Gazprom may unbundle to escape EU claims

Gazprom logo.jpg

Russia’s Gazprom will split its European assets to meet requirements of EU’s "third energy package" and avoid anti-trust claims by the European Commission, Russian news media reported. The Commission said it had no comment on the reports.

The planned change implies the split of Gazprom into two entities, one selling natural gas to European customers, and another one transporting the gas. The Interfax news agency reported that the change could help Gazprom avoid EU claims under the Commission’s third package of energy liberalisation measures (see background) that prohibit gas companies from operating both distribution and transport networks.

Gazprom sells gas to Europe through its subsidiary Gazpromexport. The latter owns 100% of Gazprom Germania GmbH, which owns the assets of Gazprom in European countries, including Britain Gazprom Marketing & Trading Limited, Gazprom Schweiz AG in Switzerland and shares in Wingas and Wintershall.

The Commission is investigating whether Gazprom, the world’s largest gas exporter, resorted to unfair competition and price-fixing in Central and Eastern Europe’s natural gas markets. The probe is a response to allegations that Gazprom has divided European gas markets by hindering the free flow of gas across member states, has prevented the diversification of gas supply, and has imposed unfair prices on its customers by linking the price of gas to oil prices.

The EU gets 25% of its gas from Russia.

Gazprom’s reported reform, which the company declined to comment on, would create two subsidiaries – Gazprom Storage & Transport for infrastructure and GMT Holding for trading, according the website of TV Novosti.

The RBK website reported that the subsidiaries will be registered in Switzerland.

“It is unlikely that the restructuring of the company will satisfy the requirements of the third energy package,” Oleg Semyonov from the consultancy “2K audit”, is quoted as saying by “Gazprom will remain the owner of all the assets, so in the long run nothing will change.”

Analyst Dmitry Lukashov from the consultancy Solid Financial House appeared to concur, calling the split a “psychological tool” to exert pressure over the discussion of long-term contracts.

The European Commission declined to comment.

On 19 September 2007, the European Commission presented its 'third package' of proposals to further liberalise the EU's energy market (see LinksDossier).

The proposals sparked much controversy, particularly over the issue of 'ownership unbundling' - meaning the break-up of large vertically-integrated energy firms like EDF and E.ON, which simultaneously control electricity production and distribution assets.

France, Germany and six other member states led resistance to the unbundling plans. Together, they tabled an alternative proposal in February 2008, which they argued would guarantee a similar result without forcing energy firms to split their energy production and transmission businesses.

Energy ministers finally clinched a deal in November 2008, agreeing that energy producers from countries which are not fully open to competition would be forbidden to buy up the transmission businesses of energy companies in European countries where full unbundling has been introduced.

The measure was directed at France, which had been opposed to unbundling, while EDF, the state-owned energy firm, went on a shopping spree across Europe.

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