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* La question mondiale
* Service public
* Questions urbaines
* Solidarité internationale
Europe, the future of Public Services? Public Services, the future of Europe?
Synthesis and conclusions
SIMPSON - During the last conference I attended in Paris, I said
"Messieurs les Anglais; tirez les derniers" ("will our English adversaries
be so kind as to shoot last"). As a humble geographer I am out of my depth
in these debates. You are better informed than I am on the great anglophone
economists. Lofty philosophical principles such as "absolute selfishness
is not the only possible expression of individual rationality" are well
above my head. I don't see the link with the public service but I will
question my postman about this on Monday morning.
- You can have a State system which profits from monopolistic rents and which confiscates the profits generated by the services. That was the case in the United Kingdom before privatisation. At that time, profits generated by public services were confiscated and not re-invested in the service. Services deteriorated and that was a gift to Mrs Thatcher who had no problem privatising them. So a State system can fiddle the public interest.
- You can also have a very regulated privatised system as in the USA. The Chicago School of thought has exported to third world countries a liberal model which has never been applied in the United States. The American public would turn down such a system.
- You can also have a system capable of being regulated in the interests of consumers. This is what is happening in the United Kingdom. The system is more regulated than it used to be.
- Price fluctuations. As early as 1984, gas prices have gone down in the United Kingdom because at world level, prices for the raw material have decreased: minus 4% (below the level of inflation ) per year. In telecommunications, domestic prices increased after privatisation in 1986 and quickly decreased after 1993 due to the insistence of the regulator. In the electricity sector there was a small increase after privatisation then a decrease after 1995 due to public protest when companies' huge profits became known. Because of the European legislation on the environment, water companies immediately made consumers pay for the price of infrastructure improvements. Instead of absorbing these over 50 years we paid two thirds of the bill in the three years following privatisation. Now prices are going to go down. All price decreases are due to intervention by the regulator and not to liberalisation.
- We can have privatisation which works in the interest of consumers. The question of natural monopolies (at what level should the State intervene?) has not been sufficiently considered today. The answer is related to the degree of natural monopoly in non-competitive sectors (water and sewerage, electricity transmission and distribution, transport of gas). Competitive or potentially competitive sectors are: long distance telecommunications, electricity generation. Transitional sectors are local telecommunications, electricity and gas sales ( billing, consumption estimates). The latter only come to 6% of the total costs of electricity which means that these sectors are not worth liberalising. This nonsense is practised in the United Kingdom in the sale of electricity.State intervention must be stronger in the most monopolistic sectors. In those which are less monopolistic, intervention can be less draconian. We still have competition laws to prevent excessively aggressive practices and unfair competition. Sometimes the State may act in favour of the client, when it buys supplies from rival providers, for example, I am thinking of the system for electricity transmission. The National Consumer Council (NCC) took a position during the privatisation of electricity in 1989. My (State funded) organisation demanded that the State keep control of transmission and act in the interest of consumers. There is no simple answer to liberalisation vs.State control. It all depends on sectors but generally, the more monopolistic the sector, the more the State must intervene.
I do not understand those who distrust the universal service. This is a very good idea shared by members of the European Bureau of Consumers' Unions (BEUC) of which I am a member.
As democrats we need to demand the right to information and representation. Commercial confidentiality in sectors which remain totally monopolistic is pointless, its only justification being the advantage disclosure might give to a competitor. But in these sectors there are no competitors.
As a British citizen, I sometimes do not recognise my country in the caricatures which are presented: this ultra-liberal country in the pocket of the Americans or this offshore island
of the United States. I have had links with France for the last forty years and I hear more and more these false and insulting arguments. Incidentally, it is in Scotland that property rights are absolute. We have a much stricter regulatory system than before, prices are going down, disconnections are down. Lower prices and a stop to disconnections constitute the best protection for the poor because relationships with customers are much better managed than before.
European level I agree with some of the distrust expressed today. Naïve
enthusiasm for liberalisation (particularly in the South) may drive us
from one extreme to the other. We may end up with the worst: private monopolies
the French too pessimistic on internal affairs and too obsessed by other
liberals and by the Americans. You have internal problems but France and
the EU are immensely wealthy. We are capable of solving our internal problems.
It is a matter of control of the structure of companies, of the setting
up of systems of regulation to protect the public. Seen from the outside,
you are powerful and your companies are very powerful. The Lyonnaise des
Eaux and Vivendi are all over the world. They have bought the water company
of the North East of England. Electricity in London was "re-nationalised",
because it is owned by EDF, therefore by the French State.
Alain de TOLÉDO - There are two areas in which we French should not vie with our British friends: rugby where they have beaten us as usual and humour where I could not hope to compete. On the other hand, our public services we are the best. A friend who could not be here today has given me a text to read to you. Here is an extract: "Weather patterns at the end of 1999 have proved without doubt the need for public services run by companies with a general interest vocation. What would have happened if electricity, telephone and railways were run British style as the EU urges us to do? Fortunately for you lot , the storm hit France. Without EDF, France Telecom and the SNCF, I don't know what you would have done".
like to propose a fifteen-nation tournament of public services. We have
an assessment at European level, we decide on a referee, on a judges panel
(the US for example). We could evaluate democratically and pluralistically
all public services. The first prize would be in Euros.
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