>Czech power politics: short circuiting reform?


The first issue of theCzech news magazine Respekt in new compact colour format includes several interest articles including a feature on state-owned electricity giant ČEZ. Despite the good intentions of various governments since 1989 – including the last Social Democrat-led government – the conglomerate has never been fully privatized (state holds 67% stake) and the energy supply industry never adequately liberalized (through the breaking up of large players like ČEZ to create a more competitive market). The reason for this was the apparent imminent state of collapse of ČEZ during the 1990s and the risk that the Czech Republic might be dependent on expensive foreign ( = German) electricity. This was also one of the reasons for the completion of the controversial Temelín nuclear power plant. ČEZ is now, however, super profitable, having with political backing consolidated its dominant position by buying small independent distribution companies and seen of foreign entrants to the Czech energy market. ČEZ, claims Respekt, is not only too rich and too political well connected, it seems to have little incentive to modernize and promote more efficient energy generation or energy use, instead using profits to buy up and withdraw its own shares and make acquisitions abroad. The magazine speculates that politicians – if not directly influenced by ČEZ freebies and donations – may be conserving this milch cow as an asset to sell off to manage public spending programmes. It hopes that the mega-bucks containing in the company will be used for something useful like pension reform.

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