EU consumers lament blocked energy markets

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A new survey has found that energy consumers are “still in the dark and cold” despite the European Commission’s energy market liberalisation agenda, which was supposed to drive down costs and provide more choice for citizens. 

“Unfortunately, there is more bad news than good” with respect to the level of choice in the EU’s energy markets, according to a new survey of EU consumer organisations conducted by European consumers’ organisation BEUC. 

Limited options and difficulties in changing suppliers are listed as the main ‘bad news’ of the survey, presented in Brussels on 23 October. Household consumers also experience complications related to payments and untransparent energy bills, and difficulties arise when billing disputes need to be resolved. 

Consumers in Greece and Poland expressed particular dissatisfaction with their energy markets, while feedback from Scandinavian countries was more positive, the survey found.

Some ‘mixed’ and ‘good’ news was also revealed, particularly with respect to supply security. “There is a very high degree of security and quality of supply, both for electricity and gas, which means that the vast majority of EU consumers have access to energy and there are only very limited non-notified interruptions of supply,” reads the survey’s summary.

The Commission has used the concerns of consumers to legitimise a controversial energy liberalisation agenda, with a third ‘package’ of measures put forward in September 2007 (EURACTIV 20/09/07). 

EU energy ministers recently gave their first official position on the plans on 10 October, essentially approving the continued co-existence of liberalised and non-liberalised national energy markets (EURACTIV 13/10/08). The European Parliament, meanwhile, wants to stick to the Commission’s original plans to ‘unbundle’, or break up, large vertically integrated energy firms that own both the means to generate electricity and the transmission infrastructure necessary to provide power to consumers (EURACTIV 19/06/08).

Council and Parliament are expected to lock horns on the issue before any deal can be reached, and it remains unclear whether the package will be adopted before the end of the current Parliament’s legislature in March 2009.

In the event that MEPs ultimately back down on unbundling, BEUC hopes that the role of regulators and consumer rights provisions will be strengthened as part of any deal on the package, Levi Nietvelt, the organisation’s expert on the issue, told EURACTIV.

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