New day of strikes, blackouts over EDF, GDF privatisation

24th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 24 (AFP) - French gas and electricity workers staged another day of protests Thursday against government plans to change the status of the state-owned EDF and GDF to prepare them for the liberalised European energy market.

PARIS, June 24 (AFP) - French gas and electricity workers staged another day of protests Thursday against government plans to change the status of the state-owned EDF and GDF to prepare them for the liberalised European energy market.

In what they have dubbed "Robin Hood" operations, groups of strikers visited homes that have been deprived of electricity because of unpaid bills and restored the supply.

Unions also claimed to have forced sporadic cuts in production from power-stations, obliging EDF to buy electricity from Britain, where it owns two power companies.

A rally was planned during the afternoon in Paris.

However with the extent of the disruption limited, the centre-right government seemed increasingly confident it can push its overhaul of the two energy groups through parliament in time for next month's summer recess.

Speaking in a newspaper interview Wednesday, Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said that only about 3.5 percent of the 150,000 staff at the two companies were now on strike and that the worst of the demonstrations were over.

Unions have staged a series of wild-cat protests in recent weeks, as the government moved to fulfil its pledge to the EU to remove the state financial guarantee enjoyed by EDF and GDF since after World War II and transform them into limited companies, or corporations.

The EU commission says the state guarantee amounts to unfair competition at a time when energy companies from across the continent are vying for a share of the liberalised European market. EDF and GDF management say they need the change in status in order to raise much-needed capital.

Sarkozy has made a number of concessions to workers, promising that they will retain their job status for life as well as generous pension privileges. He has said the state will not allow its stake to fall below 70 percent, and that there will be no entry of private capital till mid-2005.

However unions say the change of status is a first step to privatisation, and draw comparisons with what they say is the precarious situation facing consumers in countries like Britain where there are several competing suppliers.

The bill to change the companies' status was presented to the National Assembly a week ago, but has been held up by the blocking tactics of the Socialist opposition who have tabled hundreds of amendments.

Next week under European rules the energy market for small businesses will be made fully competitive, and the market for household consumers will follow suit in 2007.

EDF has filed suit before the courts to claim compensation from the unions for around 100 power-cuts and acts of vandalism on company material. "Even if I can understand how some might take the change of status very emotionally, that can never be an excuse for these attacks," said EDF President Francois Roussel.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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