29
Sep

Spain industry: Energy protectionism overcome? from The Economist

Escrito el 29 septiembre 2006 por Rafael Pampillón en Economía española

The Economist said “The European Commission has emphatically overruled the Spain’s energy regulator, which tried illegally to block the takeover of local power group Endesa by Germany’s E.On. The game is still not over, as another Spanish company, Acciona, has now acquired a minority stake in Endesa. Plans are also evolving to create a rival national energy champion, by merging the number two and three Spanish energy companies. Whether or not E.On persists in its bitterly-fought takeover attempt will be a crucial test of the European Commission’s indefatigable efforts to create a single European energy market. The resistance shown by the Spanish authorities has been surprising, given its pro-EU rhetoric, and its policy can only backfire–not only on itself, but on consumers and the foreign ambitions of Spanish companies. Neelie Kroes, the EU’s Competition Commissioner, has again shown her resolve in forcing open Europe’s markets, especially in energy. Her ruling on September 26th that Spain had broken EU competition law in effect by blocking the bid by Germany electricity giant E.On for Endesa, Spain’s leading power group, is a major boost for the creation of an EU-wide energy market. The move is important because it attacks the Spanish authorities, rather than merely the defensive tactics of a target company. Given the size of the bid, which currently values Endesa at around €37bn (US$47bn), and would be the largest ever energy deal in Europe, the Commission’s move sets a clear benchmark for the behaviour of a state in any future cross-border energy deals.”

The consolidation of Europe’s energy sector will continue, whether this involves the merger of home-grown “national champions” or cross-border mergers. The Spanish government’s apparent defensiveness about the benefits of creating a free European market in energy is counterproductive. Although fearing that foreign ownership might work to hike domestic electricity prices, the purpose of a level-playing field is to achieve the exact opposite. “Moreover, such protectionism may have harmed Spanish companies seeking foreign acquisitions, some of whom have complained privately of getting a hostile reception from the target company’s national regulator. How accommodating, for example, might German investors and regulators be towards the next Spanish company that seeks to make a purchase there? Road operator Albertis has already had a taste of protectionism in Italy where it bid for its Italian counterpart Autostrade. Spanish companies have shown that they want to be more active in Europe, but so far their successes in the last couple of years have been mainly in the UK: telecoms group Telefonica acquired UK mobile operator O2 for $31bn; a Ferrovial-led consortium acquired airport operator BAA for $17bn; and in 2004, Banco Santander and Central Hispano bought Abbey National Bank. The UK government is one of the most receptive in the EU to the benefits of foreign direct investment; the same cannot be assumed elsewhere. The attitude of the Spanish government in failing to learn the lessons of protectionism only serves to entrench anti-competitive attitudes in Europe, harm domestic consumers, and set back the international ambitions of its home-grown companies”.

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