PARIS- The French government may give itself several more weeks or even months to try and reach a deal with unions and with Brussels on an overhaul of power group EDF, with talks potentially dragging on well beyond May, union representatives said on Thursday.
French President Emmanuel Macron has pushed for a shake-up of EDF as a way of securing the future of its debt-laden and capital-hungry nuclear energy arm, while allowing more lucrative parts of the business to flourish free from the broader group's liabilities.
Unions have strongly opposed the restructuring - which will entail ring-fencing some of its businesses, like the nuclear unit - arguing it amounts to the dismantling of a state-controlled group and the beginning of its privatisation.
French government sources had said in early March that Paris hoped to reach a deal imminently with Brussels, which needs to sign off on the reform in part due to state aid questions surrounding the financing set-up for the nuclear unit.
But France has since also pushed to try and get some backing from unions, and the calendar has continually slipped, with France and the European Commission little closer to reaching a deal.
The French government had pencilled in May 19 as a potential date to discuss the reform at cabinet level, according to the Prime Minister's office, although that date will now slip too.
Dominique Bousquenaud of the CFDT union, who met with French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire this week, said the calendar for the reform appeared more relaxed than previously.
"He (Le Maire) wants to take his time, including so that we find some form of consensus, he does not want to ram this through, so it will take a little time and this isn't going to happen straight away," Bousquenaud said.
The CGT union, which also met Le Maire, said in a note to members that the minister had also evoked a looser timeline. The CGT said it believed talks could even run until the autumn.
The economy minister declined to comment, only saying discussions were ongoing.
In March, French politicians said the reform bill needed to pass through the French parliament by October at the very latest, due to a tight legislative calendar and in order for it to get through before campaigning begins ahead of a presidential election in 2022.
(Reporting by Benjamin Mallet, Gwenaelle Barzic and Elizabeth Pineau, Writing by Sarah White; Editing by Kirsten Donovan) ((email@example.com; + 33 (0) 1 49 49 56 85;))