French MPs say German nuclear shift could hurt ties

BERLIN Tue Apr 12, 2011 8:57am EDT

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's decision to phase out nuclear energy was an emotional, knee-jerk reaction to events in Japan which could hurt ties with France and should have been discussed at the European level, French lawmakers said on Tuesday.

The comments, from members of the French Senate's influential finance committee during a visit to Berlin, come some three weeks after Chancellor Angela Merkel abruptly changed her stance and unveiled plans to accelerate Germany's exit from nuclear energy.

The move shocked close ally France, the world's most nuclear-dependent country, which produces 75 percent of its power needs from 58 nuclear reactors.

"We understand of course this decision by our German partners, but it will cause a large number of problems at the European level and could hurt ties with France," said Philippe Marini, a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party.

"This was a decision that was taken without consultation. We respect it. But it is not without consequences for France and should be the subject of a broader discussion."

French state-owned nuclear group Areva could benefit from increased worries about nuclear security because it makes advanced EPR reactors built with higher safety standards.

But a broader backlash against nuclear energy that spreads from Germany could also crimp demand for French-made nuclear plants in the longer-term. France may also be worried that an acceleration in renewable energy investment in Germany could put it at a competitive disadvantage.

Jean Arthuis, a former finance minister who is president of the committee, said talks with members of the Bundestag during the visit had revealed Germany was still "in an emotional state" following the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Fukushima nuclear plant in northeast Japan.

Radiation leaks at the plant have forced Japan to elevate the accident to the same alarm level as that of the Chernobyl disaster.

The French public tends to be heavily in favor of nuclear power, which keeps their electricity bills lower than the European average.

But since the accident in Japan, the "Atomkraft nein danke!" (Nuclear energy no thanks!) signs that proliferated in the 1970s and 80s have reappeared on German streets and hundreds of thousands of Germans have staged protests against nuclear power.

"I think we need to exit from this period of emotion and talk about this at the European level," Arthuis said. "What we need to do is focus on security, on nuclear security."

Arthuis, Marini and other committee members said a unilateral German nuclear exit was at odds with European efforts to move toward greater fiscal convergence.

(Writing by Noah Barkin)

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