Posts Tagged ‘European Commission’

Why hasn’t Juncker resigned?

June 27, 2016

Why hasn’t  Jean-Claude Juncker resigned?

The European Commission, Council of Ministers and the European Parliament are answerable and accountable, theoretically to all the EU members but in practice to nobody.

MEPs are accountable in the sense that they are voted in every 5 years. But in many countries that use party list systems of voting, candidates are simply put on a list by their party and the voters have no or a limited say on who is going to be elected. 

In most countries it is very difficult to present a new list alongside the lists of the traditional parties represented in the national parliaments. Voters have a formal choice but not necessarily a real possibility to have their own views being represented by an MP or MEP.   ……..

MEPs receive €4,299 per month in a general expenses allowance. MEPs do not need to deliver any proof as to how their money has been spent.

Commissioners need to be accountable to the European Parliament. They are obliged to answer questions from MEPs both orally and in writing. Many MEPs do not feel that they receive satisfactory answers. Many believe that the Commissioners are hiding too much; ………. You should also have the right to know how the different Commissioners vote on the different topics put on their table, but at present one has no idea.

During 2004-14, under the mandate of Commission President Barroso, the Commissioners did not vote among themselves at all. Discussions took place behind closed doors on proposals for new EU laws. The Commission President often reads a text prepared by his official services. There is usually no real political debate. The President concludes. Most decisions are taken in the name of the Commission outside the Commission meeting room ……..

The Commission now publishes agendas and minutes of their decisions. However nowhere can it be seen how they actually came to those decisions. They do not provide access to documents relating to their discussions or preparations. EU Commissioners give information about the amounts spent on representation. Yet this does not happen for individual spending, unlike what journalists can receive or request in most countries from their national ministers. …… Commissioners may hire special advisors. These names are now published – but the information does not include the salaries paid for the special advice they may receive from political friends or others. 

Commissioners are proposed by the prime ministers or presidents of the member states. Often a prime minister or president proposes a candidate who could no longer be elected as an MP or appointed as a minister in his or her own country. When former Prime Minister Tony Blair appointed Peter Mandelson as an EU Commissioner he had already been twice rejected as a minister by the British Parliament at Westminster. 

Prime Ministers may sometimes propose the names of national politicians they want to get rid of. There is no election procedure safeguarding voters so that they may have the best candidate from their country. 

There is some EU accountability in some of the national parliaments. In Denmark the European Affairs committee has met in public every Friday since October 2006 and  it can  give negotiating mandates to Danish ministers before the latter can approve something in the  EU Council of Ministers.  

There is no other  EU country where ministers need to have a negotiating mandate for such votes at EU level. In most countries the national MPs are rather badly informed about EU law proposals and have no real influence. Even in Denmark it is normally the civil servants in the ministries who decide and implement the Danish position in the 275 Council working groups. 

They are assisted by 35 special committees composed of representatives from business organisations and NGOs in an tightly woven corporative system. 

The ordinary members of parliament, the media and citizens are sidelined in the important preparatory phase where most EU decisions are prepared and then adopted.

The President of the European Commission – a former PM of Luxembourg – is the living face of the privileged, protected, arrogant, unaccountable bureaucracy that is Brussels. The EC – more than anybody – else is the reason for the deep and widespread dissatisfaction in Europe with the way in which the EU operates and where it is headed.

It is time for Jean-Claude Juncker to resign. And that means that the leaders of the core countries need to tell him to go.


 

Advertisements

Arrogant EU warning to Poland provides BREXIT with a proof

June 1, 2016

That the European Union does take away national sovereignty is obvious even if David Cameron may argue (now) that it doesn’t. Even though I think that we must eventually evolve away from nation states, the EU is not a development in that direction. It involves surrendering autonomy – away from the “nation” to the faceless, supercilious, self-righteous, European Commission and the European parliament. Poland may be pursuing policies that its EU members disapprove of, but surely that is Poland’s prerogative.

BREXIT supporters have a clear example of how the EU fancies itself a super-state and one which thinks it has the right – if not necessarily the power – to dictate to its members how to think. Like it or not, the Justice Party was elected “democratically” in Poland. The European Commission is far from being any kind of democratic institution. It is an executive body. There is something deeply disturbing about EU bureaucrats telling an elected government what it may or may not do. The self-righteous arrogance of the European Commission is often offensive.

The Guardian: 

The EU executive has given Poland an official warning that changes to its constitutional court endanger the rule of law in the country.

Frans Timmermans, vice president of the European commission, said he had written to the Polish government warning that recent alterations to the workings of Poland’s highest court posed “a systemic risk to the rule of law”.

The publication of a formal opinion ratchets up pressure on Poland and marks the first time that the EU executive has criticised a member state under its rule-of-law procedure.

After Poland’s Law and Justice (Pis) party came to power, the Polish parliament passed a law allowing the government to appoint the judges of its choosing to the highest court and not recognise those chosen by its predecessor, the liberal Civic Platform party.

