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Points de vue et contributions

Chantiers en cours
    * La question mondiale
    * Service public
    * Questions urbaines
    * Solidarité internationale

Séminaire théorique "Service public et mondialisation"

Day of synthesis of the work of the seminar Services of General Interest and Globalisation
Saturday, March 11th 2000
Europe, the future of Public Services?   Public Services, the future of Europe?

Public Service Realities

J.-C. BOUAL (Réseaux Services Publics) - I will start from work carried out here over the last two and a half years.

Public services are not in Europe a temporary occurrence. I would like to reconsider the problems raised by François Fourquet in his introduction. Public service roots go back a long way. They have evolved and are not present on European territories only. This morning Robin Simpson mentioned the way things were done in the USA. When opposing the French model to the American one we are making a mistake. Our national services, such as EDF and SNCF, (the most symbolic), started as forms of delegated management which was more or less territorial. The only historical exception is the post office. Public services contribute to economic, social and territorial cohesion. They go beyond this role  because they are also a form of symbolic and practical representation of the society in which we live. They are somewhere between the market in its 'most extreme' manifestations and associative groups based on individual initiative and types of voluntary work without which no society can really function. These associative forms exist in all societies, including those where the market is most dominant.  Not everything can be traded or privatised. Relationships between people cannot be strictly marketed.

Public services have emerged in all European Union countries in fairly similar circumstances and areas (energy, post, telecom, transport, health, local services such as water and sanitation). Their organisation varies from State to State. Delegated management is a French speciality  but is in some ways comparable to public and private partnerships in Anglo-Saxon countries. These systems are based on social, inter-generation and territorial solidarity, over diverse territories and with variable strength. It is a specific characteristic of the European societies and we debated this question this morning. If what I am saying is correct (with nuances which will have to be developed in our discussions), we can really build European public services on the European territory. This territory is being built even though it is happening mainly through the market taking into account basic European Union law. This is a question which presupposes political willingness and possibilities.

Through a variety of combined influences we have witnessed recently major changes in public services due to important technological evolutions. The role played by technological progress is also being debated, and for a number of people this is not the determinant factor. With the call-back, the natural monopoly within telecommunications was becoming obsolete. Technological progress does play an important part. The general opening of economies and globalisation affect the process. The European project plays a specific part in this because this is where the legislative and regulatory framework of public utilities is elaborated. Neither must we forget specific organisations at this level. Under these circumstances, we have experienced over the last ten years the liberalisation of public utilities organised as monopolies throughout national territories, often by national companies. This type of organisation was becoming contradictory with the single market and European territory. Liberalisation is not total. This evolution is twofold: liberalisation will carry on and it will involve a possibility of recognition of public service duties in the relevant sectors. We must not confuse liberalisation and privatisation. The evolution we are experiencing is paradoxical: pursuit of liberalisation and genuine possibilities for the recognition and operation of public services.

We are witnessing the emergence in these sectors of an oligopolistic type of organisation in these companies, some of them major operators with global connections. A typical example is that of air travel and the strong industrial component it involves. The SNCF (National French Railways) and the SNCB ( National Belgian Railways) decided to work together on future specifications for high speed trains. Europe, and not merely France or Belgium, is now the territory of these two major companies. We are moving towards an "Airbus of the railways" and a reshaping of the railway industry. Look at what is happening in the defence sector, i.e. the emergence of a European defence force and defence industry.

Will this evolution be confined to public utilities or will State functions of an administrative nature (outside the market) have to face these three types of evolution: technological, global and European?
Over the next ten years the following questions will arise: what types of interventions do we want from public authorities at all territorial levels and over the whole range of human activities? And what type shall we get? We need to think this over and see what is at stake (within the framework of globalisation too): will it be European public services based on the European model but not reflecting our French concepts of public service? We need to move away from what someone called 'étatisme' (State control) this morning and 'so-called' universal ideas which are merely the projection of our French concepts of society, but at world level. We heard about republican values in our debates but the European Union includes eight republics only and seven kingdoms; it is not the right word here. We will understand one another better if we talk about democracy and human rights.

