A successor for the French state-owned energy group EDF was sought for months. Luc Rémont, from the French electrical engineering group Schneider Electric, has now been proposed as the new boss by the Elysée Palace. He brings international industrial experience and financial knowledge to the table and has already worked in the French Finance and Economy Ministries. He is to replace 67-year-old Jean-Bernard Lévy, in office since 2014, at the helm. Lévy’s mandate expires in March. An exact date for the replacement is not yet known, but it is likely to be sooner than March. It was said that when the successor is found, Lévy will step down.
Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire had already defined the profile in the summer: “Someone who has a handle on large industrial programs.” The person should also have a “sense of compromise” to reform the utility while not angering unions and the EU Commission. Rémont, like his predecessor, is initially expected to combine the two posts, that of president and that of general manager. However, it is not impossible that the offices will be split again. The 53-year-old Rémont, who is little known to the public, was the government’s favorite from the start.
Christel Heydemann, who has been general manager of Orange for several months, worked with Rémont for a long time at Schneider Electric. She sees him as a suitable candidate. “He has many qualities. A great knowledge of the Bercy Ministry of Economy and Finance, experience as a banker, and at Schneider he dealt with energy transition,” she told Le Monde. Additionally, she said, he is internationally experienced. She even goes so far as to say, “I’m a big fan”.
An almost impossible task
Rémont faces the colossal task of getting the ailing utility back on track. Nearly half of the 56 nuclear reactors are idle for maintenance or have corrosion problems. The goal is to have as many power plants running again as possible before winter. EDF’s program is very optimistic and there have already been delays for several weeks, adding uncertainty to the energy crisis across Europe. The magazine “L’Express” sees it as a “Herculean task”, and the daily newspaper “Le Parisien” wrote of Rémont: He “stands at the foot of a mountain.”
Rémont will have to prove his diverse experience in the public and private sectors. He had been at Schneider Electric since 2014, initially in charge of its French operations. Rémont attended the elite Polytechnique College of Engineers and then began his career at the Ministry of Defense before moving to the Ministry of Economy and Finance. He spent seven years at investment bank Merrill Lynch, including as head of its French branch, which is an advantage given EDF’s financial problems. The utility has €43 billion in debt, due in part to government measures to cap electricity tariffs.
He also worked in the cabinet under Nicolas Sarkozy and Thierry Breton, the current EU commissioner for the internal market, when they were finance and economy ministers. This means Rémont also has a confidant in the EU, which could prove useful in future negotiations on nuclear power. “Luc Rémont knows exactly how public decisions are made, which is very useful for an EDF chief,” said a former adviser to Sarkozy. And he is “very loyal”.
He will need loyalty to the government. The state, which holds 84 percent of EDF, wants to take over the utility outright. Negotiations have recently been fraught with tension with EDF’s leadership, especially with its chief executive Lévy, who was still appointed by former Socialist President François Hollande. There is also a need to move forward with the program of new high-pressure reactors EPR announced by President Emmanuel Macron. The first two are to be built at Penly in northern France. All together, it almost seems like an impossible task. Tanja Kuchenbecker