France’s newly appointed Energy Minister Delphine Batho previously supported taxing oil companies to help replenish government coffers and pay for transport infrastructure.
Batho, 39, takes over the Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy portfolio from Nicole Bricq, who held the position for five weeks and suspended offshore drilling plans by Total SA (FP) off French Guiana only to later reinstate them.
While debating an environment law in 2008, Batho, then in opposition, presented an amendment that would have tapped the oil industry as a source of funding for public transport during times of budgetary constraints.
While the amendment was rejected, it echoes a pledge by Socialist President Francois Hollande during the presidential campaign to impose special taxes on banks and oil companies to raise money for the state in the absence of economic growth.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault reshuffled his government yesterday following legislative elections that handed Hollande a parliamentary majority in the National Assembly, where Batho is a lawmaker from the Deux-Sevres department in western France. She was one of his spokesmen during the campaign.
Batho, who specializes in security issues, was a member of the law commission in parliament and vice-president of the food and health group, according to the National Assembly website.
In the first energy decision by the new government today, Total, along with partners Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA) and Tullow Oil Plc (TLW), got the go-ahead to start drilling off the coast of French Guiana as they seek to confirm last year’s landmark find.
Their drilling plans were thrown into question last week after Bricq suspended exploration permits and then did an about- face to reinstate the validity of those already granted. The companies have a $1 million-a-day drilling rig in place to begin probing the deepwater Guyane Maritime permit in French Guiana, an overseas region of France bordering Brazil.
Bricq’s ouster is a “strange signal” from Ayrault’s government, Greens Senator Jean-Vincent Place said in an interview on Europe 1 radio today. The change may have resulted from “extremely strong lobbying” from the oil companies, who wanted to be allowed to continue their exploration campaign.
Batho is expected to make a decision within a month on whether to raise regulated natural gas prices in the French market dominated by GDF Suez SA. New power rates by Electricite de France SA could also be decided.
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