- owned companies and French firms involved in the nuclear tests on Mururoa Atoll.
Amsterdam-based Greenpeace International believes a well-supported boycott of products like Renault cars among France's key trading partners could sharply increase pressure on President Jacques Chirac to scrap or curtail the South Pacific tests, due to begin next month.
"It's under discussion," Ulrich Jurgens, Greenpeace International's campaigns director told the Independent in Amsterdam, before flying to Tahiti to join protests near Mururoa.
"President Chirac's constituency is the business community of France," he added. Greenpeace believes protests in France about lost exports might carry more weight than the chorus of international criticism.
The French government has a large privatisation programme but the state still owns all or most of several large corporations such as Renault, Air France and the bank Credit Lyonnais. Unfortunately for Greenpeace, some of them, such as the planemaker Aerospatiale and jet-engine maker SNECMA, do not make mass-consumer products.
If the boycott goes ahead, Greenpeace would involve its national groups in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States. These would campaign for consumers and companies not to buy products from a list of French state-owned and private electronics, construction and engineering firms selected because of their involvement in the tests.
Mr Jurgens, who led the successful campaign against Shell's plans to sink the redundant Brent Spar North Sea oil platform, says Greenpeace has no intention of advocating any boycott of French wine or other exports from the French private sector. French wine producers are bearing the brunt of international protest.
"We don't want to hit the small shopowner or the French people, most of whom oppose the tests. We want to hit the French government and Chirac," he said.
He said the German boycott of Shell petrol, which finally forced the world's largest oil multinational to abandon its plans to sink the Brent Spar, was not organised by Greenpeace or anyone else. "It wasn't us who stopped Shell, it was people making their own protest."
Mr Jurgens, one of Greenpeace International's seven executive directors, said the crews of the three Greenpeace vessels which will soon be on station in the South Pacific would try to disrupt the tests.
The French government was a far more formidable adversary than Shell. "I don't know if protest against the nuclear tests is picking up to the same extent as it did against the Spar.
"People may over-estimate our influence; we're a $25m a year, non-violent organisation up against an OECD government with a fully-equipped nuclear navy.
''So of course there's no way we can physically stop them. If we're to succeed, a mass of people will have to pay a key role in protesting. People can have power over unreasonable decision making ... what the French state is doing in the South Pacific is criminal.''
A protest voyage to Mururoa by 150 politicians from Australia and other countries was cancelled last week after the only boat available was found to be leaky. Greenpeace's efforts to charter a large vessel for journalists and politicians have also fallen through.
n The Hague - New Zealand yesterday formally filed a case against France at the International Court of Justice over its nuclear-testing policies, the country's ambassador to The Netherlands said.