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Energy unions: coherent energy policy needed for investment, jobs and economic growth

(5 March 2013) The EPSU utilities group had a comprehensive discussion on European Union energy policy. The internal market prevents that clear choices are made and is thus contributing to insecurity for companies which do not invest with closure of power plants causing social dramas in several countries with most recent example being EON that closes 5 (coal fired) power stations in France as well as a ultramodern and efficient gasfired power station in Germany.

The market for CO2-emissions (and the low price for emission rights) is adding to the problems. EPSU will be active towards the European institutions in arguing:
- More stress on a role for the state and regulation rather than the market as the way to achieve CO2 emissions and a change to a more sustainable energy system, stressing that the market does not bring about democratic decisions and is not a mechanism for deciding preferences of people.
- Underlining the role of public investment in energy and other infrastructures to help kickstart and sustain growth; consistent policies are needed to determine prices and provide guarantees to investors.
- Employment and social considerations should play a role in European energy policy. When addressing climate change Just transition and decent job principles (as agreed in Cancun) should be guiding principles.

A major issue for the next Standing Committees and unions will be preparation for the 20- 22 May Congress 2014 in the French town of Toulouse. Members considered a first draft for a resolution on the utilities, the work EPSU should undertake to develop policy, promote workers’ interests and influence employers and European institutions. Coordination of collective bargaining could get more prominence.

Several members reported on the progress with the www.right2water.eu campaign. It is a success with close to 1.2 million signatures online and several ten thousands on paper. In several countries activities will take place on 22 March, World Water Day. We are looking for a strong message and more countries that pass the minimum threshold for their country.

Other issues considered:
- The union group adopted a position on shale gas. We argue that with the current state of technologies there are too many risks that the exploitation of shale gas through fracking leads to negative effects on the environment and communities. EPSU does not oppose research if it does not affect the environment but we stress that this should happen through public research bodies with participation of stakeholders (and including critical ones) to prevent that profit-maximization drives this.
- EPSU will continue to monitor the developments regarding nuclear safety and including when the proposal of the Commission for a review of the nuclear safety directive is published.
- The lack of progress with ensuring that the social dialogue for the gas sector as employers do not make enough effort to invest in it
- Members also adopted the trade union side position on several issues on the agenda with the electricity employers (Eurelectric):

  • Framework of actions on training and competencies committing employers and unions to follow up at national level.
  • A joint statement on the European Commission proposal for Quality Framework on Traineeships.
  • A joint position on the social strategy for the Energy community.
  • A critical approach on the sector skill councils. Clarity is needed on the long-term funding, the positive contributions that can be achieved and the need to have a decent feasibility study.

- A report on the public procurement and the concessions directive. The unions want to see progress with regard to social criteria and respect for collective agreements, more transparency, clear possibilities for in-house provision and public public cooperation. The attitude towards the concession directive remains critical as its justification is not clear, and its application to public services such as health and water not appropriate.
- The Standing Committee chose Jan Ruden, SEKO as its President. Jan is president of SEKO, a member of the EPSU Executive Committee and had been vice-president of EPSU’s Standing Committee. Members agreed to elect the presidential team after Congress in May 2014.
- The unions adopted a critical attitude versus the European Commission proposal on the Blueprint for water. While there are positive elements, these risk being overshadowed by the attention for economic instruments and solutions while the social dimension and the human right to water do not have a prominent place.
- Company developments in the electricity, gas, water and waste sectors.

The EPSU Standing Committee Utilities took place on 26 February 2013, in Brussels. It was chaired by Jan Ruden, SEKO, Sweden. Colleagues participated from Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Roumania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, UK. For the EPSU Secretariat Jerry van den Berge and EPSU Deputy General Secretary took part.