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European Commission pursues France over controversial dam project

French Environment Minister Ségolène Royal announces a consultation procedure over the Siven dam last month
French Environment Minister Ségolène Royal announces a consultation procedure over the Siven dam last month AFP

The European Commission has started legal action against France over the controversial Sirven dam project, which has sparked protests during which a demonstrator was killed by a police stun grenade.

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The commission has sent the French government a letter of formal notice opening a procedure over alleged infringement of European environmental law, spokesperson Enrico Brivio announced on Wednesday.

The construction of the dam appears to have been approved without taking account of the ecological condition of the water that the dam would hold, he said, adding that “we hope to reach solutions” with the French authorities.

A letter of formal notice is the first step in a procedure that can end at the European court and lead to financial sanctions againstthe government if agreement is not reached.

Brussels could block the European money allocated to the project if the case is not resolved.

Before the formal announcement French Environment Minister Ségolène Royal said she was certain that recommendations by a team of experts would satisfy EU criteria.

Work on the dam was suspended after the death of Rémy Fraisse, a 21-year-old Green activist who died during clashes with police at the site.

Royal said that the European action would be a “contribution to reflection” on the question.

Anti-dam activists welcomed the move, predicting that, if it is motivated by concerns over “ecological continuity” such as fish migration, it will mean the project will have to be scrapped.

The far-right Front National called on the government to “refuse to scrap the project under pressure from the European Commission”.

The lawyer for the gendarme who fired the grenade that killed Fraisse insisted Wednesday that his client was “neither guilty, nor responsible” for the death.

A small group of protesters ignored an order to disperse and two warnings before the grenade was fired, lawyer Jean Tamalet told Le Parisien/Aujourd’hui newspaper.

His client “felt the same as a driver who had obeyed the highway code but whose vehicle had been fatally hit by another driver who was not observing the rules”, he said.

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