Legal experts advising the Council of Europe have concluded that the changes breach the rule of law, democracy and human rights.

If Poland refuses to back down, it could face the ultimate sanction of being stripped of EU voting rights, although Brussels is keen to avoid that scenario.

I am not sure if BREXIT is good or bad for the UK, but there should be little doubt that staying within the EU does mean giving up a large measure of sovereignty. It is surely better for the EU that the UK remain a member. But the best for both the UK and the EU, I think, is for reform of the EU. I remain convinced that a vote in favour of BREXIT vote will only cause the EU to finally make real concessions rather than the cosmetic changes offered to Cameron. A BREXIT vote is – after all – only the start of a long negotiation. But the negotiation could be real and not just a PR exercise. Of course the UK would need a real negotiator – and that isn’t either Cameron or Corbyn.


 

GE close to getting EC approval for Alstom acquisition

July 18, 2015

After a closed door meeting on 2nd July with the EC to explore the EC’s concerns over its acquisition of Alstom’s power and grid business, GE was given till 16th July to make a written submission of any modifications to the deal. The EC decision is expected by the 3rd week of August.

GE has now made its written submissions and they should now be clearly focused on the EC’s concerns. My guess is that GE would have addressed two areas:

  1. So as not to block potential – and qualified – competitors from entering the HDGT market, GE may have offered to make “open source” that technology and IP from Alstom which they do not use themselves. This could, for example, be done by making specified patents and associated test and operational results “freely” available though, perhaps, subject to some nominal royalties. These concessions may satisfy the EC’s concern that the number of OEM’s for HDGT’s would decrease such that there would be an unhealthy concentration of market share.
  2. So as to ensure that pricing for the servicing and for spare parts for Alstom’s fleet of engines would not be unduly or unfairly increased, GE could have offered to limit some margins on this business. They could, for example, hold or index prices for spare parts to 3rd party service providers in – say – Europe for machines installed prior to – say – the year 2000. I suspect that GE would have found a creative way to ensure that their business plan revenue from the service business was maintained with concessions to the EC only on margins rather than on revenue. This should bridge much of the gap, since the EC is primarily looking to avoid monopoly or predatory pricing and unjustifiable margins.

I expect that EC approval for the deal is now very close. Perhaps one more iteration will do the trick. Of course I am only speculating and I personally would like to see the deal go through.

French Minister warns EC not to hold up GE acquisition of Alstom

May 30, 2015

Previous posts on the GE acquisition of Alstom are here.


The GE 9HA gas turbine (nicknamed Harriet after a Galapagos giant tortoise) is being built at their Belfort factory and is surely a giant. At 400 MW it will be the largest gas turbine ever built and will give a combined cycle of, nominally, 600 MW output from a single GT/ST block. This will be the first “H” class Frame 9 machine (Frame 9 is for 50Hz and Frame 7 is for 60 Hz) and it is reported that just scaling up the 7HA engine to the 9HA has cost GE about $1 billion in R & D.  Two such 9HA GT’s with a single steam turbine in a 2+1 configuration would give a 1000 MW power block. The 9HA weighs in at about 400 tonnes. Strong, powerful stuff.

GE 9HA

The GE 9HA turbine, aka Harriet. (GE)

This is the same facility which was part of Alstom while Alstom was a GE licencee and before it was separated from the rest of the site when Alstom acquired ABB’s power generation business. This particular engine is for a gas turbine combined cycle plant for EdeF’s Bouchain North plant. Alstom still has a large part of the Belfort site but Alstom’s power part of the site will go to GE if the acquisition of Alstom’s power and grid businesses now gets approval for the EC. The portion of the site dedicated to transport will remain with Alstom. The steam turbine business at Belfort for nuclear turbines will be in a GE/Alstom JV (project name Arabelle) but I expect that Alstom will (must) exit in due course, though the French government will not allow the nuclear power part to be entirely out of their control. If the deal goes through the French government will have 20% of what is left of Alstom (mainly transport plus their share of the 2 JV’s with GE) and Bouygues will have their (albeit partial) exit.

Most other countries have already approved the acquisition including India, South Africa and Brazil. It has not been much of an issue in the US where Alstom’s business is small compared to GE’s. The long draw-out EC process sticks out.

Yesterday the French Economy Minister, Emmanuel Macron, visited Belfort and his highly publicised visit to both the GE and the Alstom parts of the site was a very visible “blessing” from the French government for the deal. He took the opportunity to warn the EC and Margrethe Vestager, the European commissioner for competition, not to hinder the deal since this would only help the Chinese competitors. I note that Patrick Kron, Alstom’s CEO, was conspicuous by his absence. His €4 million termination deal with Alstom (once the GE deal goes through) has been heavily criticised by the French socialist government. Mind you these same leftists had also talked about “treachery” when the deal was first announced. The French press has also criticised Vestager for being too finicky. Needless to say the EC is not amused.

