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    Bulgaria Fined for Obstructing Gas Rivals


The European Commission has imposed a fine, but was unclear if the market will open up prior to 2021.

by: Mark Smedley

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Natural Gas & LNG News, Europe, Corporate, Competition, Political, Balkans/SEE Focus, TSO, News By Country, EU, Bulgaria

Bulgaria Fined for Obstructing Gas Rivals

Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH) and two subsidiaries have been fined €77mn ($87mn) by the European Commission for blocking rivals' access to gas infrastructure in Bulgaria in breach of EU antitrust rules. The fine was imposed on state-owned BEH, along with gas supplier Bulgargaz, and gas infrastructure operator Bulgartransgaz.

The European Commission (EC) said December 17 that, between 2010 and 2015, BEH and its subsidiaries blocked access to the domestic Bulgarian 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 the wholesale gas supply markets in Bulgaria, thus ensuring a near-monopoly for Bulgargaz. EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said: "With today's decision, we will promote the development of an open and competitive energy market to the benefit of consumers in Bulgaria."

Competition will give Bulgarian consumers better prices and a choice of gas suppliers, said the EC, which would be further helped by the planned opening in 2021 of the IGB gas interconnector between Bulgaria and Greece, for which the EC committed funding November 8 2018, and the Bulgaria–Romania–Hungary–Austria (Brua) pipe project that will enable Bulgarian wholesalers to source new gas (although the Brua project is currently being blocked by Hungary).

However, the EC was less clear over whether or not access to Bulgaria’s gas market is currently open. In December 2015, the EC adopted a decision making legally binding commitments offered by BEH to end competition restrictions on Bulgaria's wholesale electricity market.