The European Commission said on December 17 that it has fined Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH) 77.1 million euro for blocking competitors’ access to key gas infrastructure in Bulgaria, in breach of EU antitrust rules.
The fine was levied on BEH, the umbrella holding company for state-owned assets in the energy sector, and two of its subsidiaries – gas company Bulgargaz and gas grid operator Bulgartransgaz, the EC said in a statement.
BEH and its subsidiaries abused their dominant positions by foreclosing entry into the gas supply markets in Bulgaria by unduly restricting access to the infrastructure it owned and operated, the Commission found.
Specifically, between 2010 and 2015, BEH blocked access to Bulgaria’s gas transmission network, the country’s only gas storage facility and the only import pipeline bringing gas into Bulgaria, which was fully booked by BEH.
“Without access to this essential infrastructure, it was impossible for potential competitors to enter wholesale gas supply markets in Bulgaria. This prevented any development of competition and ensured a near monopoly for Bulgargaz,” the Commission said.
The fine is the result of an anti-trust investigation that began in July 2013. The outcome was largely expected, with Bulgaria’s Energy Minister Temenouzhka Petkova recently saying that the fine could be as high as 330 million euro, or 10 per cent of BEH’s turnover.
The Commission also said that any company affected by anti-competitive behaviour as described in this case may bring the matter before the courts of the EU countries and seek damages. “The case law of the Court and Council Regulation 1/2003 both confirm that in cases before national courts, a Commission decision that has become final constitutes binding proof that the behaviour took place and was illegal,” the EC said.
In Bulgaria, that is likely to be Overgas, the largest privately-held competitor to Bulgargaz, with one Bulgarian media report noting that Overgas already had a pending arbitration case, filed in 2016 and claiming damages of more than 200 million euro, arguing that Bulgarian authorities were blocking the company’s access to gas infrastructure.
Any potential damages awarded to Overgas in its case would not be reduced on account of the EC’s fine.
(Photo: Marco Caliulo/sxc.hu)