Economy

German Nuclear Giant E.ON Reels After Fukushima, Major Layoffs And Losses Loom

Exclusive: Things haven’t been the same for Germany’s E.ON since the March 11 nuclear catastrophe in Japan. The subsequent phase-out of nuclear energy in Germany is costing the company billions. E.ON is now planning radical cost-cutting measures that are

E.ON has already unplugged several of its nuclear facilities
E.ON has already unplugged several of its nuclear facilities
Markus Balser

The date has etched itself into his memory. When Johannes Teyssen talks about March 11, 2011, he does so in a low, tense voice. That was the day that marked Before and After for the E.ON chairman. The malfunctioning Japanese reactor set off a chain reaction that turned his world upside down. It was a day when several German government ministers woke up in favor of atomic energy, and went to bed that night opposing it.

Evidence of just how extreme the effect of this was on Germany is emerging now in Düsseldorf at E.ON headquarters. Even though the battle with regard to the nuclear phase-out is still on-going, behind the scenes, Teyssen, E.ON's chairman of the board, is turning a page. Germany's largest energy provider is going on an austerity diet and undertaking a restructuring so severe it represents a first in the company's history.

According to Süddeutsche Zeitung sources, major subsidiaries E.ON Ruhrgas in Essen, E.ON Energie in Munich and a power plant run out of Hannover are due to be dissolved as independent companies, and many hundreds of jobs will be made redundant.

E.ON leadership set to move quickly

And this could just be the beginning. According to the source, E.ON is also planning to sell off various parts of the business and transform others into partnerships. Russia's Gazprom has already expressed interest. What remains of the subsidiaries after dissolution will be concentrated at E.ON's Düsseldorf headquarters.

For observers and for high-ranking managers alike, the scale and speed of the restructuring comes as a surprise. For example, in 2010, gas subsidiary E.ON Ruhrgas, which employs 1,800 people, opened new facilities in Essen at a cost of 200 million euros. However, restructuring plans are seemingly already far advanced and the powers that be at E.ON want things to proceed quickly – word has it that the board has already met to discuss it, although an E.ON spokesperson refused to comment on that. "Following a significantly changed framework, we are examining possible strategy adjustments and the positioning of the company," he said. "But no decisions have been taken."

Pressure is mounting: E.ON faces not only the nuclear phase-out but the fall of natural gas prices. Losses could reach 1 billion euros in what was once the highly profitable natural gas business. Negotiations with Gazprom over discounts have so far proved fruitless. According to SZ sources, E.ON chairman Teyssen met again with Gazprom brass a week ago, to try and avoid escalation of the discussion that would necessitate putting the matter before a court of arbitration, but apparently without success.

Internationalization at a standstill

Closing subsidiaries like Ruhrgas, Western Europe's largest natural gas company, will mark a major turning point for the company, as will a move away from other areas -- a fundamental departure from the model of integrated energy company with a finger in every pie, from power stations to electrical sockets. Areas that the company has further use for under the new configuration will be concentrated in Düsseldorf or transferred to new entities. Similar steps are expected to be taken with subsidiaries abroad, says the SZ source. E.ON's board is supposed to meet this week to discuss plans.

The internationalization of the company that Teyssen announced last autumn is also at a standstill. E.ON was going to get into two global developing markets that would mean that by 2015, at least 25% of the company's results would come from outside Europe. It is now possible that E.ON will only focus on one new market, says the SZ source.

No doubt there are hard times ahead for E.ON, formerly a star performer on the stock exchange. Just last autumn, Teyssen and other top E.ON managers were considered some of Germany's most influential business leaders. Since Fukushima, that's no longer the case. Of 17 German nuclear power plants, half are now turned off; all of them will be shut by 2022. That's a loss of 22 billion euros in profits.

E.ON's restructuring plans are causing a great deal of unrest. Traditionally managed in a consensus style, the present apparent lack of transparency threatens to unleash major conflict between management and workers. The unions are already talking about taking a harder line. However, for the time being: "We're not aware of any concrete plans. It's difficult to believe that a plan like that would be unanimously approved by the board," said a German United Services Labor Union (Verdi) official.

Read the original story in German

Photo - gregorfischer.photography

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com

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