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Center-right executive Henri Proglio will not be reappointed CEO of France’s state-owned utility Electricité de France (EDF) when his term runs out next month, and will be replaced by Jean-Bernard Lévy, who now runs defense electronics giant Thales Group.
Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron announced the move, which would end a fairly acrimonious relationship between Proglio, known for his strong temper, and Socialist President François Hollande, who wants to reduce the proportion of nuclear power used to generate the country’s electricity.
During his current five-year term as EDF’s CEO, Proglio also had to accept a significant pay cut, yet still wanted to retain the position.
EDF has its own committee tasked with appointing the CEO and 12 directors whose terms expire on Nov. 22. Yet despite efforts to make such decisions more transparent, the government, which once owned the utility outright, still holds an 84.5 percent share in it, and the nation’s president retains the right to name a CEO.
Furthermore, Hollande's government said Proglio’s contract wouldn’t be renewed because the CEO, now 65, couldn’t have completed a second five-year term because EDF’s bylaws require its chief executive to be under 67 years old.
“This is a normal thing,” Macron said. “The state is by far the majority shareholder.”
EDF, created after World War II, is one of the most powerful utilities in Europe, in large part because it operates 58 nuclear reactors that generate almost 80 percent of France’s electricity, more than in any other country. Lately, though, the government has worked toward reducing the nuclear share to 50 percent by 2025, a step that some say would lessen EDF’s prominence in Europe’s power market.
Hollande’s predecessor, the center-right President Nicolas Sarkozy, appointed Proglio to head EDF in November 2009. Since then, Proglio has been an activist CEO, agreeing to develop nuclear power plants in United Kingdom and China, as well as in France, among other initiatives.
Lévy, 59, is a former civil servant who also has experience as a telecommunications executive. His government service includes serving as chief of staff in the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications. Lévy was named CEO of the French telecom giant Vivendi, but 10 years later resigned in a dispute with the chairman, Jean-René Fourtou, over corporate strategy, then quickly moved to Thales, a French multinational company that provides services for the aerospace, defense, transportation and security markets, and designs and builds electrical systems.
As the new CEO of EDF, Lévy would take a sharp cut in salary along with all other CEOs of state-owned companies. Two years ago, Hollande’s government capped their reimbursement at about $575,000, less than half of the more than $1.4 million that Lévy made last year at Thales.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com