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Interview with Jean-Louis Chaussade, CEO of Suez Environment, from the World Economic Forum 2017

Following are excerpts from a CNBC interview with Jean-Louis Chaussade, CEO of Suez Environment, from the World Economic Forum 2017 with Geoff Cutmore and Steve Sedgwick.

SS: I'm delighted to welcome Jean-Louis Chaussade, who is the CEO of Suez Environment. Jean-Louis, lovely to see you again. Last time you and I had a proper chat was at the COP 21 in December 2015, so it seems very apt that we should pick up that conversation. COP, a fantastic agreement for many, there was a lot of achievement that people thought couldn't happen, but what about the enactment of that? Do you think things are moving at the right pace? For business, for governments and for everyone else?

JC: I think things are moving. Things are moving, because it's no more a question only for governments, but also for NGOs, for companies, for cities, and you can see that a lot of stakeholders are taking steps in order to improve their footprint, and therefore yes, I think we are in the right direction, we are moving in the right direction. The question mark for me is, is the velocity of this move strong enough, or rapid enough? And I think for the time being, we still are slow.

GC: But that's not the only question mark at the moment, is it? I mean, Donald Trump seems to have thrown a spanner in the works of the turbine blades on these very large windmills, by suggesting that the Paris Agreement isn't valid, and actually the world is pushing ahead in the wrong direction on climate change.

JC: Well, of course we have been listening to Trump, everybody has been listening to Trump, but as I mentioned before, the question mark is no more only a question on government. It's a question of cities, it's a question of companies, and you will see here, in Davos, that many, many companies, European, American companies, are taking steps to reduce their, for example, carbon footprint. Therefore, okay, the American government can take a step back, but do you think that California is going to step back, on what they have been doing in terms of climate change adaptations, for example? I don't believe so.

SS: Jean-Louis, France is fully behind COP 21. It was in Paris, it was at Le Bourget, and yet you said, only a couple of weeks ago, or 15th of December, you said, 'France needs to start investing again.' Now, you wouldn't have come out and said stuff like that unless you felt there was a problem at a government level.

JC: It's another issue. I think that it's difficult in France to make strong reforms if in the meantime, and especially if you want to reduce, I should say, a public servants, as it was mentioned by François Fillon, it's difficult to do that if in the meantime you do not invest, and you need to have public and private investment initiatives. I think it's absolutely necessary, in order to make France moving ahead, and having some structural changes.

GC: Well, you've brought up Monsieur Fillon, so let's just stray into the region of French politics here.

JC: Yes.

GC: We clearly are seeing the first rounds of the primaries deliver up candidates who are going to battle in the presidential election, but this uncertainty around the political outcome, and a potential shift away from a socialist government to a right government, doesn't that mean that there's going to be even less progress around some of these climate goals?

JC: I don't think so. I don't think so, there is, because in my view, at least in France you have a consensus about, I should say, the broad views of the COP 21. Everybody believes that we have to go in this direction. Probably there is some, I should say, differences between the candidates in the speed and in the measures to be taken. For example, shall we stop or not the nuclear plant program, etc., I think yes you have some differences, but on the directions, I mean, in France today, you have a consensus.

GC: And just on the broader issue of the politics, Monsieur Fillon's campaign is very much, or appears to be very much, about addressing labor reform and some of the challenges to businesses. As a man running a company in France, how optimistic or otherwise are you that we will see a new reform agenda in France that increases productivity and stimulates growth?

JC: Well, first of all, France, it's a very attractive and productive country. When you look to all the cities, you will see that the French are working well, and a lot, and that their level of qualifications is very high. Therefore, it's easy to work in France. The question mark is, you're right, on, I should say, labor force, I should say protection systems, which in my view is not in accordance with the evolutions of the economy, and now we have to make, to put more flexibility in the systems, and this is something I believe any new government should put in place, and probably is one of the major axis of Fillon's politics, if he is elected.

SS: Jean-Louis, tell us a little bit about your company itself. There's a scurrilous rumor going around that there could be a merger, once again, with your old company that was part of you, and that is Engie. When Engie was changed to Engie then it was done, you were separated. But now the 33% stakeholder in Suez Environment, there are reports that they could be bidding for you. Would you like to just comment on that?

JC: It's difficult to comment on rumors, you know. What I can comment is what has been said by the top management of Engie, Isabelle Kocher clearly last week said that there are no intentions to buy back the stake of Suez Environment owned today. So I think I have nothing else today. I mean, I have a board…

SS: But is there an industrial logic for it?

JC: I have a board of directors which has approved my strategy, a strategy which has been set up by the management, and we'll go along that, and you know, we continue and we grow, and we want to develop the company.

SS: Sure.

GC: And just on Xi Jinping, for a moment here, just to stray away, because I know that you've been involved in a committee looking at business in China. Xi Jinping obviously will come today with a strong message to rebut some of the anti-globalization we've seen from Donald Trump. What do you think the Chinese need to bring to the table here, to show that they are a good global partner for businesses like yours, and others in Europe?

JC: I think, of course, I am not in the conversations, the discussions between Trump and Xi Jinping, I don't know what they are going to say, but what is clear is that any strong disagreement between America and China will be good for Europe. We will develop more businesses, and I am absolutely sure that, at least for my company, we have a bright future in China, and we are going to develop the company even more in the coming years, no doubt for me.

SS: Jean-Louis, I think we're going to leave it there. Very nice to see you, sir. I think I might be seeing you later on in the day at another function, as well, so Jean-Louis Chaussade, who is the CEO of Suez Environment, joining us here on set at the World Economic Forum.