PoliticoEmmanuel Macron warned that blocking the deal would only bolster Chinese rivals and cost jobs in Belfort, where GE and Alstom are the largest private employers. He has met with Margrethe Vestager, the European commissioner for competition, on two occasions in recent months.

The Commission put the brakes on the deal in late February, announcing an in-depth investigation into the combined market power of the two companies. The Commission said it was concerned about preserving competition in Europe for heavy-duty gas turbines. As the clocked ticked down in May to the Commission’s deadline for GE to submit more information and data, GE’s Chief Executive Jeff Immelt signaled he was ready to bargain, potentially selling some of the intellectual property.

The Commission reset the clock and must now decide by August 21.

Macron assured factory workers and told local newspaper L’Est Républicain, “We think that competition policy is important and we support the Commission’s role in this domain. But we ask it to really look at the right market: that market is global, and the competitors are Chinese. And it is above all them that would benefit from the Commission blocking the rapprochement between GE and Alstom!”

Macron’s intervention is unlikely to please European Commission officials. Seldom do national governments take a public stance on mergers being reviewed by the EU competition authority, which does not take into account a deal’s effect on employment. …… Immelt has drawn a red line around Alstom’s business that services gas turbines. That lucrative segment underpins the economic rationale.

As I have posted earlier, GE will walk away from the deal if the EC demands conditions which impairs the service revenue from Alstom’s existing gas turbine fleet. From my experience it is this revenue which probably enables the deal and impairment here could be fatal.

The EC will need to be very precise in demanding concessions from GE while ensuring that the deal does go through. Divesting parts of the HDGT business to unknown (and probably non-existent) buyers is probably a lose-lose solution. I expect that GE’s walk-away point will be reached if earnings from the service of Alstom’s fleet of gas turbines is removed from the mix. In fact any conditions set by the EC which dilute future revenues could prove fatal for the deal going through. Assurances about keeping R & D located in Europe and assurances about jobs and even about R & D budgets could be absorbed by a robust business plan. But no business plan can survive if something as fundamental as the revenue stream is adversely affected. And it is the volume of that revenue stream – and not just the margin from those revenues – which is crucial.

Macron does have a point though. If EC conditions are so onerous that GE walks away from the deal, Alstom will most likely have to find another (or several) buyers who will not pay anything like as much as GE have offered. If the EC insists that GE must sell Alstom’s sequential combustion business or the technology, any buyer would need to have a high enough technological base and very deep pockets – and that may be an impossible ask. Alstom clearly has no heart left to continue the business by itself. And then Shanghai Electric (leveraging its 40% ownership of Ansaldo) has some interesting possibilities of becoming one of the Big 4 in the gas turbine world (the others being GE, Siemens and Mitsubishi).

EC looking for GE concessions to approve Alstom acquisition

May 12, 2015

UPDATE!

The New York Times also reports on the potential anti-trust issues and GE’s readiness to make some accommodations for EC concerns. However my take away from the NYT article is that GE is warning the EC that Alstom and the European Union have more to lose than GE has if the deal does not go through:

In now dealing with the European Commission’s antitrust office, Mr. Immelt has not forgotten the harsh experience of his predecessor, Jack Welch. In 2001, Mr. Welch failed to win approval for a proposed $42 billion takeover of Honeywell International after objections were raised by Mario Monti, the European antitrust commissioner at the time.

Mr. Immelt was worried enough last week that he met with Ms. Vestager in Brussels, where he also gave an address at the American Chamber of Commerce highlighting Europe’s economic potential. In that address, Mr. Immelt said young Europeans were “awesome” and “amazing,” but he emphasized that Europe needed investment to gain competitiveness and beat unemployment.

Speaking to reporters later, Mr. Immelt said his meeting with Ms. Vestager was “very constructive” and he described her as “a good leader.” G.E., he said, was engaged in “a process” with Brussels, and would “take the process where it goes.”

If G.E. is unable to convince Ms. Vestager of the merits of its case, the next step could be a so-called statement of objections, as soon as next month — formal charges that would outline the commission’s specific antitrust concerns. G.E. and Alstom could avoid that step by offering remedies sooner, perhaps proposing to sell parts of the gas turbine business in Europe.


My expectation was that the European Commision would look for some concessions from GE and would only grant a conditional approval for the acquisition of Alstom’s power and grid businesses.

The EC concerns seemed to be focused on Heavy Duty Gas Turbines (HDGT), and I wrote:

Will the EC approve GE’s acquisition of Alstom’s power business?

