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Energy Bill 2016 [Seanad]\Second Stage
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Snippet Contents:

The Bill contains some positive elements, such as increasing the penalties that can be imposed on companies for market manipulation for insider trading. However, the enhanced powers are weak, given that they must be confirmed by the High Court, even if the company concerned does not bother to lodge an objection. This reflects a fear of interfering too strongly in the artificial market in utilities, which the EU is bent on creating, and the interests of multinational utility companies which would oppose regulators with strong powers to impose sanctions on them.
The Bill must be seen as part of a process of completing an all-island and EU-wide single market in utilities and EU markets that will enable large utilities and utility oligopolies to compete across borders, and of furthering the process of liberalisation and privatisation of public utilities. A single EU market in utilities would make privatisation of Irish publicly owned companies such as the ESB or Irish Water more financially viable by giving them easier access to foreign markets in which to expand and compete. It would also open the door to foreign multinational utilities buying up the Irish electricity, gas and water networks, which has already happened in the case of Transdev and the Luas, destroying the previous operation of rail transport as a fully publicly owned service.
Beefing up the powers of supposedly independent regulators of these markets is a further step in the process of capitalist accumulation by dispossession, whereby big business appropriates previously commonly owned public goods for private profits. This has had disastrous results across the world where utilities have been privatised with increased prices, power cuts, attacks on workers and so on. Supposedly independent, bureaucratic regulators are part of a wider trend of separating public services from democratic oversight. It allows governments to disclaim responsibility for important matters affecting workers, ordinary consumers and households, and for issues such as utility prices.
This is part of a broader technocratic process of what is called constitutionalising neoliberalism, whereby political aspects of economic policy are put beyond democratic discussions by bodies such as the Dáil and put beyond politics and democratic input. The defining characteristics of this include the delegation of economic policy-making, monitoring, supervision and enforcement to supposedly impartial, independent, technocratic experts. We have seen this process regarding the fiscal treaty and the fiscal rules. Another defining characteristic of constitutionalising neoliberalism is the enshrinement of neoliberal, free market norms in legislation, including by putting them in constitutions as we have done here, to make it as difficult as possible to reverse neoliberal policies in the future.
The EU's role in pushing this and the creation of a single European utilities market is another example of how the EU remains one of the prime actors in continuing to enforce neoliberalism internationally, even though the International Monetary Fund, IMF, is in some senses questioning the excesses of neoliberalism. We know the role the IMF has played in Latin America. In an article published a few weeks ago, the IMF questioned whether neoliberalism had been "oversold" and concluded there was little evidence that adhering to neoliberal principles had increased economic growth but stated it had definitely led to significantly increased inequality. In spite of this, the EU is pushing full steam ahead with the imposition of neoliberal dogma in as many fields as possible, just as it did when it imposed maximum neoliberal austerity on the Greek people at a time when even the IMF could see it was counterproductive, given the overall picture of world capitalism.
From the look of things, the EU and its ever faithful servants in the Irish Government will be the very last to notice what The Guardian described as the "long death of an ideology" or the "death of neoliberalism from within". On the one hand, it is collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions, despite the best efforts of the EU and successive Irish Governments to resuscitate it since the global financial crisis. On the other hand, it is being defeated by popular pressure, as the success of fighting water charges demonstrates. Not only did it rip off the veil of faux neutrality and independence of the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, and all the other so-called independent regulators, it exposed the neoliberal, political nature of seemingly technocratic directives such as the Water Framework Directive and showed how their creation and continued existence are a result of political decisions made in the interests of the 1% and which can be defeated by the struggles of the 99% against neoliberalism, the privatisation of public services and the erosion of democracy.