Opposing the European Rage of Privatization

by Thomas Fritz Thursday, Apr. 07, 2005 at 11:15 AM

Telecommunications, postal service, gas and transportation were the first public sectors that fell victim to the rage of unbridled liberalization..A drastic structural change of the state has occurred from a producing to a guaranteeing state.


By Thomas Fritz

[This article published in: Attac-Rundbrief 1/2004 is translated from the German on the Attac-Germany website, http://www.attac.de.]

In the fall of 1984 the powerful industrialist association European Roundtable of Industrialists urged the establishment of a Common European Home Market. The goal of the captains of industry was the removal of all trade barriers in the interior of the European Union to strengthen the competitiveness of European capital on the world market. The European commission gratefully took up these proposals and formulated a gigantic liberalization program in its 1987 white book. The 280 legislative proposals of the white book have not been completely realized. Nevertheless an extremely destructive dynamic of neoliberal re-regulation was released.

Telecommunications, postal service, gas and transportation were the first public sectors that fell victim to the rage of unbridled liberalization. By means of a bewildering mesh of secondary legal guidelines and regulations, transnational elites, economic lobbyists and the EU commission confirmed this privatization in European law. Its main supports are: a) prohibition of public monopolies and promotion of private monopolies, b) legal claims of profit-maximizing service providers to access to state subsidies and c) pressure to advertise public contracts with the obligation to award contracts to the cheapest supplier.

This progressive capitalization of public services is accompanied by a drastic structural change of he state, its transformation from a producing to a guaranteeing state. The EU commission describes this process very inaccurately: While a series of universal services were traditionally provided by the public authorities, the authoritie4s nowadays increasingly commission public or private enterprises, i.e. public-private partnerships, with these services and restrict their own role to identifying public goals, supervising, regulating and if necessary financing services. That the capitalist profit-making pressures stand structurally in the way of equal access to indispensable service assignments and are not annulled by well-intentioned regulation is not mentioned.

Encountering this transformation of the state by referring to the supposedly blessed times of Rhine capitalism or the Fordist welfare state is absurd. The essential function of the social state like e=very capitalist state consists in assuring the prerequisites for the smoothest possible production of profit. To this end, all middle class societies developed the legal models of freedom of contract and private property. An emancipatory social resistance will have to annul these legal constructions through social appropriation of former public services and private production. Concepts of global public goods are not emancipatory as long as special treatment is graciously granted public goods while the sacrosanct no-go area is declared for the private-capitalist production process and its legal prerequisites.

The development of an emancipatory praxis of social appropriation is still in its infancy with Attac. However this praxis is central since commercialization advances briskly. Commercialization is now occurring in the area of nursing. A task force of the European standardization committee will develop a norm for burial services by 2006 that will prevent public excesses. The right to be laid to rest in any other EU country and establish a burial business is part of the freedom of establishment of the domestic market. Competition also rages here. The most important trade barrier for this stable business is also on the hit list: communal property as a cemetery.