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Brussels, 6 th August 2009

Antitrust: Commission accepts commitments by Greece to ensure fair access to Greek lignite deposits

The European Commission has accepted commitments made by Greece to ensure fair access to Greek lignite deposits. The commitments have been given to comply with a decision adopted on 5 March 2008 (see IP/08/386 ) which found that Greece had infringed competition rules (Articles 82 and 86 of the EC Treaty) by maintaining rights giving the state-owned electricity incumbent Public Power Corporation (PPC) privileged access to lignite. In particular, Greece has committed to grant exploitation rights to four lignite deposits through public tenders excluding PPC, to ensure that competitors of PPC in the Greek electricity market get access to lignite and to lignite-fired generation. The Commission's decision makes the proposals legally binding on Greece and requires the commitments to be implemented within one year.

Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes commented: “The Commission's decision makes sure that competitors of PPC will get fair access to lignite, which is crucial to allow new entrants into the Greek electricity generation market. This should ensure greater choice of electricity supplier for Greek consumers and increase the security of supply".

PPC, the former Greek electricity monopoly, currently enjoys privileged access for the extraction and exploitation of lignite deposits in Greece. Article 86(1) of the EC Treaty requires Member States to ensure that public undertakings and undertakings to which Member States grant special or exclusive rights comply with EC Treaty rules, including the competition rules. Currently competitors of PPC in the electricity market cannot compete effectively with PPC because they are denied access to sufficient quantities of lignite.

On 5 March 2008 ( see IP/08/386 ), the Commission found that Greece had infringed Article 86(1) in conjunction with Article 82 of the EC Treaty, by granting privileged access to lignite to PPC. Greece had thereby allowed PPC to maintain or reinforce its dominant position on the Greek wholesale electricity market by excluding or hindering competitors from entering the market. The March 2008 decision called upon Greece to propose measures to correct the anti-competitive effects of that infringement.

Greece proposed a list of measures that it intends to adopt with a view to ensuring access to lignite and to lignite-fired electricity generation. Greece proposes to grant exploitation rights on the lignite deposits of Drama, Elassona, Vevi and Vegora through tender procedures to entities other than PPC. Greece has also agreed to ensure that the companies winning the tenders will not sell the lignite extracted from these deposits to PPC. On the basis of Greece's proposals, competitors of PPC will potentially access about 40% of all exploitable Greek lignite deposits. The Commission is satisfied that the implementation of the proposed measures would remove the anticompetitive problems identified in the Commission's 5 March 2008 decision.

The decision requires the tender procedures for the exploitation of the lignite mines of Drama, Elassona and Vegora to be launched at the latest within six months from the notification of the decision and requires that the allocation rights be effectively granted to the successful bidders at the latest within 12 months of the decision.

The EU and national policies on environmental and health protection in particular relating to lignite-fired generation are unaffected by today's decision.

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