Eco-focus for France's new presidency

Nicolas Sarkozy demonstrated his government's eco-credentials by inviting environmental groups to the presidential palace to discuss France's environmental policy under his presidency - but refused to back down on nuclear.

Monday's meeting, attended by nine environmental groups, prepares the ground for wider talks with business, trade unions, scientists as well as environmentalists to be held in the Autumn. The new government wants to concentrate its efforts in three priority areas - climate change, biodiversity and health.

"The era of conferences is behind us, now is the time to act," Nicolas Sarkozy said. "The negotiations will result in a contract and I want that contract to be binding."

Having made the environment a central campaign issue, days into his presidency Sarkozy has already created a "super-ministry" for the environment, energy and transport, with former prime minister Alain Jupee at the helm.

Nicolas Sarkozy has already surprised some observers by making addressing climate change in his first speech after winning the elections (see related story).

"The simple fact that, in a right-wing government, on the first Monday of this government, the president and minister of state devote this day to these goals, seems to show that there is a cultural change, something is going on," television eco-hero Nicolas Hulot said as he left the talks.

But while the Sarkozy government seems open to dialogue with environmentalists on climate, biodiversity and health, it refuses to discuss nuclear power, which it says will inevitably play a role in France for the next two or three decades.

Neither is it prepared to discuss the controversial issue of a new nuclear reactor planned for Flamanville in North-West France: "The previous government signed a decree launching its construction, I will not go back on that," Nicolas Sarkozy has said.

The refusal to discuss nuclear power could prove a roadblock in the negotiations, with some of the participants in Monday's meeting threatening to boycott the autumn talks if the issue seems pre-determined.

"If it turns out that we can't tackle this fundamental issue, we will stay away from the negotiations," said Yannick Jadot of Greenpeace.

Goska Romanowicz


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