The FINANCIAL -- An EU probe of
alleged abuse of market muscle by Russian giant Gazprom is not political
and simply aims to create a level playing field, its competition chief
Joaquin Almunia said on Thursday.
As Brussels and the Kremlin lock horns over Gazprom's actions in eight EU member states that were in MOSCOW 's Cold War stamping ground, Almunia said the probe was entirely justified.
"We are not investigating Gazprom for any political reason, but simply because we have to make sure that the company has not abused its dominance in upstream gas supply markets in Central and Eastern Europe, especially given that it is virtually the only supplier in some countries," he told a competition policy conference in Warsaw.
The European Commission -- the executive body and competition watchdog of the 27-nation EU, with the power to impose hefty fines -- is investigating Gazprom's actions in Poland as well as Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia.
"Specifically, we need to verify that Gazprom has not raised obstacles to the free flow of gas between EU countries, that it does not prevent the diversification of sources of gas supply, and that it has not imposed unfair prices," Almunia underlined.
"What I can tell you today is that if our concerns are confirmed, we will have to enforce EU competition rules accordingly," he warned.
As EUbusiness reported, the probe centres on Gazprom's use of long-term contracts to lock in prices that are tied to that of oil -- a policy that often leaves its supplies far more expensive than those available on the open market.
West European nations, which have a broader range of gas suppliers, are charged less by Gazprom, Brussels underlines.