European Commission makes initial finding against Bulgaria's state-owned gas holding

By bne IntelliNews March 23, 2015

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The European Commission (EC) has sent a statement of objections to wholly state-owned Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH), informing it of its preliminary view that BEH “may have breached EU antitrust rules by hindering competitors access to key gas infrastructures in Bulgaria”. The statement of objections was also sent to BEH subsidiaries Bulgargaz (gas supply) and Bulgartransgaz (gas infrastructure).

Margrethe Vestager, EU Commissioner in charge of competition policy, said that the EC must ensure fair access to the infrastructure is available, enabling competition on the Bulgarian gas supply markets. The EC noted that the vertically integrated BEH supplies gas and its subsidiaries own or control Bulgaria’s gas transmission network, the sole gas storage facility in the country, as well as the capacity on the main gas import pipeline into Bulgaria.

The investigation of BEH’s potential abuse of its dominance in Bulgaria’s gas markets was opened in July 2013. The EC has concerns that “BEH and its subsidiaries have refused to give competitors access to the gas transmission network and the gas storage facility, as well as reserved capacity they do not need on the gas import pipeline”. Hence, the EC’s provisional finding is that there may have been an abuse of dominant position.

BEH and its subsidiaries can examine the documents in the EC's investigation file, reply in writing and request an oral hearing to present their comments on the case before representatives of EC and national competition bodies. If, after the parties’ defence the EC concludes there was an infringement, it can ban the conduct and impose a fine of up to 10% of the annual worldwide turnover. On the other hand, the press release also informed that the sending of a statement of objections “does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation”.

In a related note, the press release said that in August 2014, under a separate investigation, the EC issued a statement of objections to BEH about possible territorial restrictions in the holding’s electricity supply contracts with traders on the non-regulated wholesale electricity market in the Balkan country.

 
 

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