* Green Party keeps distance under new premier Valls
* Royal's pro-environment record could keep Greens on board
* Nuclear, shale, growth pressures will test her
By Andrew Callus and Benjamin Mallet
PARIS, April 2 Former French presidential
candidate Segolene Royal brings green credentials, a high
profile and strong political ambition to her new role as energy
and environment minister at a crucial time for industry and
The naming in Wednesday's government reshuffle of Royal, an
ex-partner of President Francois Hollande, is seen partly as an
attempt to maintain Green Party support for an unpopular
Socialist government with a thin parliamentary majority.
In 2011, Royal responded to a Greenpeace policy
questionnaire with a call for a complete exit from nuclear power
within 40 years. She also backed the ban on hydraulic fracturing
techniques - or fracking - for shale gas development, and in her
constituency of Poitou-Charentes in western France she has
pushed hard for renewable power, sustainable farming and energy
But environmental activists and politicians are sceptical
about whether this record will survive her political ambition in
a role that is traditionally occupied by lesser-known figures
than Royal, who announced her split from Hollande after losing
the 2007 election to Nicolas Sarkozy.
"This appointment will make a noise, which is no doubt the
intention," said Greenpeace in a statement. "We hope the
personality of the minister will not eclipse the crucial issues
linked to the environment portfolio, most specifically energy."
Hollande has promised anti-nuclear and environmentalist
campaigners a reduction in France's heavy dependence on nuclear
power to 50 percent from 70 by 2025 and a cut in fossil fuel use
by 30 percent by 2030 - backed up by a carbon tax.
He has also presided over a ban on the use of the shale gas
extraction techniques that have helped to revitalise the U.S.
economy and which other European governments are encouraging to
reduce their energy bills and boost growth.
Business groups said they hoped that Royal's nomination
would not mean they would have to start from scratch in
difficult talks undertaken with her predecessor Philippe Martin.
"We had worked closely with the former minister lately. I
hope we won't have to start it all over again (and) that we will
be able to jump on the train while it's moving," said Jean-Louis
Schilansky, head of oil-sector lobby UFIP.
Pro-environment groups already accuse Hollande of
foot-dragging on his commitments since he took power in 2012.
They now fear the new prime minister Manuel Valls and economy
minister Arnaud Montebourg will put growth before ecology.
Experts say nuclear policy in particular is approaching a
crucial point, at which decisions need to be taken soon on
whether to extend the lives of ageing plants, commit to building
new ones, or allow gas-fired stations to fill the gap.
Royal will also be a major player in deciding a replacement
for Henri Proglio, head of the state-backed power utility EDF
, whose term ends in November, and who is seen as too
close to conservative former President Nicolas Sarkozy to stay
in his post.
Hollande has enjoyed Green Party support in parliament,
where his Socialist Party has a 3-seat majority.
Until Tuesday's reshuffle, which followed a crushing defeat
by the right in municipal elections, there were Greens among his
ministers. However, the Greens are unwilling to serve in a
government led by Valls due to his conservative stance on social
issues such as immigration.
With Royal as energy and environment minister though, Valls
may still be able to carry their support in big votes such as on
new public spending savings and cuts to payroll taxes for
business that he wants to pass in the next few weeks.
Taking office, Royal said she was a strong advocate of
"social ecology" including water cleanliness, affordable energy,
and action on air pollution. She pledged her support for
projects ranging from electric cars to ecological construction.
"We see in all that, in this ability to innovate and to
create, the amazing capacity France has to face up to the
challenges in this area," she said.
Denis Baupin, a Green member of parliament for Paris, said
Royal had "undeniable competences" and noted her record in
Poitou-Charentes, saying the appointment "signifies clearly that
this question of ecology and energy transition is considered
important by the government of Manuel Valls".
But Corinne Lepage, environment minister from 1995 to 1997
under the conservative government of Alain Juppe, said she
expected the politically ambitious Royal to adhere to the
fundamentally pro-nuclear line pursued by France for decades.
"She is a politician before everything else. She's a
powerful woman within the Socialist Party."
(Additional reporting by Gus Trompiz, Geert de Clercq and
Sybille de La Hamaide; editing by Mark John and David Stamp)