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France faces closing window to agree nuclear reforms before election

* Reforms to EDF would ringfence its nuclear arm

* The debt-laden firm supplies most of France’s electricity

* France set to hold presidential election in 2022

* Parliament busy until June, budget talks in autumn -PM’s office

PARIS, March 17 (Reuters) - France’s parliament must pass a bill on reforming utility EDF and the country’s sprawling nuclear sector by October if the plan is to be agreed in time for a presidential election in 2022, the prime minister’s office said on Wednesday.

France, which has more nuclear reactors than any country other than the United States, is looking to ringfence nuclear operations at the nation’s biggest utility.

The reforms, which have sparked wrangling with the European Union and labour unions, involve raising price guarantees on nuclear power that state-controlled EDF sells to third-party providers, helping the debt-laden utility cover its costs.

The government has recapitalised EDF in the past and has for now agreed to take dividend payouts in shares to alleviate pressure on the company’s finances.

A crowded parliamentary agenda is piling pressure on France to reach a deal quickly with antitrust authorities in Brussels over the restructuring of EDF, the first step needed before reforms can go ahead.

Sources told Reuters last week that talks between Paris and the European Commission had entered a make-or-break phase, with end-March seen as a deadline to reach an agreement over antitrust and state aid issues or abandon the plan for now.

Three members of parliament briefed by the prime minister’s office on the reforms on Wednesday told Reuters that the window to get a bill through required checks and balances with representatives would be before the autumn.

Two said that June to October would be crucial.

A spokesman for the prime minister’s office confirmed this timetable, saying that parliament would be tied up with other bills until June and was scheduled to work on 2022 budget plans from the autumn.

Delaying the reform, which has been championed by French President Emmanuel Macron, would hurt EDF’s ability to make needed investment, EDF has said. France relies on EDF’s fleet of reactors, which are now on average about 35 years old, for some 70% of its electricity.

Macron’s party currently has a majority in parliament but the reform plan, which has prompted EDF unions to hold strikes, if not agreed this year may be too politically sensitive to pursue during 2022’s election campaign, when parliament will have to temporarily shut and the outcome is uncertain.

Shares in EDF spiked as much as 4.5% on Wednesday before paring gains to trade up 1.2% by 1551 GMT. (Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, writing by Sarah White; editing by Jason Neely)

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