The European Enterprise

pp 209-222

The Rise of the New Public Service Transnationals: European or Global Phenomenon?

  • Judith CliftonAffiliated withDepartment of Economics, University of CantabriaEuropean University Institute and the Open University
  • , Francisco ComínAffiliated withUniversity of Alcalá de Henares
  • , Daniel Díaz-FuentesAffiliated withUniversity of Cantabria and Salvador de MadariagaEuropean University Institute

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Transnational Corporations (TNCs) and public enterprises are usually perceived as organisations that evolve in separate, not to say antagonistic, economic and ideological spheres. Public enterprises are usually associated with national or subnational organisations, often operating as publicly protected monopolies, subject to government policy and interference. TNCs, on the other hand, operate, by definition, across national borders, and are usually associated with private enterprises subject to market forces, financially accountable to shareholders and relatively independent of government interference. During the interwar period and the years following the end of the Second World War, many enterprises in Europe were nationalised, in order to limit the influence of TNCs over the national economy, amongst other reasons. Yet, from the 1980s, privatisation, liberalization, de(re)regulation1 and integration policies have been accompanied by a pronounced return of TNCs to Europe. Among the most important of these newcomers is the transnational public enterprise, particularly those that operate in networks, such as communications, transportation, electricity, gas, postal/logistic and water sectors. Though there was some, limited, public network service transnationalisation during the C19fh — mainly undertaken by private entrepreneurs2 — the rise of the transnational public network service at the end of the C20th is dramatic in scope and importance. During the first few years of the 1990s, public network services were entirely absent from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) list of the world’s top fifty non-financial TNCs: just one decade later, they constituted thirteen of the top fifty.3