Besides what is at stake in the creation of public services, three questions have to be considered. We will have to make choices taking into account all the research routes suggested this morning.

- Relationships between type of economy and democracy seem essential to me. Liberals and neo-liberals equal economic liberalism with freedom. Yet, recent events teach us that things are not that simple. I will take Pinochet and the Chicago boys as an example. The Chilian economy was restarted by an authoritarian State which implemented the ultra-liberal theories of the Chicago school. I would like this relationship to be considered in relation to several countries: Thatcher's England, France, the USA where questions should be asked about the relationship between democracy and a form of punitive capitalism where capital punishment prevails. Such questions would encourage us to look again at public intervention and the public good.

- This morning we talked about property. Ownership rules in English history have meant that for a thousand years the aristocracy has owned the land in England; I am not talking about Ireland, Scotland or Wales. Robin tells us it is worse in Scotland. In London you buy a flat for a maximum of a hundred years. You never own the land. The European Charter of Fundamental Rights is being discussed at European levels. The Germans consider the right to ownership as the most basic of freedoms. They have a more social view of this problem which means that in housing landlords can be forced to take in people which would be rejected by their French counterparts. In France (and I simplify things here) when you are a landlord you do what you want with your property.

Unsurprisingly, Dutch companies want a 40% profit rate. There is very little territory so less industrial production.

- Why is the question of evaluation such a problem in France? Because general interest is that which is based on centralised, State controlled models. When any kind of organisation  is created (voluntary, associative or State) problems arise after a while. Intervention based on democratic principles becomes essential. The national interest in France is that of the elite and of the top civil servants. (I am simplifying here).  How do we inject true, participative democracy? It is not by chance that the top echelons of the State resist genuine evaluation. These questions have appeared in our works but have remained unanswered. We should work from a multi-disciplinary point of view.

Khadija el KIHEL-BAUDIN (Paris 8 University) - Previous and present organisation of services of general interest - Public services have made huge progress possible in a number of countries (particularly France) and in a number of areas. Yet their organisation is far from perfect. Will changes brought in by the European project be able to solve these problems or will they make things worse?

About rail monopolies  - Rail monopolies were not able to slow down the decline of rail transport. In 1970 railways were carrying a third of goods and 15% in 1993 while road transport was almost doubling its share (48,6 and 70,8% respectively). "The maximum integration of the transport sector in the Community is an essential element of the internal market and railways are a vital element of the transport sector in the Community". Directive 91/440 encouraged independent management for railway companies, the rehabilitation of their financial structure (the State took on their debts), the separation of rail infrastructures and services; it guaranteed rights of access to member States networks for international groups of railway companies or for international companies of combined goods transport; will it give railways a greater share in Community transport?

About the electricity monopoly - We know that production is not optimised and that things would be better if a number of producers offering different techniques had been able to compete. In combination with the major nuclear plants we would have adequate capacities using co-generation and the combined cycle turbine, two techniques in great demand throughout Europe

About air transport - Lines have increased through competition but 30% of them are run by two companies and only 6% by three companies or more, therefore 6% of lines are competitive; 80 companies were created (most of them private) but 60 have disappeared (1998 figures). We ought to point out here that following invitations to tender for public service airlines, private companies have won contracts (companies requiring the least subsidy). In this sector which preceded liberalisation, things are not played out at European level but alliances between operators, particularly at world level, are essential. Could we witness this type of strategy in other sectors?
What have we got today?

About regulation  - European authorities were able to present regulation as a substitute for competition but it complicates the presentation and implementation of regulation: price scales for charges for access to infrastructures, operation of public service duties. We should also question the cost of this regulation 

Competition realities - We have witnessed the creation of oligopolies in the place of the old monopolies. Where is the difference between the two profile types and what type of competition do we want to set up?

