Should basic services such as water, gas, and electricity utilities be governed by the free market? Or should they be considered a “public good”, and nationalised to keep prices down? It’s an old leftwing policy that fell out of fashion in the 1980s, but with energy prices skyrocketing and vulnerable households facing energy poverty, could it be time to resurrect it once more?

Proponents of nationalisation argue that private companies hike up prices and focus on profit over people. Utilities often create natural monopolies, and consumers cannot choose to stop consuming water, gas, or electricity – therefore, the logic of the free market starts to break down (or so goes the argument). Critics respond by pointing out that publicly-owned alternatives were inefficient and plagued by political interference from governments who only thought about winning the next election.

What do ours readers think? We had comments on this topic from Любомир (Liubov), Jonathan, Rosy and Nando. To get a response, we put them to Manuela Ripa, a German MEP who sits with the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance and a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy.

For another perspective, we also put Любомир (Liubov)‘s comment to Magdalena Maj, Leader of the Energy and Climate Team at the Polish Economic Institute. Our reader had suggested that “All infrastructure utilities should be publicly owned and regulated on a national, and possibly EU level.”

How would Magdalena Maj respond?

It is very difficult topic that Liubok raises in his statement. Do I agree with this or not? I guess I wouldn’t say yes or no definitely. I may say what the experts currently are saying also from other European countries, where this infrastructure is not owned by the state. There are voices that regret that this infrastructure was privatized. But we must firstly hope that this difficult situation in Ukraine, this Russian invasion, will end soon and that the whole energy crisis which started after the pandemic and the pandemic itself, hopefully, will end soon.

So, in a different reality, in a normal reality, I would say that it is better to have privatized infrastructure of production of energy and transmission systems, so the grids and the pipes. because there is a market and competition and there is improvement etc. now in such a crisis it’s easy to forget about it and we may see that the easier and better solution would be to have this critical infrastructure owned by the state, because then it could be easily regulated. But in normal times there are huge disadvantages with that.

From the Polish experience, I may say that after the nineties, Poland made a huge effort for the liberalisation of energy infrastructure. And without this, we would be even more stuck with fossil fuels and old non-efficient infrastructure than we are now. So, I understand the way of thinking, but over a long term period I think it’s better to have private infrastructure.

Should water, gas, and electricity utilities be nationalised? Or is the free market the most efficient way to deliver basic services at an affordable price? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Peter Asquith
Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Commission. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

17 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    EU-Reform Proactive

    My 2016 opinion remains:

    Our sovereign national governments should be solely responsible and hold resource ownership, rights & obligations (like its mineral & human rights etc.). As such- be free to decide, design, develop, produce, distribute, contract & conditionally share with any reputable private sector partner (PPP) – or relatable countries- to obtain the a.m. basic commodities & services at cost- for the sole benefit of its citizens- ethically, sustainably- without State, political party or corporate corruptions.
    Was raising this issue in 2016 too long ago? What was its conclusion? To analyse & summarize past results could/would be quicker than starting & repeating our previous comments afresh. (Using DE analytics/ AI?) What has changed in the past ~6 years?

    Was it technological advancements? Change in EU ideology, or leadership? National government & voter’s sentiments?

    Or- geopolitical shifts & rifts? Running out of themes?

    Or- revelations by investigative journalists- so far- without any serious consequences? Why cast a political blind eye on the many tax evasions & their enablers & flourishing tax havens?

    Q: Who & when will “someone“ show teeth to prosecute, confiscate (nationalise) and/or seriously sanction EU tax havens- like it’s done with Russia?
    Why hesitate to implement EU Agenda 2019-2024- “Big on Big”?

  2. avatar

    The prices on everything always shell be controlled and have reasons behind the rises.

  3. avatar

    Nationalising???? The entire (ongoing) pandemic was left to the free market and it turned JUUUUUUUUSSSSST FIIIIIINE

  4. avatar

    Shipwrecks in any port have been eliminated in ships so that the molluscs do not cross … If you suck the shit out of your nails, is it better?

  5. avatar
    JT HK

    Energy hinges to survival of people and enterprises, it should be the duty and responsibility of government. Overloaded government and privatization are invention of neo-liberalism, which has led to growing disparity of wealth. Privatization means price racing to the bottom at the sacrifice of quality and ethic. More importantly, it has damage the governing efficiency and capacity of the government executive department. As a consequence, government becomes paralyzed in front of natural catastrophic situations including the current Covid-2019 pandemic.

  6. avatar

    Longt-term contract were making pricing predictable, gas companies with government involvement and market prices were stable. But we decided that it is too much dependence on Russia. Now we have the results.

  7. avatar

    EU forced all countries to privatise energy.. We see tbe results. Investment droped and we have shortage. Before France was self sufficient with an efficient nuclear industry… FREXIT

  8. avatar
    Adrian L

    Yes! YES!
    Why are we even debating this!?

  9. avatar

    I love you guys “moderate” people who say YES to nationalization of critical resources and kicking out foreign corporations.
    Gotta tow the corporate line, eh?

  10. avatar
    JT HK

    In my opinion, political leaders and governments are still trying to bury their head on the soil and refuse to see the real problems of their wrong action to drag Europe into a US proxy war against Russia before any effort and large scale post-COVID socioeconomic recovery programme is able to implement. As a consequence, Europe has been dragged into a conflict as a stupid third party without any social, political, economic and military means. This is a serious betrayal of the citizen. Apart from showing a one side story basing on anti-Russia, and promoting Russian threat, has the leaders showing the other side of the story whether the country is prepared to engage in a proxy war, what are the possible consequences? Politicians of EU have no difference with the British ones as we can see in the BREXIT, the British people had only seen all the negative effort and already called for a second referendum immediate. But everything is too late. Irresponsible politicians are now risking the breaking down of the British Empire. Apparently, UK and EU leaders are still playing the same trick as Boris Johnson, sacrificing interest of the people and the country just for oneself to climb up to the apex of power.

  11. avatar
    JT HK

    It is not the problem on the nationalization of electricity utilities but how to cease EU from bleeding by recklessly joining a proxy war without any means. It is a gambler’s mentality to join a proxy war without without telling the people what are the possible consequences. This is a betray of the people by elected representatives. People are ignorant to government and politics. Without revealing the fact and let the people to make a reasonable choice, today, people are taking it to the street.

  12. avatar

    Oh yes, to fix problems caused by government and globalists we need to give them more power.

  13. avatar

    you press all member states to pri itiwe energy.. now you want to nationalise… you waste money of europeans people… you have no long term plan… you are the pledge of european peoples always acting by ideology

  14. avatar
    Richard Martinez

    There is so much fear that having utilities and energy under government control is movement towards communism.
    We as people can hold elected officials accountable.
    Theses industries can be regulated to make profit for improvements in production and environmental advances.
    This should be done with the people as the number one priority.
    As it stands, the working class is at the mercy of corporate giants. These corporations will try to squeeze individuals of every cent as long as we are at their mercy and blame cost increases on supply, labor costs, or even the length of the day if they can spin it to their agenda.
    The masses are always at the mercy of political and corporate leaders which truly very few care about fellow human beings.

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