18 Jan 2002 – French European Minister Pierre Moscovici said Thursday that his country would not be rushed into a wholesale liberalization of its electricity market despite pressure earlier this week from the European Union to agree a deadline to relax state control.

Moscovici’s comments were made at a meeting with media representatives who asked him about France’s reaction to the threat by Commission President Romano Prodi to use powers to force open markets if no progress was made at an EU summit in Barcelona in two months time.

“There has to be the right balance between liberalization and the reality on the ground. We must not accept some dogma imposed by a few civil servants or political leaders,” said Moscovici.

France’s refusal to agree to a timetable for Europe-wide competition in electricity supply has angered European partners who argue that state-owned Electricit√© de France (EdF) has exploited open markets in other countries by aggressively expanding whilst keeping out competition at home. France refutes the allegation and says that foreign electricity providers are making inroads in France.

In reality, the domestic market is still dominated by EdF and industrial users have only recently had the opportunity to switch. The minister adopted a hard line saying, “”The argument presented by EdF stands up.”

Separately, his deputy chief aide Anne Houtman told reporters in Brussels she acknowledged there were “political problems” in France over liberalisation but suggested “minds are moving, including in EdF.”

Spain has made the abolition of public monopolies a priority of its six-month presidency of the EU, which runs to end-June.