About economic guaranteed income - Multinationals try to find "niches" where they can get hold of rent and shelter from competition. We may see serious competition between companies to get their hands on this rent,

About the general interest - We should have clearer views on this. Its definition was already difficult within national territories yet we now have to deal with European territories. Could we not extend geographic equalisation of tariffs to the whole of Europe? Furthermore this reflects a specific and not unique vision of equality.

Competition policies/industrial policies - Competition policies are not the only possible option. Could not objectives be better met through co-operation within the framework of industrial policies? (cf. freeways and freightways in the railways).

About evaluation - What becomes of the user in all this? He may have no choice. For him, prices have gone down globally. But besides a mere drop in prices, does he not deserve, as a small element of society, to be part of wider choices which go beyond his modest person?  The answer is probably yes, but he needs to be prepared and informed. It raises the wider question of evaluation. How can we make it happen?

Subsidiarity - For the first time the Maastricht treaty introduced explicitly the subsidiarity principle. Article 3B States that "In areas outside its exclusive responsibility and in accordance with the subsidiarity principle, the Community intervenes only if and to the extent that objectives cannot be met entirely by member States, and can thus, because of their importance and consequences, be better met at Community level". 
The European project has necessitated the elaboration of a multi-tiered regulatory system in which the competence of each level is redefined. The subsidiarity principle is interpreted differently according to the traditions of different countries. Countries with federal traditions such as Germany share out competences, 

The area which concerns us is that of competences shared out by Commission and Member States. Here France only represents 1/15th of shares divided amongst member States. Some people familiar with French civil servants feel that they have problems  managing even these.
National traditions are diverse and it seemed preferable not to have a common definition of public service responsibilities; in provisions concerning the internal electricity market for example, the directive does not specify public service duties beyond general objectives. That is the responsibility of member States.

France already has some experience of subsidiarity even if it is under another name. In Title 12 of the Constitution, provisions going back to the beginning of the century deal with local communities and grant them some privileges. Yet, since the EDF monopoly was created after the second world war, these have been eroded: the choice of provider was purely symbolic since a single provider is imposed and they are subject to the geographical equalisation of tariffs. With liberalisation and the third party access (TPA), what weight will local communities have? The TPA gives eligible clients the right to use suppliers of their choice and, for a fee, EDF provides transportation. Industrial clients are eligible, but though local communities have requested it, they have not been able to access the system. Had they succeeded, what would have become of the geographical equalisation of tariffs?  It would have been pointless. Will this situation hold for long now? The same problems are found in the transport sector where overall regionalisation  planned for 2002 will give regions responsibility for the TER (Regional Express Transport) organisation. French practices are turned upside down. 

To conclude, is the European project not a common good, the desire and perpective of many people, which, more than market based choices, reveals choices by societies?  This raises questions may be the subject of the next workshop.

A. MORDANT (CGSP - Belgique) - We are in a halfway situation where national territories give way to an interactive project between European States. Methods could be tricky. Liberalisation in the electricity sector has meant the loss of 200 000 jobs  between 1990 and 1997. It is predicted that the sector will lose 25% more jobs in the next four years. 
Future markets may well mean that people in Europe could come second to interests external to the European market. These markets will have to be prepared carefully. The necessary concept of sustainable development cannot be based merely on cost but will have to involve the environment and the respect of all citizens. The "poor" are a problem of economic organisation and public services cannot be based on organised charity where funds are created, but on principles of equality of access and the rights of all citizens to basic, quality services.
We cannot stay within our national borders. Faced with liberalisation, European governments have always sought to reduce costs. States may not agree on additional costs for necessary network infrastructures. We have lost a large part of the market because we quickly reach saturation point. On the other hand, motorway congestion means that network railways are on the agenda again; the necessary infrastructures were planned several years ago but not built because States refused to put in the necessary money. It is now essential if we want to be able to move. We will have to double and triple networks of waterways and railways so that goods can circulate. Traveller safety is also put at risk through network congestion.

