Blesséd be the European Union and its real policy makers.
Tony, Nic, Angie, Lech, José and others might think they’re the decision makers. After all they grab all the headlines for themselves, wrangling into the wee hours of the morning over the institutional future of the glorious 27.
But the real powerhouse grinds away inexorably in the background, day after day, away from the glare of the cameras. The Commission, with its layer upon layer of expertise, tantalising bureaucracy and mountains of draft recommendations, revised drafts, final drafts, revised final drafts…..and all in a linguistic rainbow incomprehensible to those “outside the know”. The months and years of fine tuning after the Blairs of this world have finally (and thankfully) disappeared from the political stage translate into another Brussels directive guaranteed to send one member state into an apoplectic fit long after the show is over.
This time it’s energy pricing and so-called “liberalisation” or “deregulation” of prices and suppliers that is proving to be the proverbial spanner. Britain, Germany and others might already have got their heads around the problem, but France is only just about to
From July 1 consumers here will be able to choose which supplier they get their gas and electricity from.
Fabulous news. There will be freedom of choice and of course lower prices for everyone if we’re to believe the blurb. We can shop around for the best and greenest deal saving our purse strings and the planet at the same time.
So why then is has the country’s most respected consumer magazine “Que Choisir” actually recommended doing absolutely nothing?
Well they’ve have based their advice on the experience of industry and business (which are after all the biggest energy users) over the past couple of years. Back in 2004 the “professionals” were encouraged to sign new contracts (with the very same suppliers of course such as EDF) at seductive levels lower than the regulatory prices. €30 per megawatt hour rather than the regulatory or fixed price of €33. Big numbers when we’re talking big users of course.
But by the end of 2005 and 2006 the professionals found themselves shelling out mega bucks for their mega watts - €60 and then more than €70, while EDF were raking in huge profits and literally laughing all the way to the bank. And the real knife in the back for those that had initially opted out of regulated prices was that they couldn’t opt back in again!
There was so much heartache and belly griping from the Captains that parliament finally gave in and allowed those who wanted the chance to return to regulated pricing.
There is however to be no such period of grace or understanding for the private consumer. Opting out will be a definitive move with no chance of being welcomed back into the regulatory fold – ever. And that’s final (and brutal). Little surprise then that “Que Choisir” is promoting a strategy of “wait and see”. After all nobody can actually be forced to change. Ah the delights of liberalising the utilities. Isn’t it just always the consumer that benefits most?
So while we listen to the latest yawnathon – and let’s face it, who really understands all that baloney anyway? We can remain rest assured that Brussels will shortly and quietly be churning out another globally agreed directive based on the premise that at one size fits all.
Okapi - An okapi chilling in Beauval Zoo. Okapis are some of the strangest mammals I have ever seen. By the way, don’t let the stripes fool you, they...