EU regulators launched a formal investigation against GDF on Thursday (22 May) just as Brussels and Paris are engaged in intense negotiations over the liberalisation of energy markets.
In a statement, the European Commission’s competition department said it suspects the state-owned gas company of abusing its dominant market position by restricting access to the downstream gas supply market in France.
The case, which is open-ended, was opened following inspections carried out in 2006 at GDF premises, the Commission indicated (EURACTIV 29/06/06).
Under particular scrutiny are “a combination of long-term reservation of transport capacity and a network of import agreements” that the Commission believes are stifling competition.
EU regulators also suspect GDF of engaging in chronic “underinvestment in import infrastructure capacity” in order to keep a stronghold on its home market and prevent new competitors from entering.
The Commission’s investigation comes as a time when Paris and Brussels are engaged in an intense battle over energy liberalisation. France is resisting the EU executive’s proposal, presented in September last year, because it would force gas and electricity firms such as GDF to break-up their energy supply and transmission businesses, a process known as ‘ownership unbundling’.
The battle shifted to the gas sector earlier this week when the European Parliament’s Industry Committee (ITRE) examined a proposal for the gas sector on Monday (EURACTIV 20/05/08).
In a surprise move, MEPs rejected the Commission’s unbundling plans but showed more interest in a compromise text, tabled a few days earlier by the Commission, which sought to allay French and German concerns.
The debate will enter a decisive phase on 6 June when the energy ministers from the 27 EU member states will attempt to thrash out a “common approach” on the matter. France and Germany formed a blocking minority with six other countries and made clear they would not hesitate to sink the package altogether if they were not offered an alternative to unbundling.