…. In any event,  I expect that the deal will go through, but I will not be surprised to see an approval conditional on some assurances from GE regarding R & D centres, R & D jobs and/or R & D budgets in Europe. I think it highly unlikely – and a little meaningless – if the EC were to ask for divestment of Alstom’s HDGT business to a third party (if any such exists). The bottom line is, I think, that Alstom’s HDGT technology has come to a dead-end and can not be developed any further in their own hands. While the business can continue in a diminishing way for some years, Alstom technology has no long-term value except to another party which has access to high temperature cooling technology. To have Alstom continue with the HDGT business as an unwilling and reluctant player does no one any service at all.

This Reuters report today suggests that my expectation may be close to the mark. However it also seems that if the EC demands too much in the way of concessions, GE might walk away. Clearly GE are already getting a little irritated at the protracted nature of the EC approval process. The failure of the deal is not something that Alstom or the EU would look forward to.

The EC decision may also be delayed somewhat beyond August 6th.

Reuters:

General Electric Co said on Monday for the first time it would be willing to consider concessions in order to win European approval to acquire the power equipment unit of France’s Alstom. “We are willing to explore remedies to get this deal done even though again we believe in the merits of the deal,” Steve Bolze, president and CEO of GE Power & Water, the conglomerate’s biggest industrial unit, told Reuters in an interview. Any concessions would have to “preserve the deal economics and our strategic value,” he said. …

… EU regulators typically prefer merging companies to sell overlapping assets or make it easy for rivals to enter the market. GE’s gas turbine competitors include Siemens AG and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.

…GE already altered the deal to win the French government’s backing during last year’s two-month battle, in which it fended off Siemens and Mitsubishi. In the interview, Bolze acknowledged the “protracted process” for Alstom, and said GE was focused on “how to move … forward as it makes sense.”

In GE’s first-quarter conference call last month, Chief Executive Jeff Immelt backed the deal’s fit for GE, but said if it “ever would become unattractive, we wouldn’t do it.”

…. GE, which is undergoing an overhaul involving the exit of most of its finance assets, has said it expected synergies from the Alstom deal to add between 6 to 9 cents in earnings per share in 2016. But some analysts have told Reuters they doubt GE’s stock would take a big hit should the deal collapse, with the idea that GE could make up those earnings with stock buybacks or other deals. ……. 

…… EC spokesman Ricardo Cardoso said regulators are waiting for data from the companies before a setting a new deadline to act. The previous deadline was Aug. 6.

The EC will need to be very precise in demanding concessions from GE while ensuring that the deal does go through. Divesting parts of the HDGT business to unknown (and probably non-existent) buyers is probably a lose-lose solution. I expect that GE’s walk-away point will be reached if earnings from the service of Alstom’s fleet of gas turbines is removed from the mix. In fact any conditions set by the EC which dilute future revenues could prove fatal for the deal going through. Assurances about keeping R & D located in Europe and assurances about jobs and even about R & D budgets could be absorbed by a robust business plan. But no business plan can survive if something as fundamental as the revenue stream is adversely affected. And it is the volume of that revenue stream – and not just the margin from those revenues – which is crucial.

Will the EC approve GE’s acquisition of Alstom’s power business?

May 3, 2015

UPDATE! 

Bloomberg: General Electric Co.’s Jeffrey Immelt is set to meet with the European Union’s antitrust chief Tuesday as the U.S. company seeks approval for its acquisition of Alstom SA’s energy business.

The session in Brussels between GE’s chief executive officer and Margrethe Vestager is part of regulators’ “ongoing merger review,” Lucia Caudet, a European Commission spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.


On February 23rd this year the European Commission announced that its preliminary investigation into the proposed acquisition of Alstom’s power businesses by GE had highlighted Heavy Duty Gas Turbines (HDGTs) as a potential area of concern. Therefore an in-depth investigation would be carried out. This investigation was due to have been completed by 8th July but has been extended – apparently at GE’s request – till August 6th.

The European Commission has opened an in-depth investigation to assess whether General Electric’s (GE) proposed acquisition of the Thermal Power, Renewable Power & Grid businesses of Alstom is in line with the EU Merger Regulation. The Commission’s preliminary investigation indicates potential competition concerns in the market for heavy-duty gas turbines which are mainly used in gas-fired power plants.

Since GE already has HDGTs  in direct competition with Alstom’s GT24 and GT26 engines and even with Alstom’s GT11N2 and GT13E2 engines, I expect that the Alstom range of machines will have to be discontinued. (It would be quite irrational for GE to continue to offer Alstom’s portfolio except for a very restricted time period or for some very particular application. It is not much appreciated by a buyer either when a supplier appears so confused as to offer different machines for the same purpose). The discontinuation of some engines is “no big deal”. But, as I have written previously, it would be a shame if the line of technology for HDGTs within Alstom – which carried forward the lines of technology emanating from BBC, GEC, Asea and ABB (including sequential combustion technology) – were to be entirely lost.

