EU energy groups under pressure

Brussels, February 19:

The European Commission is raising pressure on energy groups to fire up competition as consumers grow increasingly impatient for the benefits of EU market liberalisation.

After uncovering ‘serious malfunctions’ in the European Union’s gas and electricity markets, the EU’s executive arm warned it was preparing probes into suspected anti-competitive practices by some suppliers.

“We will act decisively to remedy the serious malfunctions identified on the energy market in order to uphold the interests of European consumers and industry and to help Europe become more competitive,” competition commissioner Neelie Kroes said last week.

In particular, the commission said that in the coming months it would look at specific cases where gas and electricity markets had in effect been closed to competitors because of long-term contracts and restricted access to transport infrastructure and storage facilities.

In theory, companies have been free to choose their energy suppliers since July 1, 2004 and the market for the business of private individuals is to be open from July 1 2007. The liberalisation of the EU’s gas and electricity markets was supposed to drive down prices.