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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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Brazil's Evangelical Surge Threatens Survival Of Native Afro-Brazilian Faith

Followers of the Afro-Brazilian Umbanda religion in four traditional communities in the country’s northeast are resisting pressure to convert to evangelical Christianity.

image of Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Agencia Publica
Géssica Amorim

Among a host of images of saints and Afro-Brazilian divinities known as orixás, Abel José, 42, an Umbanda priest, lights some candles, picks up his protective beads and adjusts the straw hat that sits atop his head. He is preparing to treat four people from neighboring villages who have come to his house in search of spiritual help and treatment for health ailments.

The meeting takes place discreetly, in a small room that has been built in the back of the garage of his house. Abel lives in the quilombo of Sítio Bredos, home to 135 families. The community, located in the municipality of Betânia of Brazil’s northeastern state of Pernambuco, is one of the municipality’s four remaining communities that have been certified as quilombos, the word used to refer to communities formed in the colonial era by enslaved Africans and/or their descendents.

In these villages there are almost no residents who still follow traditional Afro-Brazilian religions. Abel, Seu Joaquim Firmo and Dona Maura Maria da Silva are the sole remaining followers of Umbanda in the communities in which they live. A wave of evangelical missionary activity has taken hold of Betânia’s quilombos ever since the first evangelical church belonging to the Assembleia de Deus group was built in the quilombo of Bredos around 20 years ago. Since then, other evangelical, pentecostal, and neo-pentecostal churches and congregations have established themselves in the area. Today there are now nine temples spread among the four communities, home to roughly 900 families.

The temples belong to the Assembleia de Deus, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the World Church of God's Power, the latter of which has over 6,000 temples spread across Brazil and was founded by the apostle and televangelist Valdemiro Santiago, who became infamous during the pandemic for trying to sell beans that he had blessed as a Covid-19 cure. Assembleia de Deus alone, who are the largest pentecostal denomination in the world, have built five churches in Betânia’s quilombos.

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