French MPs approve energy reform

29th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 29 (AFP) - The French National Assembly voted through a bill to overhaul the state gas and electricity industries Tuesday, opening the way to their part-privatisation, as a protest campaign by trade unions appeared to be running out of steam.

PARIS, June 29 (AFP) - The French National Assembly voted through a bill to overhaul the state gas and electricity industries Tuesday, opening the way to their part-privatisation, as a protest campaign by trade unions appeared to be running out of steam.

The measure was passed by a majority of 376 to 180 in the right-dominated lower house of parliament following a week of debate on some 2,000 amendments submitted by the Socialist opposition. It must now pass before the Senate, where its approval is certain.

The bill will convert the state-owned Electricite de France (EDF) and Gaz de France (GDF) into limited companies, and allow them to sell off some 30 percent of their capital to private shareholders from next year.

It was pushed through after pressure from the European Union, which said that the unlimited state financial guarantees enjoyed by the utilities amounted to unfair competition in a European energy market that will be fully liberalised from 2007.

Unions representing the 150,000 staff have staged a series of protests, accusing the government of selling off the companies for ideological reasons, but a sixth day of action Tuesday failed to make a deep impression.

Police said some 2,000 people turned up for a rally in Paris - though unions said the figure was 6,000 - and there were smaller demonstrations in Marseille, Cannes, Toulouse and Grenoble. Management said around 13 percent of workers were on strike.

Around the country there were sporadic outages at industrial centres, and militants carried out more "Robin Hood" operations to restore power to households cut off because of unpaid bills. A power cut at Bordeaux airport lasted only one minute at 3:00 am and services were unaffected.

During the concluding debate in the National Assembly, Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said the reform showed that "one can indeed modernise public services in our country ... No-one could really argue that the 1946 statute (of EDF and GDF) would let them face the challenges of 2004."

For the Socialists Francois Brottes accused the government of smuggling the bill through "between the Euro 2004 football championship and the start of the summer holidays. We are being asked to confiscate the heritage of the nation, to wreck one of the finest companies in the world."

The bill stipulates that the state will not allow its stake in the two companies to fall below 70 percent, and that 15 percent of shares in any future sell-off will be made available to staff members.

Sarkozy has also made a number of concessions to workers, promising that they will retain their job status for life as well as generous pension.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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