Ph. BRACHET - About the subsidiarity principle - I see it as one of the dimensions of modern democracy. In the same way as the equality principle, it is deceitfully simple. I define subsidiarity in these terms: "decisions must be taken nearest to those they concern". At its most simplistic, this would mean that all decisions must be taken at the most local level possible. This is false because first, all those concerned by each decision have to be identified together with the corresponding territorial level. Then, in each case, we must identify decision making processes as democratic as possible to optimise participation. The issues are not simple. When applied to public utilities and contrary to simplistic forms of French-style State control, it seems that the State should not necessarily be the decision maker in this area. Decisions about such services need to be separated from those related to general principles which may be the Community's responsibility. Regions are essential means of organisation and democratisation of these services. But the State is there too. We can see why a centralised French-style State, in the name of subsidiarity, does not want Europe to organise these services, and why, because of its simplistic views on the general interest, it tries to appropriate these services for itself in the name of the nation-State. This issue is of huge importance strategically and politically and will allow for a proper balance of representation and participation, two cornerstones of tomorrow's complex democracies.

G. HEINTZ - I don't quite agree with my colleague here about local and global issues. How do we develop networks and new public services? How do we guarantee that national, regional and even European territories benefit from their development, that access is assured? We must be careful: the emergence of new actors and the creation by the National Assembly of regions with operative powers must not blind us to the need for more global forms of regulation. 

F. CAYEUX (CFTC trade unionist) - Assessment and representation   - Everyone evolves, even trade-unions. The Charter of Fundamental Rights  should be adopted at the beginning of December 2000 by the European Council and everyone is struggling to have it ready for September. Trade-unions have agreed amongst themselves (a rare occurrence) and have come up with a draft charter. It was written in agreement with the NGOs of the social sector, something which could not have happened 2 or 3 years ago. The European Trade Union Confederation has worked with the NGOs. What has this charter to do with services of general interest? These constitute a basic right. One of the most basic is housing, i.e. water, energy and above all the possibility to communicate and have an address for a telephone. Banking services like people to have an address and a person who has been excluded from these cannot even cash a cheque if (s)he does not have an address. The right to housing opens a door to the others.
Public services are supposed to be in the interest of the public so we should be able to assess them. Assessment raises difficult questions.
We all have the right to express varied, contradictory and multiple views but the question of participation by users is very tricky. Who should represent them? Trade unions cannot pretend any more that they represent the unemployed and besides, these have formed autonomous organisations (what is an unemployed person? it's a worker without a job). I was amazed to hear consumer organisations describe themselves as professionals in consumer protection. Ordinary consumers may pay their contributions but have no say in anything. They are not in a strong position relative to public services and this is a sore point. These associations want to monopolise representation but include no users in their discussions. Consumer protection is used as a pretext for in-house debates among professionals. The European Trade Union Confederation is keen to participate in discussions on these employment directives together with the European Central Bank. It seems to delighted with its backseat in an arena where its recommendations are heard politely but totally ignored. Yet it sees itself as a group of professionals and though without any weight themselves, as part of a charmed circle of actors. Monopoly on representation tends to be justified to the detriment of the man in the street. It's the usual dilemma: either you remain a flexible, welcoming structure or you become a closed society and leave Mr Average on the doorstep.

Gustave MASSIAH - I would like to go back to the problems I raised this morning. What questions are being asked and in what terms internationally? How can we find solutions both critical and operational? Public services are also dependent on the projects with which they are confronted.
These will have three main objectives: efficiency, fight against poverty and good management. We will have to grapple with these goals if we want to take part in international discussions. It is easy to criticise and say that we do not talk this language, but if we bother to go beyond we find practical views and proposals.

