Protests by Bulgarians over their high electricity bills have spread over the past week, peaking on February 17 as tens of thousands gathered in cities across the country. The issue is increasing pressure on a government that is already seeing its support ebb.
Electricity prices are politically sensitive in the European Union's poorest member since power bills bite off a big chunk of monthly incomes, especially during the winter. The government has said it will look into the issue of rising electricity bills, but has ruled out the re-nationalisation of power firms, as the protestors have called for. Bulgaria's power distribution market is divided into three regions, which are controlled by Czech firms CEZ and Energo-Pro, and Austria's EVN.
Responding to the protests, Economy Minister Delyan Dobrev told Reuters: "In the coming days, we will take a final decision on whether there are grounds for revoking the licenses of the power distributors."
Many protesters said they had been overcharged on their December bills, and an avalanche of complaints has been lodged with the distributors. "We fully understand the anger of the people," CEZ Bulgaria's vice-chairman Petr Baran told local media. "If needed, we will pay compensation to our clients."
Bulgaria has long been criticised for failing to liberalise its highly monopolised electricity and gas distribution markets in line with EU rules. In January, the European Commission referred the Balkan state, Estonia and Britain to the European Court of Justice - the highest EU court - for failure to fully transpose EU energy market directives.
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