I would summarise the EC’s potential areas of concern as being:

  1. If the European HDGT market can be said to be distinct from the global market, then the number of HDGT suppliers would effectively reduce in Europe from three to two.
  2. Reduced competition in Europe could lead to supplier(s) having greater than 40% market share and could lead to an increase in prices.
  3. GE together with Alstom could have greater than 50% market share and not only in Europe.
  4. In Europe, fundamental R & D on combustion, emissions and materials and innovation regarding HDGTs would be hurt, and
  5. Competition in the HDGT service business would be impacted since Alstom currently is an alternate supplier of service to older GE HDGTs (since Alstom was a GE licencee prior to 1999).

The market for HDGTs is characterised by high technological and financial barriers to entry, leading to a concentrated market with only four globally active competitors: GE, Alstom, Siemens and Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems (MHPS). The fifth player, Ansaldo, appears to be a niche player with a more limited geographic reach. The margins in the market for HDGTs appear to be higher than those of neighbouring markets for power generation equipment such as steam turbines. 

The HDGTs market worldwide is divided into two frequency regions, namely those operating at 50 Hz and those at 60 Hz. All thecountries in the European Economic Area (EEA) operate at 50 Hz frequency.

Since MHPS seems to be less active in the EEA than in the rest of the world, the transaction would bring together the activities of two of the three main competitors in the EEA.The transaction would eliminate Alstom from the market, leaving European customers without an important competitor of GE and Siemens. Indeed, in the market for the sale of new 50 Hz frequency HDGTs, the merged entity would reach high market shares in the range of around 50 %, both in the EEA and at worldwide level excluding China.

Furthermore, the transaction might significantly reduce R&D and customer choice in the HDGT industry. After the merger there is a risk that GE would discontinue the production of certain Alstom HDGT models and that advanced HDGT technology developed by Alstom would not be brought to the market.

Finally, in the market for the servicing of General Electric’s mature technology HDGT frames, the transaction eliminates competition by Alstom’s subsidiary Power System Manufacturing.

Overall, the Commission is at this stage concerned that the transaction may lead to an increase in prices, a reduction in customer choice and a reduction of R&D in the HDGT industry, leading to less innovation.

I note that GE have taken on a very-high powered lawyer to help in dealing with anti-trust issues,

Sharis Pozen, a former acting assistant U.S. attorney general for antitrust who joined Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in July 2012, left the firm this month to become vice president for global competition and antitrust at General Electric. Pozen is the latest high-profile Am Law 100 partner to join the in-house legal ranks of the Fairfield, Conn.-based conglomerate, which has tapped Skadden to advise on its pending $17 billion buy of the energy unit of French engineering giant Alstom.

However, my own opinion is that these potential EC concerns are not sufficient to disallow the proposed acquisition. I believe the market concerns are more theoretical than real.

1. While the EC tends to look at market share rather than market size, the EU market currently (before the advent of shale gas in Europe) is so small that it cannot be considered a market distinct from the global market. No HDGT manufacturer could survive on the strength of the European market alone. A simple test question is very revealing. Could Alstom’s HDGT business be sold as an independent stand-alone business to anybody else with only Europe as the designated market? The answer is a resounding NO and, I think, should eliminate any consideration of the European market as being distinct from the global market.

In fact, even with a global market available, the Alstom HDGT business is of little value to any manufacturer who does not already have high temperature cooling technology and who does not already have a heavy rotating machinery manufacturing background. And I don’t see any such parties around.

2. It should be remembered also that Mitsubishi (formerly MHI now Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems – MHPS) is absent from Europe as a matter of their own choice – not because they cannot. It is part of the remains of the old “unofficial” arrangement where the Japanese didn’t come into Europe and the Europeans didn’t enter Japan. This “arrangement” for steam turbines, gas turbines, boilers and generators held quite well through till the 1980s but broke down in the 1990s. Note that the Japanese gas turbine market had a special relationship with the US manufacturers with TEPCO providing GE with a protected “home” market for 60 Hz gas turbines. The Westinghouse relationship with MHI for gas turbines was effectively taken over by MHI. The Siemens equity engagement with Furukawa to create Fuji Electric (Fu- for Furukawa and Ji for Siemens in japanese, jiimensu) was ended after WW 2. The ABB (later Alstom) JV for gas turbines with Kawasaki which I headed for a time was only set up in the 1990s and was eventually discontinued.

To enter a new market for HDGTs, it must either be a growing market or it must have a large fleet of existing machines which can be served. Europe provides neither for MHPS at the present time. If shale gas takes off in Europe and the gas turbine market starts to grow (which I predict will happen), it will not take very long for MHPS to enter.  For MHPS the market size and growth for new equipment must be sufficient to justify the cost of setting up the necessary service network. There is no guarantee either that Alstom – without GE – could continue with a product range rapidly becoming uncompetitive against the “J” class machines, without access to high temperature cooling technology. The Ansaldo/Shanghai Electric tie-up is still in its infancy and – in the event of market growth in Europe – would surely become a significant 4th player. (Even a 5th global player could emerge as a consequence of a particularly strong market growth and my guess would be that it could be Doosan or BHEL, Harbin or from Russia). But as far as the EC is concerned, the key point should be that if the market grows there will be certainly three, probably four and eventually five players. And if the market does not grow then the objection is moot.

