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French Guiana

French Socialist government accused of caving to big oil as Shell given Guiana drilling permit

Joël Saget/AFP
4 min

Shell will start drilling for oil off French Guiana next week, amid accusations that France’s new Socialist government has caved in to big business pressure in replacing ecology and energy minister Nicole Bricq who had suspended all drilling permits.

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Shell received authorisation to drill off the coast of the French department in south America on Friday and the Anglo-Dutch company’s representative in Guiana, Bruno Thomé, told the AFP news agency on Saturday that it will begin next week.

Parliamentary elections 2012

Bricq was one of the few ministers to lose a portfolio in the cabinet reshuffle that followed last week’s general election.

She was moved from ecology and energy, where she was replaced by fellow Socialist Delphine Batho, to foreign trade.

Ten days ago Bricq and Industrial Recovery Minister Arnaud Montebourg announced a freeze of all gas and oil drilling permits while France’s mining law is revised to increase environmental protection and state income.

The move aroused almost-unanimous opposition from Guiana’s politicians, who believe that the drilling will help reduce the area’s massive unemployment, and protests from energy giants that the government was breaking previous commitment.

Bricq’s predecessor at the ecology ministry, Nathalie Kosciusco-Morizet on Sunday declared that President François Hollande’s government had “given in to pressure from the oil companies”.

She claimed to have stood up to big oil when she banned shale oil extraction when she was minister under previous president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Shell heads a consortium that also includes France’s Total for the Guiana project.

Bricq’s removal was a blow to environmental campaigners and a sign that the government is not listening too closely to the Green party, EELV, despite its presence in the government.  

The party must have hoped to be given the portfolio since a pre-election deal guaranteed it seats in the government.

But its bargaining power was reduced by the poor performance of its presidential candidate, Eva Joly, who received just 2.3 per cent of votes in last month's election.

Thanks to its agreement with the Socialists, EELV has 17 MPs. 

But it has had to make do with two ministers, Cécile Duflot, who is minister of territorial equality and housing, and Pascal Canfin at overseas development.

On Saturday the party elected Pascal Durand, its former spokesperson, national secretary to replace Duflot, who stood down to enter the cabinet.

One of the party’s founders, former rebel student leader and current MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit told Libération newspaper on Monday that its image had become “detestable”.

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