Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes means business. This dawned on energy giants such as E.ON, RWE, Gaz de France, Distrigas, OMV AG, when Commission staffers raided their offices on 16 May in more then 20 sites in Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Belgium and Hungary.
The raids are part of the Commission's efforts to deliver on the promise of truly opening up EU energy markets. The urgency of the matter has been increased by growing energy cost and an uncomfortable dependence on Russia.
According to a Commission spokesman, the raids are linked to suspicions that "access to pipeline and storage facilities" are being restricted and of practices described as "market-sharing". An inquiry into the energy sector, released in February 2006, found "serious malfunctioning", (see EurActiv 17 February 2006).
If competition rules are found to have been broken, offenders could face fines of up to 10 per cent of their worldwide annual turnover.