-Efficiency: what is proposed here is not efficiency in management or costs but rather a widening of the terms of reference and of the movement of capital. What is not considered as acceptable is that some services may escape the market and the movement of capital and profits. We must think about the way the economy functions. It involves a number of approaches and unless we can offer alternative solutions (and I don't think we have resolved this question yet), we have to solve this problem.
-Poverty: we can easily prove that the fight against poverty cannot be won through the privatisation of services because it does not facilitate access to services. It is not the position that privatisation permits access to the service for the poorest. We like to suggest that access for the poorest be left to other types of organisations (NGO, association, mutual). We have to address this question. Do we consider that public services in their present State really guarantee equality of access and is it not a fact that some of the public services have been unable to achieve this? Does social housing accommodate the poorest? In any case has it been created with this goal in mind? In what way can it be considered as a public service? How can equality of access be achieved? How can it be guaranteed and rights defined?
A second difficulty complicates matters: how do things work when several relevant levels are involved? With water, at national levels there is one type of access. That is not true at world level. How can we organise forms of production which do not merely meet needs defined at national levels? If we fail to do so, we will lag behind capitalism which is naturally organised both internationally and world wide. We may say that multinationals are no good but how do we assume responsibility for the guarantee of basic human rights? If mankind can put a roof on everybody's head, how do we make this happen? If everyone must have access, how can we organise ourselves so that it is real and guaranteed? What forms of organisation could guarantee access? This is not about democracy but about rule of law. It is about norms and procedures which makes guarantees possible. Democracy is not the only option.
- Management: there is a debate about what appears sometimes as competition but could in fact turn out to be complementary forms of representation: representation through delegation and through participation. Public services are at the heart of all this.

A. MORDANT - Thank you very much. This presentation has framed the discussion successfully and I am grateful for this.

P. BARGE - On participative democracy- The question of participative democracy is not only a matter of organisation at the level of the production of services: it is also a debate within organisations. In a while, I will position myself in relation to public authorities to introduce the question of participative democracy within the operative processes of organisations. There is always this balancing act between an authoritarian and a participative view of things which can even lead to the concept of self-management. It is an important debate within the communitarian movement in Quebec. I have not taken a position on self-management but the debate can go this far and the matter of participative democracy is at the heart of discussions on organisation.

S. PRAVATTO (Lausanne University) - Local definition of needs and European co-ordination - During this morning's discussions I noticed recurrent examples of French confusion, for example between liberalisation and privatisation. In Switzerland the public sector is very weak (average for Europe and the world) but our public services work well. The second mistake is to confuse the public service organisation and its duties. M. HEINTZ was talking about a more centralised type of regulation. He is right here because co-ordination is required between the different levels of regulation.  Public services must remain at more basic local levels and not at European level as suggested by the lady rapporteur a while ago. In Switzerland, the transposition law of the electricity directive (though we're not members of the EU we do transpose!) covers hardly some twenty articles; it's a framework law. The French law is different. The definition of public service remains very general but is defined at the level of local communities. This is where needs are and where sufficient margin for action is essential.  In France people tend to think of what is good for the citizen at all levels. Yet the needs of rural and urban populations are different and cannot be defined by Paris or Brussels. Definition must remain at local level but regulations must be co-ordinated at the level of Brussels.

A. MORDANT - I thank you for this contribution whose views I do not share. We cannot imagine a European project without the adoption of common regulations, whatever the operator or the country, even though there might be local variations, better adapted or more restricting. A European charter of basic rights implies that in some areas criteria have to be met; it implies that commitment is to the whole of the Community so that citizens, wherever they live, have access to these basic rights. We must distinguish between adaptation to natural conditions (climate or geography at the most basic level) and basic rights on the European territory which require a common foundation. In these areas, we may be backward within our borders, with practices we assume to be the best. The best organisation for society may be that where the poorest and all citizens have undeniable rights irrespective of their solvency. That is the rule of law. Without the exercise of democracy and public service guarantees it is difficult to imagine. 

