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'France committed to UK Hinkley Point nuclear plant'

media The Hinkley Point site where the new reactors would be built. AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS

French economy minister Emmanuel Macron has told Britain that France is "completely committed" to the Hinkley Point nuclear power plant in Somerset in England's southwest. Interviewed on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Macron said the 23 billion euro project was "very important" for France and EDF, which is 85 per cent owned by the French state.

Asked whether he thought the deal would go ahead, Macron added: "That's my view, and that's our perspective, because I think it's very important for our commitment to nuclear energy."

"Now we have to finalise the work, and especially the technical and industrial work, very closely with EDF, with the British government, to be in a situation to sign in the coming week or more." he said.

UK Energy Secretary Amber Rudd echoed this positive outlook : "Hinkley Point will power nearly six million homes, boosting our long-term energy security and create over 25,000 jobs, meaning financial security for working people and their families."

But there is a question mark over how the project will be funded.

In October last year, EDF agreed a deal under which China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) would pay a third of the cost of the project, in exchange for a 33.5% stake.

But EDF has been struggling to find the cash for its remaining 66.5% stake and the cost of the Hinkley Point project now exceeds EDF's market value.

At the end of 2015, EDF had a net debt of 37,4 billion d'euros.

Within France, the future of the plant also seems to be in doubt. The company's financial director Thomas Piquemal resigned in March over the cost and last week the French Energy Minister Ségolène Royale said it should be delayed.

"More proof of the viability of this project is needed and guarantees that the money invested in the project will not be siphoned off renewable energy projects" said Royale.

After a meeting on 6 April, the Energy and Mines trade union (FO) reiterated its demand to delay the construction of the two new reactors for at least three years.

Meanwhile, John Sauven, director of Greenpeace points out that Macron has been sending mixed messages to the French public on the situation, by continually stressing that no final decision has yet been made.

Further expressing his position on Britain's economy in light of the upcoming referendum on the UK's European membership, Macron on Thursday urged Britain to remain in the bloc, saying it was "in its interests" to protect its trade position.

The referendum campaign period formally kicked off on Friday with latest polls suggesting a dead heat.

Macron, a 38-year-old former banker, predicted years of uncertainty if Britain votes to leave in the June 23 referendum, and doubted it would be able to negotiate favourable trade terms from the outside.

Speaking at a Financial Times conference on the future of Europe, he said "You will take two years to renegotiate something new, for what? The sort of relationship that Norway or Switzerland have".

"Don't forget that they contribute to the budget to get access, and not even to the full fledged single market" he added.

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