'Effective and efficient' unbundling
The set of amendments for a third option for energy market liberalisation are proposed in a letter dated 29 January and signed by Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Latvia and the Slovak Republic.
The letter, sent to the Commission and to the Parliament's Industry (ITRE) Committee, features only one significant change compared to an earlier draft (see EurActiv 29/01/08)
Instead of suggesting that national regulatory authorities could "oblige" Transmission System Operators (TSOs) to carry out grid and infrastructure upgrades, the new text proposes that regulators can "request" TSOs to invest "by all legal means".
Beyond this change, the proposals put forward essentially the same message: that fair competition can be achieved without full ownership unbundling or third-party (ISO) oversight by ensuring a number of safeguards concerning the independence, management and investment decisions of TSOs.
ISO not a 'genuine alternative'
The status of TSOs are at the heart of the disagreement between the eight member states and the Commission over how large, vertically-integrated energy firms should be treated during the further liberalisation of EU electricity and gas markets.
Obliging energy-producing firms to give up their transmission assets is "not compatible with constitutional law and with the free movement of capital", according to the letter, which argues that "no correlation can be found between the implementation of [ownership unbundling] and the levels of prices and investments which are actually determined by many other factors".
However, the Commission insists that energy firms cannot, in an environment of effective and fair competition, simultaneously control the means of energy production and transmission.
In the absence of full ownership unbundling, the EU executive argues that the ISO option is the minimum level of separation necessary to ensure investment and access to grids for competitors and prevent conflicts of interest.
But Germany and France, who are "deeply concerned by the negative social consequences" of unbundling, argue that the ISO option is a kind of ownership unbundling and "cannot therefore be presented as a genuine alternative".