After three weeks of sometimes fiery debate the lower house of the French parliament, the Assemblee Nationale, has approved the privatisation of the state gas monopoly Gaz de France. The upper house or Senate gets its say next week. The bill has thus overcome the record 130 000 amendments tabled by the opposition in a bid to scupper the sale. The next hurdle may be Gaz de France’s employees. They demonstrated in Paris while the Assemblee voted, but a day of action nationwide mobilised slightly fewer workers than a similar protest in September.
The French state will cut its holding from 70 to 33 percent of the shares, opening the way for private energy company Suez to make a bid. The hope is to create an even more powerful private sector company that can be a national energy champion.
Any merger with Suez would create a 72 billion euro giant, Europe’s second biggest utility, but it will face a competition enquiry from the European Commission. In an attempt to reassure customers worried about price rises, particularly in Belgium where Suez owns the number one power company Electrabel, GDF will sell its quarter stake in the number two SPE group, and along with Suez will also hive off other assets related to the Belgian market.