3. The risk of one player having 50% (or greater than 40%) market share is not to be trivialised but, in my opinion, is not a real threat. When the market (in Europe) has been as low as it has been and only one or two machines are sold in a year it is a quirk of arithmetic that one player may have a 100% market share in one year or that two may have 50% each. Customers are very well aware of the dangers of having only 2 suppliers. The fact is that if the market were large enough, MHPS and Ansaldo and others would be strongly encouraged to quote by the European buyers. We would probably then have a global market share split of GE/Alstom – 30%, Siemens – 30%, MHPS -20, other (Ansaldo, BHEL, Russians, new players ….) – 20%. When a market is small, market share is misleading and meaningless. In a strong market some of the manufacturers of small gas turbines would also try and follow their customers into larger sizes – a “Honda” strategy.

4. R & D is where I began my career and safeguarding innovation is rather special for me. There is a valid point regarding R&D and innovation and I think it would be perfectly justified for the EC to give approval conditional on some kind of assurance from GE that R &D centres (and possibly R & D jobs and budgets) in Europe would be maintained for some period of time. I don’t believe that innovation can be mandated, but I do see a potential benefit for GE – in time – in absorbing and – even adopting – some sequential combustion elements in their mid-range (rather than their largest) engines (see diagrams below). But that is a call for GE to take in about a decade from now. (It is probably just wishful thinking on my part).

Alstom (as BBC) developed the sequential combustion cycle in 1948 and (as ABB) the GT24 and GT26 engines in the 1990s, when GE moved beyond the “F” class machines to their “FA” machines. The choice was a forced one for ABB, and they had to follow the sequential combustion path because they did not have access to the high temperature blade cooling technology which was available to their competitors. All their attempts to acquire such technology from Russia failed. A technology agreement with Rolls Royce gave no technology ownership and had very strict limitations. Sequential combustion eventually converted a weakness into a virtue and allowed ABB (later Alstom) to maintain efficiency and compete with “G” class machines even though they were effectively limited to an “F” class inlet temperature as a maximum. If ABB had not developed the GT24 and the GT26 – in spite of all their early challenges – Alstom would not have acquired ABB’s power generation business after their GE licence was terminated. (In fact the challenges were so large that ABB had to compensate Alstom through the acquisition price for the power business for all the problems that had to be fixed by Alstom in the field).

Taking a very cynical view, ABB had reached the end of their road with GT development when they divested to Alstom. Alstom in their turn made devlopments that ABB could not but have also reached the end of their road for development of sequential combustion technology – again because of a lack of high temperature cooling technology – and wish now to divest to GE.

GT cycles - conventional and sequential combustion

GT cycles – conventional and sequential combustion

Now as GE, Siemens and Mitsubishi have moved on to even higher inlet temperatures, the “G” class has gone on to become the “J” class. (The “H” class was Mitsubishi attempting to use steam cooling for the turbine blades which didn’t really catch on and “I” has been passed over for the designation of turbine class). Alstom, with its limitations on temperature have successfully squeezed the sequential combustion technology to approach a “G+” performance with temperatures slightly lower than a “G” class from the others. But Alstom now also has reached its temperature limits and, I suspect, it was the lack of a way forward for their machines to compete with “J” class machines which has been part of their decision to get out of power generation.

But I like the concept of sequential combustion which is elegant and fundamentally sound and I look forward to the day when maybe it can be applied together with the high temperatures that GE knows how to handle. Then maybe we will someday see an “M” class gas turbine with 1600ºC and sequential combustion?

M Class GT?

M Class GT?

It can be argued therefore that the acquisition is what may actually keep R & D alive instead of it coming to a stop in the cul-de-sac in which it is stuck with Alstom.

And without R & D and high temperatures and new competitive “J” class products, Alstom’s days as a cutting-edge HDGT supplier would have been limited anyway.

5. The older GE machines  are still serviced by GE licencees and former licencees around the world – including in this case by Alstom (for GE machines prior to 1999). This Alstom does by means of a special subsidiary set up for the purpose. This unit – Power Systems Manufacturing – specialises in formerly licenced GE machines and also acts as a “pirate” for Siemens and Mitsubishi machines.

PSM’s product line includes … parts for GE Frame 6B, 7E/EA, 9E and 7FA machines, the Siemens/Westinghouse 501F (SGT6-5000F) engine and the Mitsubishi 501F engine.

