Spain ignores the French model of a public electricity company while foreign state investors take over the energy companies

"We cannot continue to depend on Russian oil and gas." The Prime Minister of France, Elisabeth Borne, defended this Wednesday the takeover of 100% of the shareholding of Electricité de France (EDF)of which the State already owns 84% ​​but where it seeks its complete nationalization as a "guarantee of our energy sovereignty and the preservation of purchasing power", at a time when inflation and problems with the Russian gas supply after the invasion of Ukraine have torn the seams of the European energy system.

With this step, the Government of Emmanuel Macron reactivates the option of having state electricity companies as the axis on which to structure energy sovereignty.

In Spain, today, the shareholding of electricity companies is stuffed with public holdings, only they do not correspond to the Spanish State. With two asterisks, the two managers of the networks, the gas and the electricity. In both Enagás and Red Eléctrica, the State Industrial Participation Company (SEPI) is present as a reference shareholder. However, Endesa, Iberdrola, Naturgy, Cepsa, Viesgo or Enagas itself have foreign state investors in their capital, although with different weight and decision-making capacity.

Could Spain replicate that movement of the Macron Executive and nationalize the capital of some energy company? According to the statements of the First Vice President of the Government and Minister of Economic Affairs, Nadia Calviño, at the moment, that option is not on the table.

"I have not been able to speak with the minister [de Finanzas, Bruno] Le Maire to ask you for details, but I understand that the French Government's decision responds to the difficulties they are having in the nuclear field. They have an important part of the park stopped, it is necessary to undertake some huge investments to be able to have that park operational and probably no private investor is willing to make those investments," Calviño assured in an interview on Onda Cero. "I interpret that, precisely for that , an extreme decision is being considered. In the case of our country we have a diversification of sources, of energy technologies, it is a situation that is not comparable," he stressed.

France has embraced nuclear as an energy axis, more so when Brussels protects it as a green alternative towards decarbonization, even if the bill is billionaire. Macron has promised to start up six new nuclear reactors from 2035, which will cost at least 52,000 million euros. And EDF is the axis of that nuclear bet, despite the fact that it carries a liability of 43,000 million.

"It is an interesting question for all those who say that the solution is nuclear, that we have to move in that direction, when we see the enormous cost and the difficulty of using technologies that are not for the future. They have to be the cleanest energies and cheaper of which we have plenty in Spain, as happens with the sun. This bet is understood by all citizens and is what gives us security for the future," Calviño deepened this Thursday.

In that future, there could have been a state company. Just before Russia invaded Ukraine and unleashed a war at the gates of the European Union, the Congress of Deputies knocked down the proposal of one of the partners of the coalition government, United We Can, to start up a public electricity company. An initiative that had 58 votes in favor and 275 against, including those of the PSOE, PP, Vox, PNV and Ciudadanos.

In Spain there is no public power company, but there are power companies that have state-owned companies or companies controlled by a foreign executive as shareholders. The most obvious name is Endesa, privatized at the turn of the century under the Government of José María Aznar. Currently, 70% of its capital is in the hands of Enel, a power company controlled by the Italian State, which owns more than 23% and is its main shareholder.

The landing of Enel in Endesa was one of the most bizarre corporate soap operas on the Ibex in the years prior to the last financial crisis. The Italian became Endesa's reference investor in a business operation where, at first, she was a secondary actor.

A quick summary: Gas Natural launched a purchase offer for Endesa in 2005 and was met with a direct rejection by its management team, headed by the company's president, Manuel Pizarro, who years later was the economic guru of the PP. "You will surely win. But let me play," assured Pizarro, while brandishing a copy of the 1978 Constitution, as an argument for his defense before the takeover bid. And he played. Pizarro looked for a 'white knight', an alternative offer, which came from the hand of the German group E.On, which had the State of Bavaria in its capital. That movement didn't work either, because a Spanish alternative appeared, Acciona. The Entrecanales company wanted to stop being a construction company and aspired to get into the regulated energy business. She was not alone, but was accompanied by Enel.

