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The government in France is urging energy conservation to avoid rationing

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Europeans have a tough winter ahead as their economy recovers from pandemic lockdowns. Demand and prices for energy surge. Meanwhile, Russia has temporarily shut down a natural gas pipeline to Germany. People across the continent fear that Vladimir Putin will restrict or even completely cut off supply this winter. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley gives us the latest from Paris.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Speaking French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Every end of August, thousands of CEOs and French business executives gather in Paris for a two-day summit. But this year, the main topic wasn't striking unions. It was rising energy prices.

PRIME MINISTER ELISABETH BORNE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "This past summer has been a huge wake-up call," said French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, speaking to the influential group.

BORNE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Borne said, unprecedented heat, drought and forest fires had shown climate change is now a tangible reality. That, with Russia's war in Ukraine, means Europe must get off fossil fuels as soon as possible. But in the meantime, she said, if Russia cuts the spigot this winter, Europe won't have enough gas.

PIERRE-LOUIS BRENAC: Some commenters describe this as the perfect storm.

BEARDSLEY: That's energy consultant Pierre-Louis Brenac. He says it's going to be tough. Though France is in better shape than others.

BRENAC: Some of our neighbors are way more exposed - Germany and Italy in particular - for two reasons. Not only are they more exposed to Russian gas, but their energy mix uses much more gas than we use in France.

BEARDSLEY: That's because 70% of French electricity is produced by nuclear power. And while consumers in Germany and Britain are reeling from skyrocketing energy prices, French households have been somewhat shielded. The state stepped in last November and froze prices. But for businesses, the French government warns the only way to head off gas rationing this winter is to massively conserve energy now. France is unveiling an energy sobriety plan for companies. Other countries are expected to do the same. Energy analyst Brenac says Europe cannot come out of this crisis if each country acts alone.

BRENAC: Putin has been playing that card forever, is to try to have European countries fighting between each other and break solidarity. So this is why, already, from the very first day of the invasion of Ukraine, you heard European leaders talk about the necessity of sticking together.

BEARDSLEY: This month, EU energy ministers meet in Brussels to reinforce solidarity through coordinated energy policies and action plans. Yesterday, G-7 countries agreed to form an international buyers cartel to cap the price on Russian oil.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: The keynote speaker at this year's business forum in Paris was President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, addressing the group by video link from Kyiv. Putin threatens us all with his blackmail over food and energy, he said.

(APPLAUSE)

LUIS ANTUNES: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Luis Antunes, CEO of an energy consulting firm, listened raptly. "Ukraine is committed to Europe, human rights, freedom and democracy," he said. "We must stand by it." Antunes says authoritarian Russia and its brutal war in Ukraine pose an even bigger threat to European companies than rising energy prices.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.