Siemens also has such a subsidiary unit – Turbo Care – to service – where they can – the machines of competitors. This used to be a separate Siemens entity but has now been approved by the EC as a JV with the Wood Group. The “pirate” service business is important to each manufacturer – for intelligence and competition purposes – but the volume is quite small. No customer would select a “pirate” rather than the OEM, except for older machines past their prime or perhaps to teach the OEM “a lesson”. The “pirate” business is just not possible on relatively new machines and really only applies to machines installed more than about 10 years previously – when all liabilities and potential liabilities of the OEM have fallen away. No GT owner would take the risk of resorting to a “pirate” for a relatively new machine. A customer would usually resort to “pirates” only when all investment costs have been fully written off and he is no longer looking for – or particularly needs – any performance or availability guarantees. Even design and manufacturing warranties to be provided are strictly limited since the “pirate” has to rely on reverse engineering.  “Pirates” only come into the picture when the perceived risk levels are low.

The EC concern that if PSM is merged into GE, that some competition for the older GE machines will disappear is not correct I think, because for these older machines the competition for service business is far more with other “pirates” than with the OEM. And there are plenty of “pirates” around.

In the long run I judge that this acquisition is good for the customer, may even be good for R & D and even good for Siemens (and also for Mitsubishi). I imagine that any objections from Siemens are more for the sake of form (and because there is no love lost between Patrick Kron and Siemens).

In any event,  I expect that the deal will go through, but I will not be surprised to see an approval conditional on some assurances from GE regarding R & D centres, R & D jobs and/or R & D budgets in Europe. I think it highly unlikely – and a little meaningless – if the EC were to ask for divestment of Alstom’s HDGT business to a third party (if any such exists). The bottom line is, I think, that Alstom’s HDGT technology has come to a dead-end and can not be developed any further in their own hands. While the business can continue in a diminishing way for some years, Alstom technology has no long-term value except to another party which has access to high temperature cooling technology. To have Alstom continue with the HDGT business as an unwilling and reluctant player does no one any service at all.

EU Corruption Report: Brussels bureaucrats kill chapter on corruption in EU Institutions

February 3, 2014

The EU corruption report is out today and is getting a lot of media attention. It has no big surprises and estimates the cost of corruption directly in the member states to be about 120 billion € which is about the same size as the EU budget and is about 1% of the total EU GDP at about 12 trillion €.

But – in a major victory for the faceless bureaucrats of Brussels – the report does not consider corruption within EU Institutions as it was supposed to. My perception is that the corruption level within the EU Institutions is as bad as in the worst member state. In Brussels where the bureaucrats are drawn from member countries, the practices they employ are imported from what they are used to in their home countries. And Brussels – in my little experience and in my opinion – is perfectly suited to levelling-down and to the spreading of the worst practices available.

EU Observer: The European Commission has decided not to include a chapter on EU institutions in a report on corruption in member states …. The original plan, announced in 2011, was to assess corruption across the member states and within the EU institutions. EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom is set to release the first bi-annual report on Monday (3 February), around six months later than originally planned.

Malmstrom’s spokesperson Michael Cercone told this website in an email that the commission had considered assessing the anti-corruption efforts of the EU’s own institutions but “realised that this is something we will have to come back to in a future EU anti-corruption report – to be sure that the evaluation would be satisfactory and objective.”

And when this part of the report does come out – if it is ever completed – it will ensure that the analysis is set so far in the past that no current bureaucrats/politicians will be implicated.

But the size of the corruption suggests that while petty corruption is much lower than in some developing countries, the extent of large sophisticated contract scams is not insignificant. It takes a few thousands of petty corruption events to come up to the level of a single large contract scam. The Report points out that:

The individual country analyses revealed a wide variety of corruption-related problems, as well as of corruption control mechanisms, some of which have proved effective and others have failed to produce results. Nevertheless, some common features can be noted either across the EU or within clusters of Member States. The country analyses show that public procurement is particularly prone to corruption in the Member States, …..

Of course the EU countries exhibit a wide variety of behaviour and some member states view the payment of “fees” or the exchange of “favours” to get an advantage as a normal activity. As the report states “However, the long-standing absence of comprehensive anti-corruption strategies in some Member States which are facing systemic corruption problems turned out to be an issue of concern, ..”.  There is a political dimension as well Provoked by the crisis, social protests have targeted not only economic and social policies, but also the integrity and accountability of political elites. High-profile scandals associated with corruption, misuse of public funds or unethical behaviour by politicians have contributed to public discontent and mistrust of the political system. Integrity in politics is a serious issue for many Member States….”.

Oh well! Business will continue as usual in Brussels.

Class war in France as Hollande takes on the cavaliers

November 25, 2013

1. In France equestrian centres enjoy the relatively low VAT rate of  5.5% or 7%.

2. The EU naturally feels it necessary to poke its nose into anything it pleases

In a judgement handed down on 8 March (1), the EU Court of Justice ruled that France incorrectly applied the directive on the common system of value added tax (VAT) (2) by applying a reduced rate to certain transactions related to equidae.

