EDF representatives file legal challenge in France over Hinkley Point
Tensions over Britain’s proposed nuclear power station at Hinkley Point have flared again in France as five worker representatives on the board of the French power company EDF filed a challenge to overturn the company’s controversial decision to build the nuclear reactors.
The employee representatives believe EDF’s chief executive “did not communicate crucial information about a major project” he was aware of before the 28 July meeting at which the board of directors approved the £18bn project to build Britain’s first new nuclear reactors in decades, their law firm told Agence France-Presse.
The five union board members have filed a complaint with the Paris commercial court seeking to annul the decision because the Jean-Bernard Levy had not shared essential information with all board members.
The complaint also protests against the participation of several directors “with conflicts of interests”, according to the law firm Alain Levy. The challenge claims that some of the EDF board members who voted in favour of Hinkley Point represent companies that are EDF customers and could benefit from the UK contract. French firms Bouygues and Vallourec have denied that members of their boards who are also on the board of EDF had a conflict of interest in their Hinkley Point vote.
Laurent Langlard, spokesman for the national mines and energy branch of the powerful CGT union which is supporting the court action brought by the five board members, said: “We’re worried. We have never been against the Hinkley Point project in itself. Our concern is the timing. This project can’t be charged into too fast. EDF’s economic situation is serious. More time has to be taken for full feedback and lessons to be learnt. So we want the board decision annulled and we want a full debate at board level.”
He said ensuring that EDF could financially stay on its feet was paramount and the company should take two more years to study and prepare the project.
The complaint is the latest in several objections to Hinkley Point by workers at EDF. It follows previous legal efforts by several of EDF’s unions to block and then overturn the approval of the project, which they consider a huge financial risk to the heavily indebted company.
The unions argue that Levy and representatives of the French state should have informed the board that they knew the British government wanted to take more time to review the contract.
Hours after EDF’s board approved the project last month, the UK governmentpostponed its decision until early autumn. Days later, in an email to top EDF executives, Levy admitted that the night before the board meeting he had been told the new prime minister Theresa May wanted a bit more time. He said he had learned that May “was asking for a little more time, without reassessing the project, without giving the date when it could be signed”.
However, the unions said that at the board meeting “the British desire to proceed very quickly was again presented as a reason to quickly sign” the deal. Levy has denied lying to board members, saying he was not aware that the British government would in fact announce hours later a review of the project.
The nuclear reactors carry huge risks for both France and Britain. EDF will assume the upfront costs, which unions say could jeopardise the firm’s survival, while Britain has committed to pay a price twice current market levels for the power generated by the plant.
“Some board members discovered they did not benefit from the same level of information as the CEO and government representative,” the CGT, CFE-CGC and FO unions said. The moderate CFDT union did not sign the statement.
The unions added there was no justification to push the board to vote on the project in a hurry. The unions warned earlier this month that this amounted to a “governance scandal”.
The French government has been keen to get Hinkley Point approved as it sees the project as crucial for the long-term viability of France’s nuclear industry, which employs 220,000 people.
Previous British governments have also been in favour because the reactors would cover up to 7% of Britain’s electricity needs while helping the government meet its CO2 emissions targets.
But British support is not unanimous, and criticism focuses on the growing difference between an electricity price guarantee for EDF, subsidised by the British taxpayer, and current falling energy prices.
There have also been national security concerns about Chinese involvement in the project – Beijing has a one-third stake in the plan.
A date for a Paris court hearing should be set on 5 September.
EDF is also being sued by its Works Council, which also wants to annul the vote because it argues it had not received the necessary documents from management to give non-binding preliminary advice to the company.
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