Some local politicians appear to be mixing private profit with public duties over the installation of wind farms in their communes.
According to a recent report in the French newspaper Le Figaro, it seems there are a considerable number of local mayors and councillors who are promoting the installation of wind farms in their commune, being themselves owners of the land on which the wind farms are being installed.
The revelations have come to light following a landmark court case in the Nord department of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, where local residents were successful in obtaining a court order for the demolition of a wind farm.
This judgement is under appeal from GDF-Suez, the operators of the wind farm, but, in a separate action, the opponents of the wind farm have made a formal complaint to the French prosecutor accusing the mayor of the commune of Arras of using his official position for personal gain.
The mayor happens to be owner of land on which are situated 5 of the 10 contested wind turbines, from which he receives around €50,000 a year.
In an adjoining commune, the paper reports that another local politician is the owner of land on which there are 10 wind turbines, bringing him in an income of over €100,000 a year.
Last July, in the commune of Ally (Haute-Loire), the mayor and two councillors were sentenced to a four months suspended prison sentence and a fine of €8,000 euros over improper use of their office concerning the installation of a wind farm.
In a similar case, a politician of Saint-Georges-d'Annebecq in the Orne department of Lower Normandy, in a plea bargaining deal, had to pay €1,000 fine, in which twelve other politicians were implicated but not prosecuted.
There are also recent newspaper reports of the mayor of Bourcq, in the Champagne-Ardenne, who, once opposed to the installation of wind farms, is in the process of changing his mind, by promoting a project on land owned by himself and his deputy.
More than a dozen complaints have been filed by anti-wind associations against politicians suspected of using their office for private profit. Several preliminary investigations have been opened in Orne, Calvados, Deux-Sèvres, Brittany, Hérault and Haute-Loire.
According to Fabien Bougie, president of an anti-wind farm association in Orne, "We seek a national audit of all projects where politicians are also involved in a private capacity", he says.
The criminal code in France is clear on the issue of conflict of interest of politicians.
However, the status of politician does not by itself prohibit them benefiting personally from property in which they have an interest. They simply have to ensure that they keep their two interests separate; the mayor must deal with it in a strictly private capacity, outside their capacity as mayor and not to participate in voting or deliberations on the project.
The problem, of course, is simply how in practice to keep them separate, for a local mayor may be able to substantially influence the decision of the council in the decision they make, without formally participating in the decision making procedure itself.
In Italy, where the Mafia are said to be cashing in on wind farm activities, Edoardo Zanchini, an environmental campaigner who has investigated Mafia infiltration of the industry, says that "Nothing earns more than a wind farm."