Sociologist, local councillor, activist, drummer from Malta

Thursday, March 20, 2014

From energy oligarchs to electoral circuses

While the Labour government is perfectly in order and in line with its electoral mandate to make the shift from heavy fuel oil to gas as Malta’s main source of energy, it is also becoming clearer that Malta will be transformed into an energy-dependent state in the years to come.

The antagonistic interpretations on whether full, or part-privatization of Enemalta will take place cannot conceal a basic fact: that the main facilities producing energy will be privatized. This will mean that the State will only control the distribution aspect of Enemalta, rendering the country dependent on energy oligarchs.

Arguably, Malta will still be dependent on external sources of energy without the privatization of energy production, given that Malta has no gas resources of its own. But government’s plans will mean that our country will be dependent on a private company whose main aim is to make profit.

Of course, this might result in short-to-medium term economic and political gains, due to cheaper electricity bills for some years. But basically, the opportunity cost of this is Malta writing off its energy sovereignty.

I have strong doubts on whether this is strategically sound, especially when other alternatives exist.

For example, the State can still have control on energy production through Enemalta, entering agreements which permit a degree of flexibility. In such a scenario the interconnector to Europe – which permits more flexibility than privatization of energy production – can be considered as a back-up should the need arise.

The State should also increase efforts for renewable energy sources which in themselves can guarantee a greater degree of energy sovereignty. This path can also take place with the involvement of other governments and companies, whilst avoiding large-scale dependency paths.

Unfortunately, some critics of government’s plans are not stating that even a gas pipeline can render Malta dependent on energy oligarchs. And such dependence can have dangerous economic and political repercussions. In this regard, the current political and economic conflicts in Ukraine should serve as a timely reminder of the geopolitical dimension of energy. Energy policy is not only about technical and environmental factors: it is also about political economy.


On another note, the European Parliamentary election campaign has kicked off.

Disenchantment with anti-democratic policies such as Troika-imposed-austerity is having polarizing effects on economies and people’s quality of life – Greece being a clear case in point.

And that’s also why some are moving towards xenophobic Euroscepticism through the xenophobic Far Right.

But the call for another Europe, a social Europe that kick-starts the economy through increased public investment, should not be underestimated.

Perhaps this is why European surveys are showing that apart from the Socialist group (S&D) likely to become the largest group in the EP, the radical Left (GUE-NGL) is likely to upstage others and become the third largest group after the second-placed Popular Party (EPP).

In the meantime, in Malta, Xarabank has blown the whistle for the start of the electoral contest.

From what I am seeing so far, we have more of a beauty contest of competing populisms, a circus of rhetoric which has little to do with the European parliament.

Either way, and for different reasons, the European Parliament is relatively powerless on issues such as hunting, migration, construction and government performance. Yet, this is what we are hearing about from most politicians of all colours.

On the other hand, the European Parliament has relative power over the EU budget. I would expect progressive proposals that show how the EU budget can move away from funding programmes based on neoliberal conditions, towards a stronger social model.

Another Europe is possible, but are we discussing this in Malta? Being “Left” is not fashionable in beauty contests.

This blog appeared in Malta Today, 20th March 2014

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