A massive battle is underway in the French parliament over the controversial merger of mostly state-owned Gaz de France and utility Suez. It cannot go ahead without a change in the law to allow GDF to be privatised and France’s left-wing opposition lawmakers are trying to delay approval of a bill to do that by presenting nearly 140,000 amendments to the draft law. The socialists say the merger would mean higher energy prices. Gas de France’s boss, Jean Francois Cirelli, says the opposite: “With this merger, after privatisation, we’ll be able to buy gas cheaper and sell it cheaper and keep our customers and offer them electricity and other utility services as well as gas.”
The combined company would provide gas to 15 million households and electricity to six million. At the moment Gaz de France is 80% state-owned, after the merger just 34% would remain in public ownership. As well as political opposition the unions want to block the deal. They plan nationwide demonstrations next Tuesday. Union leader Frederic Imbrecht said: “We think that it is better to maintain the link between Electricity de France and Gaz de France with the French state controlling prices rather than handing over this big public enterprise to private interests – that is Suez.”
The French government does not even have full support from its own party and may be reduced to using special powers to push through the privatisation bill without a vote which would be unpopular.