Time for an offensive to keep energy company sustainable and in public ownership

21 August 2017

Time for an offensive to keep energy company sustainable and in public ownership

State-owned energy company Eneco is threatened with privatisation. The city council executive in The Hague, as well as those in Rotterdam and Dordrecht have spoken forcefully in favour of the sale. This is outdated policy, based on outmoded ideas. It’s time to launch an offensive to keep Eneco sustainable and in public ownership.

From the 1990s onwards the spectre of privatisation has been haunting Europe. Everywhere state-owned corporations and services were privatised. The market would always be better, cheaper and more efficient. Nothing could have turned out to be further from the truth. Services became dearer and less accessible. Working conditions came under pressure and jobs disappeared. The Senate enquiry concluded that the public interest had not been sufficiently defended. The results were not as had been expected.

Dutch energy corporations have, moreover, been sold off since the beginning of the century. In 2009 the provinces and local authorities of Essent and Nuon sold out to the foreign energy firms RWE en Vattenfall. Together with 4,400 jobs, a great deal of our influence was thrown away. In part because of this, the Netherlands is seriously lagging behind when it comes to the energy goals. So far, Eneco has not been sold. No jobs have been lost, and Eneco is the greenest company.

Yet the politicians who want to sell Eneco have learnt nothing. They come out with outdated phrases, such as the one used by the Nissewaard councillor who said “We must look at the massive returns,” or the one from The Hague who banged on about the money to be made: “if we can cash in, then we must do.”

These politicians would do well to wake from their 1990s dream and take a good look in the mirror. Across the world privatisations are being reversed. In 1,600 towns and cities in forty-five countries, services are being taken back into municipal ownership, according to research by the Amsterdam-based Trans National Institute (TNI).

One very interesting example is Hamburg. Following mass protests against the laying of a new pipeline across a park and the building of a coal-fired power station, the city’s inhabitants forced a referendum on the democratisation of the energy supply. They wanted to ensure that the supply would be sustainable and affordable. The referendum was won and Hamburg is in the process of buying back both the gas and electricity grids, as well as energy generation.

Hamburg is not the only city which is doing such things. Bringing energy back into public ownership has become a mass movement in Germany. Many cities, towns and villages have followed Hamburg’s example in order to ensure that their energy supply is clean and affordable. In the Netherlands too, it is the inhabitants who with ever greater frequency are expressing support for the establishment of publicly owned energy providers. Throughout the country local cooperatives are being set up to bring energy generation under their own management.

The local authorities which are Eneco’s owners would do well to keep up with these recent developments, rather than remaining moored in this outdated privatisation ideology. Just as the German towns are doing, they should seek to ensure more democratic influence. Don’t go for the short term quick money but for long term efficiency. Prevent the profits from flowing out to foreign multinationals, and instead invest the returns in our society. In that way you can make sure that jobs are kept, dismantle polluting forms of energy and go over to clean, safe and affordable energy. Surely we can’t leave that to the market?

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