The European Commission has sent a statement of objections to Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH), informing it of the Commission's preliminary view that BEH may have breached EU antitrust rules by hindering competitors access to key gas infrastructures in Bulgaria. The statement of objections is also addressed to BEH's gas supply subsidiary Bulgargaz and its gas infrastructure subsidiary Bulgartransgaz. The sending of a statement of objections does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.
EU Commissioner in charge of competition policy Margrethe Vestager said: "EU antitrust rules are an important tool to contribute to the Energy Union. We need to break down barriers so that EU citizens and businesses can enjoy more competitive energy prices and security of supply.To compete on the Bulgarian gas supply markets, companies need access to BEH's gas infrastructure. The Commission must make sure that fair access is granted."
BEH is the incumbent state-owned energy company in Bulgaria. It is vertically integrated meaning that BEH supplies gas and its subsidiaries own or control the domestic Bulgarian gas transmission network, the only gas storage facility in Bulgaria and the capacity on the main gas import pipeline into Bulgaria.
The Commission opened proceedings in July 2013 to investigate whether BEH may be abusing its dominant market position in gas markets in Bulgaria. The Commission has concerns that BEH and its subsidiaries may be preventing competitors from gaining access to the infrastructure they need in order to successfully compete on gas supply markets in Bulgaria. At this stage, the Commission 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.
If the concerns are justified this behaviour would have reduced and continues to reduce competition in gas supply markets in Bulgaria.The Commission's provisional finding is that these practices may constitute an abuse of BEH's dominant position, which is prohibited by Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).
In a separate investigation, in August 2014 the Commission issued a statement of objections to BEH concerning possible territorial restrictions in BEH's electricity supply contracts with traders on the non-regulated Bulgarian wholesale electricity market.
Article 102 TFEU prohibits the abuse of a dominant market position which may affect trade between Member States. The implementation of this provision is defined in the Antitrust Regulation (Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2003), which can be applied by the Commission and by the national competition authorities of EU Member States.
A statement of objections is a formal step in Commission investigations into suspected violations of EU antitrust rules. The Commission informs the parties concerned in writing of the objections raised against them. The addressees can examine the documents in the Commission's investigation file, reply in writing and request an oral hearing to present their comments on the case before representatives of the Commission and national competition authorities.
If, after the parties have exercised their rights of defence, the Commission concludes that there is evidence of an infringement, it can issue a decision prohibiting the conduct and impose a fine of up to 10% of a company’s annual worldwide turnover.