the Elysée in the home stretch to find a successor to Jean-Bernard Lévy

the Elysée in the home stretch to find a successor to Jean-Bernard Lévy

In France, on the energy front, panic is winning over politicians and professionals in the sector. Between the global situation concerning gas supplies and the difficulties of the French nuclear fleet, concern has risen a notch in this return to school. In this context, the process of recruiting the future boss of EDF is in everyone’s mind. Who will be able to save the situation of the national electrician in the process of being nationalized and confronted with major difficulties, unprecedented since 1945? Which profile will be best able to respond to the urgency of the situation and the contradictory injunctions of the State? For several days, the specialized media and the little Paris of business have been scrutinizing potential candidates. The time of choice is approaching, in accordance with what Bruno Le Maire told journalists present at the Rencontres d’Aix-en-Provence in July when he was counting on a new boss in September. And it is not the recent criticisms of the current CEO, Jean-Bernard Lévy, against the state’s energy policy that will push the executive to delay the deadline.

However, faced with the scale of the tâche (to solve the problems of the nuclear fleet in the short term and to lead, in the longer term, the largest nuclear power program in the Western world), the candidates have not rushed to the gate, and the government has already suffered numerous refusals. All this is done in a certain “opacity”denounce several players in the sector, “while it is a subject of national interest. It’s not just about the future of EDF, it’s about the future of France in the next few months and years! »adds one of them. This is not the least of the paradoxes of this file, the future of the public company has notably been entrusted to an American recruitment firm, Heidrick & Struggles, which is nevertheless well known to the State, which had already commissioned it to recruit certain business owners in which the State has a capital, such as Ben Smith to take the reins of Air France-KLM in 2019. In fact, within the government, positions are struggling to align.

Should we separate or not the functions of presidency and general management when historically the separation had caused many tensions at EDF? Should we be keen to promote a female leader (the name of Laurence Parisot has been mentioned regularly)? Both the Elysée, Matignon and especially Bercy have expressed their point of view on the question in recent days. But, more broadly, it is the future roadmap of the new leaders that remains to be clearly formalized.

When Elisabeth Borne is talking about potential power cuts for the winter, Bruno Le Maire suddenly wants to go all out on reducing energy consumption (while no sobriety plan has been decided since the rise in gas and electricity prices which dates back eighteen months…), while repeating that it is necessary for EDF to produce more electricity in a short time. This is how we learned this Friday, when a “Defence Council” was organized at the Elysee Palace devoted to these energy issues, that Agnès Pannier-Runacher, the Minister for Energy Transition, had demanded from the public group the relaunch by 2023 of the 32 nuclear reactors currently shut down (out of the 56 in the fleet). An announcement already widely relayed by the news channels while, according to our information, a meeting is still to be held on Tuesday between the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) and the EDF engineers in charge of the file, to gauge the feasibility of such a government request. One thing is sure, “Jean-Bernard Lévy now wants to leave as soon as possible so as not to have to manage the huge mess to come in the coming weeks”ensures a senior EDF executive.

At the Elysée, the recruitment process for the future management of EDF is bwellsafe supervised by Alexis Kohlerthe all-powerful Secretary General. “In reality, neither Bruno le Maire nor Elisabeth Borne will have a say in this affair! » exclaims a heavyweight of the majority. The Minister of the Economy also specified last week at the Rencontres des entrepreneurs de France, organized by the Medef, that the appointment would be decided by Emmanuel Macron.

The corps des Mines upwind

Last week, the name of Julien Denormandie, the former Minister of Agriculture, was even mentioned several times, before this hypothesis visibly pushed by Alexis Kohler, with whom he worked, fell in the face of hostility from several stakeholders. A scenario that would have clashed with the latest appointments at the head of large companies that are part of the portfolio of the State shareholder which, like Ben Smith for Air France-KLM, Luca de Meo for Renault and Jean-Pierre Farandou for the SNCF, privileged professionals of the sector. A position that Bruno Le Maire still defends, who wants an industrialist for EDF.

