At a press conference in Paris Gérard Mestrallet, senior man at GDF Suez, said that he would not pay a contribution to the Belgian budget this year. "Not €500 million, not a cent, zero" he emphasised.
The Belgian government is counting on GDF Suez, the parent company of electricity supplier Electrabel, to pay a contribution in exchange for the agreement to keep the nuclear plants of Doel and Tihange open longer.
GDF Suez is unwilling to pay this year. The energy group is prepared to pay the €235 million postulated by the government every year for the coming five years. The "zero" retort by Mr Mestrallet will feed the fires of the heated debate regarding a phasing out of nuclear energy and regarding the budget that was just concluded by the federal government.
In 2008 Belgium had also asked for a contribution of €250 million from Suez. The French energy group refused then also and the case is now being handled by the Belgian Constitutional Court.
"The 500 million have already been taken off the budget"
In reaction to the statements made by Gérard Mestrallet Budget Minister Guy Vanhengel (photo, Flemish liberal) says that he is not surprised by the refusal of GDF Suez to contribute to the budget. He explains that the government had counted on the €500 million but, he adds, "We have known for some time that Suez would contest the amount for 2009. When we adapted the budget we did not include this money because we knew Suez would not pay."
"Our aim was to come up with a good budget and accord with the different players for 2010, 2011 and the years that follow," underlined the budget minister. He recognises that the deficit in the budget for 2009 is bigger without the €500 million, but the government was not really counting on it. The money will have to be borrowed.