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To the European Commission, privatisation is still sacred

17 December 2017

To the European Commission, privatisation is still sacred

It hasn't had much attention, but the lobbying watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory has discovered that the European Commission spent a cool €800,000 on a study of publicly-owned companies. KPMG, which will conduct the research, must in particular look into the advantages of liberalisation and privatisation. The study must be completed by the end of the year, but it's clear that the Commission has not yet given up chasing down public services. On the contrary, according to CEO, the study will serve as the basis for recommendations which it will make in the framework of economic governance.

In Greece they know what this sort of recommendation entails. The Troika, one element of which was the Commission, forced the Greeks to privatise just about everything, from airports to the water supply. But other member states as well have come in for this punishing treatment. You can read all about it on CEO's website. You can forget all the sweet talk about the social pillar and the European Union's new, social course. The Commission is still celebratory when it comes to privatisation.

Apart from this hypocrisy, it has emerged across the EU that privatisation doesn't put an end to inefficiency and bureaucracy, but on the contrary, exacerbates them. There's all the planning and monitoring, the endless reports, the total loss of accountability. Because if you leave it to private firms to perform public services, you have to keep them under tight control. Their goal isn't to serve the general interest but to make profits for their shareholders. In reaction to this you can see, in Germany for example, initiatives to take energy provision back into public hands. In the end that's more efficient than transferring ownership to private energy corporations.

If the Commission wants to conduct a study, it should detail the bureaucracy in liberalised sectors including public transport, health care, energy, and education. In Brussels, however, the general interest has few friends, and the directors of major corporations rather more. So it's important that whatever else, service providers' unions protest ever more unreservedly against this privatisation madness. We can only hope that eventually this call will also be heard in the media. We don't need KPMG. What we certainly do need are good public services.

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