13th Jul 2020


Scandalous double standards in Repsol affair

  • Oil barrels: 'The fantasy scenario would be funny if it was not for the added support of the war-mongering William Hague' (Photo: ezioman)

When Argentine President Cristina Fernandez announced she was ordering the partial nationalisation of oil company YPF (Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales) - owned by the Spanish oil company Repsol (16 April) - she reaped a whirlwind of protest in the EU.

First, from Repsol CEO Antonio Brufau. He demands billions in compensation. The Argentine government does not say it will not compensate the company, but Brufau wants international arbitration rather than to bring the case before the Argentine courts. This is a slap in the face of the Argentine people, which indicates: you can be trusted to hand over your money to us to build mega profits, but your courts cannot be trusted.

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The CEO is well connected, being former president of Spanish bank, La Caixa, and enlisted the Spanish Prime Minister to defend his company's interests. Suddenly, Repsol is a Spanish company more than a multinational one with interests from Latin America to Moldova.

In a replay of colonial rhetoric, the PM argued there would be dire consequences. Spain would take all measures to deal with the situation. Trade and energy supplies to Argentina are going to be targeted. You can almost imagine the Spanish fleet steaming over to revenge the wrong being done to its corporate citizen.

The fantasy scenario would be funny if it was not for the added support of the war-mongering William Hague, the foreign minister of the UK. The British fleet fought a real war over the Malvinas islands (or Falklands, in English) 20 years ago.

In case this is not enough, Lady Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, issued a statement saying that "all possible options are being analysed."

European Commission President Barroso is also sending an EU mission to Argentina on 19 and 20 April. It will presumably assist Repsol in street protests against the decision.

The commission pledged full support to Spain. Last but not least, Spain and the commission plan to make it the business of all EU members at a meeting of foreign ministers of Foreign Affairs next week in Luxembourg.

Ingrained bias

To act as proxies of Repsol would be a serious mistake of member states.

The statements of Barroso and Ashton reveal how deeply ingrained the corporate bias of the commission and EU institutions has become. The commission president reacted quickly because corporate interests are threatened. When workers and citizens protest the privatisation of publicly owned companies delivering essential services such as drinking water and electricity, he does not react.

Several EU governments are in fact seeking to privatise publicly owned water companies under budget-cutting measures. Invariably this is opposed by average people. But we do not see a mission of the European Commission to give assistance to the people of Thessaloniki, for instance.

Closer to home, Barroso could come out in favour of the Portuguese people, who are fighting agaist the sale of water companies in Portugal. Or why not in Spain in support of the mass demonstrations and the petition of 165,000 people of Madrid against the proposals to flog off water company Canal Isabel II?

Tone it down

The commission should tone down its language. Riding roughshod over the interests of the Argentine people to reverse what their elected government considers faulty privatisation decisions, is reminiscent of how it is pushing for more austerity despite the protests of millions in Europe.

The Argentine government argues that the company is not meeting its commitments on oil drilling. It does not invest enough compared to the profits it rakes off. Some 16 provinces (led by elected offiials) have revoked petroleum concessions held by Repsol-YPF in recent weeks.

As European Federation of Public Service Unions, we consider it entirely legitimate for workers and citizens to seek reversal of the privatisation of public assets and for governments and municipalities to take such decisions.

The Repsol YPF affair underlines that the commission and the corporate sector see privatisation decisions as irrevocable. We know now that this commission is lying through its teeth when it says it is a neutral broker in debates over who should own public services.

The author is Deputy General Secretary of the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU)


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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