Brussels has stepped up legal pressure against eight member states for failing to implement laws to liberalise their energy markets – despite the fact that leaders from four of those nations last week signed a public letter urging such reforms.
The European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, has cited Bulgaria, Cyprus, Spain, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia and Estonia for failing to write into national law reforms agreed more than two years ago under the EU’s third energy liberalisation package.
The legal tussle is a reminder of the struggle over implementation between Brussels and the EU’s 27 member states that can drag on for years after legislation has supposedly been agreed.
The deadline to introduce the energy package, which aims to break down national monopolies and create a single European market for gas and electricity, was nearly a year ago. The EU has touted the legislation as the centrepiece of a strategy to lower prices for consumers while minimising the impact of supply disruptions.
The eight member states have two months to respond to the Commission’s letter or risk being referred to the European Court of Justice, the EU’s highest court, for possible fines.
The Commission’s action came just a week after 12 European leaders – including those from Spain, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Estonia – called for more market opening measures to enhance economic growth and emerge from a crippling debt crisis. Their letter specifically stated that “all member states should implement the third energy package”.
One EU official explained the mixed message by saying member states supported energy reforms that made it easier for their companies to compete in neighbouring countries. Yet they sometimes opposed similar measures that exposed their own markets to greater competition.
The third energy package, which required years of negotiation, aims to do that by preventing a single company from providing both the supply and distribution of gas or electricity in a single market. To comply, member states are supposed to take the unpopular step of forcing national utilities to break up their holdings.
Bulgaria said: “We are in the process of changing the legislation,” and noted that some directives had been sent to its national parliament.
The legislation also calls for companies to enable gas pipelines to reverse their direction of flow, so member states can more easily transport supplies to stricken neighbours in the event of a crisis.
The Commission found that two countries that were worst hit by the 2009 gas crisis because they lacked such capabilities – Bulgaria and Slovakia – had failed to write the reverse flow parts of the directive into their national law.
The Commission has set aside more than €1bn in its economic recovery plan to help fund reverse flow projects and build interconnections to improve integration of Europe’s gas pipelines and electricity grids.
Joshua Chaffin - http://www.ft.com