"We entered Endesa with the expectation of finding Spanish partners who wanted to join. We did not succeed, largely for political reasons. It was an issue that was highly politicized and became even more politicized," said José Manuel Entrecanales in an interview with 'The vanguard'. "One Sunday in March 2007, I was informed that Fulvio Conti, the CEO of Enel, wanted to see me. (...) I explained clearly to Conti that we wanted to influence Endesa and that if that was not possible, we would It would be more reasonable to sell our shares to E.On. (...) At first we thought of reaching agreements with Caja Madrid, which was already in the capital, or with other Spanish investors. It was an operation that sought to ensure the Spanishness of Endesa under our direction. But in the end it was not possible". In 2009, in the midst of the crisis, Acciona left Endesa in exchange for more than 11,000 million euros.

Since then, Endesa's fate has been decided from Enel's headquarters in Rome. For example, Endesa transferred all its assets in Latin America to its parent company in 2014, in exchange for more than 8,000 million euros. This resulted in an extraordinary profit of more than 3,300 million which, in turn, translated into a millionaire dividend for Enel.

Of the large Spanish energy companies, the only one that does not have a sovereign wealth fund or a state-owned company as a significant shareholder in its shareholding is Repsol. The same does not happen at Iberdrola. The company chaired by Ignacio Sánchez Galán has a fragmented capital, without a large firm that controls and sets the pace. With two exceptions, the investment arm of the Qatari State, Qatar Investment Authority, owner of 8.7%, according to the records of the National Securities Market Commission (CNMV). This is the fund created to channel the millionaire capital gains that the Qatari State generates with oil and gas. Something similar is happening in Norway, which channels its oil revenues through Norges Bank, which manages the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global pension fund and owns 3.1% of Iberdrola.

From Qatar to Abu Dhabi. Mubadala, the sovereign fund of this small state, again thanks to the enormous oil profits, is the main shareholder of Cepsa, although in this case it shares the capital with another investment giant, the American firm Carlyle. In October 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, Mubadala took another step forward in the Spanish energy sector by entering Enagás with just over 3%.

The manager of the gas network does have the Spanish State at the table of its board of directors. SEPI owns 5% of its shares, the same percentage owned by Zara's founder, Amancio Ortega. They also share decision-making capacity in Red Eléctrica, where the businessman of Leonese origin also has 5% of the capital, but SEPI reaches 20% and is the one who has control in place.

In Naturgy there are no sovereign funds - at least, with data published in the CNMV - but there is a state company, the Algerian energy company Sonatrach. Its decision-making capacity is more limited, because the company chaired by Francisco Reynés has three investors with reference weight: Caixabank, with more than 26%; and two investment firms, CVC and GIP, both with 20%. Sonatrach weighs less but, in a situation of political crisis with Algeria, it does have relevance. Despite the decision of the Algerian Government to break commercial relations with Spain, it has left out the supply agreement through the Medgaz gas pipeline, which is maintained through a bilateral contract between Sonatrach and its investee Naturgy.

Not only the large listed companies have state investors in their capital. The same occurs with Hidrocantábrico and Viesgo. Already in 2001, the Portuguese group EDP became a shareholder of Hidrocantábrico and took full control in 2020. Two years ago it made another similar move, by keeping 75% of Viesgo, a company that until then was in the hands of the fund Australian Macquarie. Edp, formerly Electricidade de Portugal, is not in Portuguese hands. Its main shareholder is the state-owned energy company China Three Gorges Corporation, which owns 20% of the shares.

Precisely, China Three Gorges is, together with the French Engie -of which the State has 24%- and the Norwegian Statkraft, one of the large foreign state groups that have launched themselves to develop renewable energy projects in Spain. The Chinese giant alone, in just over a year, has invested nearly 1,300 million euros in this market.

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