The prospect of seeing a political profile named at the head of EDF has made the engineers of the powerful Corps des Mines scream, who wish to regain control of the public group costyou that coute whereas they have been largely excluded in recent years. And these state engineers have not said their last word in the recruitment process, even if they are divided on the best profile to promote. Each clan pushes its favorite candidate.

External applications

Several external candidates are in the running and among them, the name of Luc Rémont often comes up. At the head of Schneider’s international activities, he has actually been on the shelves since the spring. And always on top of the pile. According to some sources, he holds the rope. Advisor to Bercy during the Villepin government, he had worked on EDF’s IPO in 2005. He has the advantage of knowing Alexis Kolher well, with whom he worked at Bercy.

If his entourage assures that he “not a candidate”, the current boss of Orano, Philippe Knoche, is pushed by part of the Corps des Mines. This pure product Areva, a former collaborator of Anne Lauvergeon, supervised the beginnings of the EPR in Finland, and took care of the reprocessing activities of spent nuclear fuel today in crisis. This X Mines worked in the past with Raymond Lévy, illustrious polytechnician and big French boss (Usinor, Renault). But at the time of the difficulties of the EPR, Knoche is not unanimous in the EDF house and among the state engineers, as one of them points out: “While there is an incredible fight between EDF and Orano, it is difficult to see how he could take the reins of the electrician”. According to those close to EDF, Philippe Knoche has teamed up with Marianne Laigneau, President of Enedis, former HRD at EDF and close to David Gutman, a former advisor to the group, as an external service provider, who retains great influence within it. A ticket which would work within the framework of a dissociation of the functions of president and general manager. At Knoche the position of CEO, at Laigneau that of president. An alliance that other sources lend him with certain internal candidates. Another asset for Knoche, he is the only one among the suitors to already be CEO of a company.

Philippe Logak candidate

Among these state engineers, others are now campaigning for Philippe Logak, current general rapporteur to the High Commissioner for Planning François Bayrou, this former secretary general of SFR and Thales under Jean-Bernard Lévy, has the particularity of to be at the same time polytechnicien, engineer of the Armaments, and Counselor of State. If some present it as a simple ” Lawyer “the man has industrial experience having been, at the DGA, the deputy director of the nuclear ballistic missile submarine programs (SNLE), then having carried out the reform of the DCN.Among the network of polytechnicians, Logak has the support of Bernard Esambert, former adviser to George Pompidou who played a key role in the launch of France’s civilian nuclear program in the early 1970s. recently brought closer to Emmanuel Macron. And in his application letter that The gallery obtained, Logak recalls that beyond the governance ofEDF, ” it’s good an entire industrial sector that now needs to be rebuilt”. A roadmap that all candidates and stakeholders in the case nevertheless all have in mind. At least among engineers. Both Knoche and Logak were part of the same X-Mines promotion, as was Patrice Caine, the current boss of Thales.

Cédric Lewandowski and Bruno Bensasson, internal candidates

Faced with these external candidacies, some senior EDF executives are also pushing their pawns. This is the case of Cédric Lewandowski, all-powerful director of production, former chief of staff of Jean-Yves Le Drian when the latter was Minister of Defense for François Hollande. Appointed by Lévy to a position that was, to say the least, strategic within the group, this former socialist parliamentary attaché was not, however, an engineer. But his ability is great, and he managed to both get through the media drops on the subject of the industrial fiasco of the nuclear fleet (for which he is nevertheless responsible), while benefiting from the unfailing support of the CGT. The problem for Lewandowski is that he had drawn the wrath of Kohler and Macron under the Hollande quinquennium. And if the networks that support him have gradually approached the current secretary general of the Elysée, his appointment as head of EDF appearedis unlikely.

This is perhaps why some also lend him an alliance with Marianne Laigneau, the president of Enedis. “Like Lewandowski, Laigneau knows the unions by heart, in particular the CGT. If they want to modify the perimeters of EDF, it can have its card to play. But it has no technical expertise in nuclear…”comments a good connoisseur of the house.

Finally, another internal candidate, Bruno Bensasson, who heads EDF’s renewable energy activities. An engineer from the Corps des Mines too, he spent five years at the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN).