How Jean-Bernard Lévy saved his head at EDF

Named during the five-year term of François Hollande, the CEO of the electrician must be reappointed, Thursday, May 16, with the support of the Elysee.

By Nabil Wakim Posted today at 10:24, updated at 10h34

Time to Reading 4 min.

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EDF CEO Jean-Bernard Lévy visits the EPR Flamanville (Manche) site in February 2018.
EDF CEO Jean-Bernard Lévy visits the EPR Flamanville (Manche) site in February 2018. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP

This is a small miracle in the microcosm of energy: for the first time since Marcel Boiteux, president until 1987, a leader of EDF will be reappointed. Jean-Bernard Lévy, 64, named CEO of EDF in 2014 by François Hollande, had taken over the tormented mandate of Henri Proglio. It must be officially renewed, Thursday, May 16, by the board of directors.

In this company like no other, 83% owned by the state, CEOs often waltzed at the option of political alternations and violent internal wars. Historically, the name of the president was unveiled a few days or even hours before the general meeting. This time, the Elysee ended the suspense in February, through a statement.

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Yet the calm but rough CEO of the first European electrician comes back from a distance. When Emmanuel Macron comes to power, negative signals accumulate. First, the presidential candidate had been careful not to say what he wanted for the future of nuclear power in France. Then, and most importantly, he appoints Nicolas Hulot Minister of Ecological Transition and Solidarity, and, therefore, minister supervising EDF. The ecologist is quick to mention the closure of seventeen nuclear reactors (out of 58) by 2025. And does not conceal his desire to change the architecture of EDF, in order to marginalize nuclear power.

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A nightmare for the group and for its president, both EDF built its model around the atom. If Jean-Bernard Lévy is not from the industry, he remains a strong supporter of nuclear energy and does not intend to back down on this crucial issue. "At the time of my appointment, I made it clear that I was not coming to be the gravedigger of nuclear", he explains today at World.

"The storm Hulot"

During his tenure, the CEO of EDF developed a strategy " of horse and lark ", which mixes the nuclear (ultra-dominant, but in loss of speed) and the renewable energies (which weigh weakly, but are in strong growth), to the dismay of part of the company, very reticent with the development of the wind and solar.

At the heart of the summer of 2018, the CEO of EDF would have even considered not being a candidate for his succession, report several sources. But with the departure of Nicolas Hulot in September and especially the announcement, by the President of the Republic, the energy road map of France, the wind seems to turn. On November 27, Emmanuel Macron confirms that France is pushing back its nuclear reduction targets and endorses EDF's guidelines almost as they stand. "That day, Lévy understood that he was likely to be reappointed", notes a good connoisseur of the company.

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