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Paris is famous for its bright lights, but French President Francois Hollande and his energy minister plan to extinguish the city’s trademark glow during overnight hours, in an effort to save money and energy -- putting many business owners and tourists in a dark mood.
According to a recent Bloomberg.com report, by summer of 2013, tourists looking to stroll down the renowned Champs Elysees will need a flashlight between the hours of 1 a.m. and 7 a.m.
French energy and environment minister Delphine Batho said the proposal to turn out the lights in and outside public buildings, offices and shops will apply to all French cities, villages, and towns. The purpose is to save energy and money, and show “sobriety,” Batho said.
The move is part of efforts to boost France's energy efficiency by 20 percent by 2020. The plan’s first phase took effect last July, forcing stores and businesses to turn off neon lights highlighting their names, between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m.
Critics say a dark Paris will encourage residents to stay home and tourists to go to bed earlier, hurting businesses, according to the digital news site Quartz.
“Visitors and locals follow the light, from one spot to another, all night long,” French chef and culinary consultant Didier Quemener told Quartz. “My clients don’t want to be in the dark in the City of Light.”
Shop owners also argue that bright lights welcome visitors and instill a sense of security on the city streets. Many of the country’s 650,000 merchants oppose the idea, suggesting the government is threatening their livelihoods.
Even outside of Paris, France is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world – with more than 81 million foreign visitors in 2011. Merchants complain that the new move could eclipse business at a time when when the French economy needs brightening. Tourism accounts for a significant percentage of the country’s gross domestic product and employs some 900,000 people, according to government figures cited by Bloomberg.com.
Unemployment is at a 14-year high in France and the economy has not grown much in the past year. Vice-president of France’s Commerce Council, Sofy Mulle, told Bloomberg there must be a better way.
“Surely we can work out environmentally friendly solutions that have less impact on our society and economy," Mulle said.
Many of Paris’ iconic sights already turn their lights off at night, so the plan is already in effect at the city’s more than 300 churches, bridges, and monuments, including the Eiffel Tower.
There are supporters of the plan, including the country’s Green party and several environmental activist groups.
“One of our main objectives is to change the culture,” Energy Minister Batho told a French TV station. “We need to end the cycle of producing more because we are consuming more. There should be sobriety in energy use.”