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  • Del monopolio al libre mercado: La historia de la industria petrolera española
  • Pier Angelo Toninelli
Gabriel Tortella, Alfonso Ballestero, and José Luis Díaz Fernández. Del monopolio al libre mercado: La historia de la industria petrolera española [From Monopoly to the Free Market: A History of the Spanish Oil Industry].Madrid, Spain: LID Editorial Empresarial S.L., 2003. 632 pp. ISBN 8-488-71732-6, €23.08.

What interest can there be in the history of the petroleum industry of a country without oil, such as Spain? Can the lack of hydrocarbons be considered the main cause of its economic retardation? The discussion and the confutation of these two questions, which open the introduction, represent the subtle thread that runs throughout this book.

The volume reconstructs in very detailed and precise ways the history of the oil sector in Spain in the last century. It contains a good number of tables, graphs, and maps concerning the most relevant national and international oil data and a documentary appendix; it is also enriched with images and photographs of plants and advertisements, as well as of the protagonists of the story.

The book is divided into three parts. The first one, by Gabriel Tortella, is devoted to the period 1900–1947, but its main focus is on the years following the constitution of the state oil monopoly (1927) because oil consumption in industrially backward Spain was negligible until the post–World War I years. State intervention in oil markets—originally aimed at breaking the monopoly of the majors—was quite common at the time both in oil-producing and in oil-poor countries, and this explains why the state monopoly long survived the short-lived dictatorship of Primo de Rivera that established it. However, state action realized no more rigid a public monopoly in the West than in Spain (except, perhaps, for the Canary Islands), where the state operated the monopoly through a private company—CAMPSA—that worked under the strict supervision of the government and whose profits were almost entirely appropriated by the state. According to Tortella, the costs of the monopoly greatly outweighed its benefits: lower levels of service, inferior quality of products, and high prices were not even faintly balanced by the uncertain revenue to the state budget. Moreover, the mediocre profits prevented CAMPSA from investing, particularly in the upstream and production activities. No refineries were built until the 1947 reorganization of the oil monopoly during the Phalangist regime.

These are analyzed by Alfonso Ballestero in the second part of the book, which covers the post–World War II period to 1981. The 1947 reorganization limited the monopolistic power of CAMPSA to [End Page 519] distribution and sale of oil products. As a consequence INI—the public industrial holding established in 1941 by Franco after the model of Mussolini's IRI—and later a growing number of mixed companies (with some participation by the majors) successfully entered upstream and refining activities. On the whole, in spite of the softening of the worst extremes of the monopolistic principles, up to the 1980s the Spanish government was able to keep strong control over the oil sector: rather than a conflict between state and market, control of the oil market produced continuous rivalry (and confusion) between the Ministries of Industry and Finance, directly, or through their agencies, INI and CAMPSA.

Finally, in the third part of the book José Luis Díaz Fernández analyzes the period 1981–2001, the period of the progressive liberalization and privatization of the Spanish energy market, which ended with the abolition of the oil monopoly. In the author's opinion, if the previous transition to democracy and the 1970s oil shocks instigated the process, its rapid conclusion must be ascribed to a combination of internal pressures and external requirements. In particular, the intervening accession of Spain to the European Community made the abolition of monopolies mandatory. The transition began with the 1981 creation of a new state holding company, INH (National Institute of Hydrocarbons), aimed at rationalizing and coordinating all the public petrol and gas companies. Later this holding company was privatized and renamed REPSOL, and it became not only the dominant...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1467-2235
Print ISSN
1467-2227
Pages
pp. 519-520
Launched on MUSE
2005-08-25
Open Access
No
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