The court upheld the European Commission’s first grievance whereby France may not apply a reduced rate (5.5%) to transactions related to horses when these animals are not intended for use in the preparation of foodstuffs or in agricultural production. It maintained that the directive authorises a reduced VAT rate for live animals “normally” intended for use in the preparation of foodstuffs and for transactions related to equidae, particularly horses, for agricultural, forestry or fishery activities, to the extent that they constitute deliveries or services intended for use in agricultural production.

3. The equestrian brigade (the cavaliers) are seen to be part of the privileged classes and as such a clear target for Francois Hollande and his old-fashioned class warfare objectives. The EU directive gives Hollande a wonderful excuse to triple VAT on the cavaliers. But for the cavaliers Hollande is not the right horse to bet on.

Paris equestrial protest

French cavaliers take to the street – image The Guardian

The Guardian: François Hollande’s plan to treble VAT on equestrian centres will ‘send 80,000 horses to the abattoir’, warns industry. 

A French mood of mutiny that has rippled through Brittany and infected teachers, farmers and shopkeepers, skipped species on Sunday when horses took to the streets of Paris to complain about tax rises. Thousands of disgruntled horse and pony riders rode through the French capital to complain about tax increases they say will put many of them out of business and send 80,000 animals to the abattoir.

The “cavaliers” blocked roads from the symbolic Paris squares, Place d’Italie, Place de la Bastille and Place de la Nation, in protest at government plans to almost treble VAT on equestrian centres. It was the latest manifestation of the growing revolt over President François Hollande’s tax reforms, many of them aimed at reducing the country’s public deficit to meet European Union demands.

The EU bureaucracy is essentially “socialist” in  that they are all paid for by taxes and they will do anything to make work for themselves and to expand their areas of work to ensure their own continuance. Support for all forms of publicly funded bureaucracy seems to be the core value of all socialist parties in Europe. If there was any group which needed to be disenfranchised it must be those who live off public funding – and not only in the EU but also within the member countries of the EU. Of course that line of thought leads to all politicians being banned from voting. And maybe that would not be so bad either.

EU backs down on its stupid carbon tax for airlines

November 12, 2012

It was inevitable of course, but the real problem is that the EU is only backing down as a political necessity but continues to maintain its self-righteous, religiously fanatic and quite unintelligent attitude. In any event the tax on airlines for carbon dioxide emissions was doomed to failure after the US, China and India expressed their clear opposition and banned their airlines from complying with the arrogant and grandiose EU directive. To save some face for the EU it’s so-called Climate Commissioner,  Connie Hedegaard, (a modern day King Canute) has only suspended the measure for one year but I see no possibility of it ever coming back in the foreseeable future. She does tend to see herself as a pious knight in shining armour holding back the evil forces of climate change but she would be better occupied in tilting against the plague of windmills disfiguring most of Europe.

BBC: 

The European Union has agreed to suspend its rules that require airlines flying to and from airports in the EU to pay for their carbon emissions. The rules had been unpopular with countries outside Europe such as the US, China and India.

Climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard said she had proposed “stopping the clock for one year”.

Plagiarist zu Guttenberg invited to join the European Commission

February 11, 2012

zu Guttenberg is back and has friends in high places. Baron Cut and Paste rides again.

This might be considered ironic but being the European commission I put it down to plain stupidity. To have a plagiarist who was brought down by net activism but who then bought his way out of criminal prosecution (by paying €20,000) as a special advisor on net activism illustrates the stupidity and the corruption at the centre of the European Commission.

Stupid is as stupid does.

From TechDirt:

European Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes has invited Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, a former Federal Minister of Defence, and of Economics and Technology, in Germany, to advise on how to provide ongoing support to Internet users, bloggers and cyber-activists living under authoritarian regimes. This appointment forms a key element of a new “No Disconnect Strategy” to uphold the EU’s commitment to ensure human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected both online and off-line, and that internet and other information and communication technology (ICT) can remain a driver of political freedom, democratic development and economic growth.

Of course, that’s rather rich coming from a region where France already allows disconnections as punishments (HADOPI), and where the UK has legislation in place that will allow it to do the same (Digital Economy Act). But it turns out that the ironies are even deeper.

 The reason that Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg — once seen as a likely successor to Germany’s current Chancellor, Angela Merkel — is no longer the Federal Minister of Defence, and of Economics and Technology, is that he resigned when it emerged that he had plagiarized significant parts of his doctorate.

After initial denials, Guttenberg was forced to admit the extent of his plagiarism thanks largely to a crowdsourced wiki called GutenPlag (original German) offering “collaborative documentation of plagiarism”, which went through his thesis searching for passages taken from elsewhere without acknowledgement. In total, it claims to have found “1218 plagiarized fragments from 135 sources, on 371 out of 393 pages (94.4%), in 10421 plagiarized lines (63.8%).” There’s even an interactive, color-coded visualization of what happened where.

A petition against this stupidity can be found here: zu Guttenberg must leave the European Commission


%d bloggers like this: