BRUSSELS – A law selling off one-third of Greece’s Public Power Corporation (PPC) to private investors was recently rushed through parliament by the government following demands by the Troika, which has been effectively decreeing policy in the country since 2010.
Both the New Democracy and Pasok parties (partners in government) backed the arrangement, which includes lucrative terms offering remarkable privileges for investors in the shape of major energy companies like Germany’s RWE and the French EDL.
While the jumble sale of state property (industries, infrastructure, and utilities) has been a characteristic of the last five years, and chiefly apparent in Greece, the “everything must go” approach to public goods is regrettably not just a Greek phenomenon.
Privatisation is one of the preconditions of the mantra that has directed policy across the European periphery since the beginning of the Greek crisis.
Privatisation’s champions maintain that selling public assets is good for competition and hinders price-fixing, as well as benefiting state coffers and consumers. What we have seen instead are greater costs, added inefficiencies and redundancies.
Internationally, experience shows that, in contrast to this rosy image, privatisation often results in reduced access to services which then become more expensive and less efficient, with Margaret Thatcher’s Britain in the 1980s standing as the classic, gloomy monument to this economic lunacy.
Arrested for being on strike
But market fundamentalists and their allies are testing something even more dangerous in Greece. Genop-DEH, the main union to which most PPC staff is affiliated, has been fighting the government policy by calling a series of strikes.
Worryingly, in reaction to this, the government issued civil mobilisation orders to 19,000 PPC workers, meaning that they face arrest for being on strike. This move effectively abolishes the right to strike – a fundamental entitlement in any functioning democracy, not to mention something which is enshrined in the EU’s own charter of fundamental rights.
In the context of such shocking government tactics, the left in Greece is calling for a referendum on whether the PPC should be privatised.
This way, the Greek people can decide on the issue rather than leaving it up to a government that has shown itself to be both deeply unpopular and without democratic legitimacy already twice in elections – European and local – this year.
For us, access to energy is a human rights issue and so its supply should remain under public control and ownership. The people must have their say by referendum on such crucial decisions, which will impact on their lives and the lives of generations to come, and so it will remain our core priority for the near future.
We are also gathering support to counter moves to sell off other vital national assets, while pushing EU institutions to condemn the recent breaches of the charter of fundamental rights by the government in Greece.
Against this theft of public property, local initiatives have been springing up, and often halting the privatisation of utilities such as water services and hospitals.
From Thessaloniki to Berlin to Porto, the value of common goods is gaining traction as an essential idea in the popular response to the flogging of public assets on the cheap.
Five years of economic and social crisis under the austerity-fixated European leadership have prepared the groundwork for an exceptional transfer of resources from the shared democratic space to the realm of impenetrable multinationals.
The Greek left, alongside our allies all over Europe, is putting forward a vision of genuine democracy in Europe. This involves shutting down tax havens, fighting for a banking sector at the service of society, developing a proper training and investment plan to bring down youth unemployment, and democratisation of the EU institutions – especially the European Central Bank.
Vanquishing existing and imminent moves towards privatisation must form the nucleus of struggles to position the citizen in her rightful place at the centre of a much-needed democratic and social Europe.
This is the means by which we can present an alternative to the right’s nightmare vision for the future of our continent.