French energy privatizations echoing Greek developments

France, like Greece, is undergoing a process of energy sector privatizations, but the scale and terms are vastly different.

By the end of this week, French president Emmanuel Macron’s administration plans to have finalized legislation enabling the privatization of state assets, the objective being to raise 10 billion euros in revenues.

The French state’s 24.1 percent stake in power utility Engie is one of the assets to be placed for sale. This sale is of particular interest for Greece as the firm maintains interests in the Greek market.

In 2009, Engie, the world’s biggest independent electricity producer and supplier, acquired a stake in Greek independent power company Heron. Engie, valued at over 36 billion euros, currently holds a 25 percent stake in Heron.

As is the case in Greece, France also appears to be facing European Commission pressure to privatize hydropower facilities, the objective being to intensify competition.

So far, the Greek government has managed to avoid including hydropower units in the state-controlled main power utility PPC’s bailout-required sale of units. The sale package for the PPC sale in progress is limited to lignite facilities.

Engie controls approximately 15 percent of France’s hydropower facilities. EDF owns roughly 85 percent of the country’s hydropower units.

Last month, CGT, France’s biggest union, condemned the French government for delivering a secret plan to Brussels for hydropower privatizations without any previous discussion with workers. At the time, the French administration refused to comment on the union’s reaction, which only intensified the concerns of workers.

CGT has taken strike action for such cases in the past and can be expected to act likewise in this latest instance.

These older union initiatives, however, failed to stop the liberalization process of France’s electricity market. The CGT threats also did nothing to stop the transfer of EDF and Engie stakes to private-sector investors.