French minister cries foul over firing

France's President Hollande delivers a speech as he attends a ceremony to award french personalities with the Legion d'Honneur at the Elysee Palace in Paris08 July 2013, News Wires – Former French Environment Minister Delphine Batho has told news outlets she was ousted because of her support for a ban on shale drilling and lower dependence on nuclear power, reports said.

The ex-minister continued her public criticism of the government, saying in an interview on RMC radio that there is “enormous malaise” and “disappointment” with the administration, according to Bloomberg.

“The battle crystallized notably on the question of shale gas and more discreetly on the reduction of nuclear in France,” Batho said at a press conference Thursday at the National Assembly in Paris.

“These forces that I am talking about wanted my scalp.”

Batho, who held both the energy and environment portfolios, was fired by President Francois Hollande earlier this week after calling his 2014 spending plans “bad” because they cut her department’s funds by about 7%.

She left at a critical time as the nation debates its future energy mix after Hollande pledged to lower the proportion of power France derives from nuclear energy, the highest in the world.

An energy law was to be formulated in the coming months and sent to parliament at the start of 2014. The stakes are high for Electricite de France, operator of the country’s 58 nuclear reactors, because it wants to extend the lives of its generators rather than have any of them shut down.

Socialist lawmaker Philippe Martin was appointed to replace Batho. He is a longtime critic of hydraulic fracturing for shale oil and gas, which is banned in France, and genetically modified organisms.

Batho said she “never imagined for one minute” that her budget comments would lead to her being fired. “I won’t remain silent,” she said.

Fifty-four percent of French people don’t approve of Hollande’s firing of Batho, according to a poll published today by BVA for Le Parisien and i-Tele. The proportion is higher at 63% among respondents younger than 35.

Batho said Philippe Crouzet, chairman of the supervisory board of France’s Vallourec SA (VK), had described her as a “disaster” and had commented on her likely departure before it was announced.

In a statement late last night Crouzet denied he had ever “commented on the eventual departure of the minister.”

Vallourec makes pipes for the oil and gas industry, including in the US, where it operates in the shale industry.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on 3 July told parliament Batho’s comments on the budget posed a “political problem” that showed a lack of loyalty to the government. Environmental issues remain “at the heart” of Hollande’s policies, he said.

Batho’s departure is the second by a key cabinet member in Hollande’s government since Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac resigned in March after admitting to holding an undeclared Swiss bank account.

– Upstream

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