Commission to fine Bulgaria over gas market distortions

Magrethe Vestager [European Parliament]

The European Commission will fine Bulgarian Energy Holding as early as this month for hindering rivals’ access to key gas infrastructure, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday (11 December), based on information from three sources familiar with the dossier.

According to one of them, the eventual fine could range from €70 million to €90 million. The European Commission and the Bulgarian energy ministry declined to comment.

The case concerns a complaint by the private gas company Overgas.

The relationship between Overgas and the state gas companies has been complicated.  In 2010, Bulgartransgaz, the largest Bulgarian gas distribution company, blocked Overgas’ access to the gas grid.

Consequently, Overgas lodged a complaint with the European Commission. The EU executive carried out in 2011 carried out raids at several Bulgarian gas companies, as part of a wider investigation into possible breaches of its antitrust rules that is part of its ongoing Gazprom probe.

Bulgarian gas wars uncover hidden Gazprom strategies

EXCLUSIVE / Gazprom stopped supplies to Overgas, a private Bulgarian gas distribution company in which it has a 50% stake. The surprising move prompted comments and provided insight into the broader strategies of the Russian gas monopoly in Bulgaria, and the local interests involved.

The Bulgarian gas grid is owned by Bulgartransgaz. It is part of the Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH), which has amassed a multi-million euro debt to the state budget. The BEH holding was established in 2008 by then-Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev, with the aim of cross-subsidising state companies at a loss.

The intricacies of the Bulgarian energy trade have helped keep monopolies alive and resist EU energy liberalisation rules.

In November 2017, the Bulgarian parliament decided not to recognise the European Commission’s future decision with regard to a case of abuse of dominant position in the gas market by the BEH and its subsidiaries Bulgargaz and Bulgartransgaz.

Bulgaria on collision course with EU in gas monopoly case

At a secret session on Saturday (24 November), the Bulgarian parliament decided not to recognise the European Commission’s positions with regard to a case of abuse of dominant position in the gas market by the Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH) and its subsidiaries Bulgargaz and Bulgartransgaz.

EURACTIV asked Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager about the BEH case last May and she responded: “The Bulgarian issue is still open, we are not there yet, but of course, eventually we will get there and most probably, I will come back here and answer your questions”.

As expected, Vestager lets Gazprom off the hook

The EU’s antitrust regulators have ended their investigation into Gazprom without imposing any fines, the Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager announced on Thursday (24 May). The Russian gas giant welcomed the EU’s decision and promised to reform.

 

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