J-C BOUAL - We still have to clarify a number of things in France. Works carried out at the SIGEM are clear on the subject. "Public service" does not mean "public company", it is different from its status and its type of property. Historical reasons have led to confusion between the two. "Public service" does not necessarily mean public status for the personnel of such companies. This is clear among European circles but not really in France. This morning we stressed the importance of the working class in public solidarity projects. We work with a number of trade-unions even though in reality, there are relationships between public services, type of property and statute of personnel and furthermore these relationships are somewhat justified.
The link between the individual's basic rights and their guarantee through public services and their duties is important to the French and also at European level. Philosophically, a liberal and not a "collectivist" approach (liberal in the political meaning of the word) dominates in France for historical reasons. The link between basic rights for the individual and guarantee of these rights is not properly recognised in Europe, and even less so at world level; this raises the questions of the rule of law and democracy, particularly participative democracy (individual and collective). This approach makes European or international alliances more likely. 
About subsidiarity - French political powers and institutions have a very specific view of subsidiarity. It can only exist at Community level in conjunction with common rules. These are then interpreted differently. Common rules for the management of postal services may exist at European level but its organisation in Finland is different from that of Greece. It  does comes under  the subsidiarity principle. Shouldn't we fight in the name of territorial and social solidarity to impose a single price for stamps on the whole of the European territory? Postal services which are very profitable (in relation to their territory as is the case in Holland) might help support others, such as Greece where the multitude of islands to be served imposes important structural costs. Subsidiarity will not exist without common rules and if we see it as a distribution of rigid competences. It is a constant interaction between individual responsibilities within relevant areas and the relevant institutional and territorial levels. A unitary country has problems with this.

A. MORDANT - Unacceptable facts about liberalisation - Planned liberalisation is both dynamic in some ways but unacceptable in others. Among the negative is the sale of utilities for their share value and potential   profit on the Stock Exchange. In Belgium, the attempt to sell the whole of Belgacom is totally motivated by its share value on the Stock Exchange, for the {Belven}index is weak and the Brussels Stock Exchange is not that attractive. What belongs to all the people is sold for purposes which have nothing to do with the people. Water services are entrusted to the public sector through intermunicipal agencies. They are about to be privatised, and I'm not saying liberalised. Organisational systems (autonomous company, etc.) lead merely to private capital ownership, i.e. essential goods which belong to the whole community become private property. It is not the same thing in France but when Vivendi and sometimes the Lyonnaise des Eaux are in the news, it's always about some scandal. Our situation requires a better organisation. It is 50 years since the last war, the inherited model goes like this: "we're going to share the cake, but it's a cake we're making now, and in Europe's reconstruction, investors, workers and finances should all have their share".  If we wanted to do the same thing today we would have to do it at global level. There isn't a cake already, it is being made to be shared. These facts have to be taken into account. Our European project cannot be independent from the WTO. We only started shaking up services in 1995, when the GATT agreements decided to liberalise them. We must realise that Europe is not an end in itself, only a step on the way. 

G. MULLIET - About public service duties- When duties are all that is left they are reduced to the strict minimum: to "sub-sub-services". Previously, an ordinary letter would arrive in day+1; now it's day+3. It's a degradation of the services: the renowned public service missions have in practice witnessed a segmentation of the market. Where competition intervenes, with parcels for example, the sector is developed and jobs are lost in public service duties. Today in telecommunications, lines are being neglected and it is very negative in the long run. 

J-C BOUAL - We are talking about public service duties in a pyramid-shaped form of organisation, where decisions are made at the level of the State, without any real participation by staff and even less by users who are the real object of public services. Management criteria dictated by capitalist values and the Stock Exchange will always dominate. Solutions are beginning to emerge: shouldn't all interested parties be involved in the definition itself of these duties, i.e. the company, personnel, trade unions, users and their organisations? These discussions should also bear on the distribution of working profits (something which is not happening yet). To summarise, profits are grabbed by the management, leaving a few crumbs to others and totally excluding users. Thus the problem of evaluation arises together with the need for a successful involvement of all participants. Discussions should take place in the open and should involve wider debates in the whole of society. We would then have a debate of a totally different nature on public service duties and their implementation.

Ph. BRACHET - The question of the definition of duties is essential because it makes (or doesn't make) assessment possible. This being above all a comparison between objectives, means and results, assessment is only possible if duties (and by extension goals) are properly defined




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