A public enterprise has long been characterized by the fact that a public person, for example the State or a local public authority, holds the majority of its capital, which is before a formal legal criterion. The European Union Law, in a more concrete perspective, has apprehended it more directly purely and simply as an enterprise, that is to say, an organization having an economic activity on a market, irrespective of the private or public nature of the capital of the company, a legal instrument by which the undertaking enters into the legal under the "decisive influence" of a public person, not only actively (alliance in bodies or by contracts) but also passive (guarantees, etc.).
Competition law, analyzing people by their activities, could be said to have "killed" the public enterprises by ignoring the particular nature of this public shareholder (the figure of the "shareholder state") since legal reasoning wants to see State only as an ordinary shareholder, where the subject of public law identifies itself as defending the general interest. This banalisation is not definitive: by the nationalization of banks as a remedy to the financial crisis in Great Britain or in the United States, the State again claims that a public company does not have the same purpose as a private company, because the former, like its shareholder, pursues the general interest through its intrinsic mission, while the private company, through its ordinary shareholder, pursues the maximization of profits, mirroring that pursued by the expectation of dividends by the ordinary shareholder.
There is a fundamental ideological rupture between the Regulation exercised by the undertakings themselves, insofar as they are public (and supervised by the supervision of the State), and the Regulation exercised by a Regulator over all companies in the imposed indifference of their shareholders.
This difference continues to be like a wound between the different models of Regulation and more generally between the conceptions of relations and modalities of relations between the State and the market economy.