EU: Internal energy market in doubt as 18 states face court
By Arthur Neslen
An exasperated EU energy commissioner gave his starkest warning yet that the EU’s internal energy market may not meet its 2014 deadline, speaking at a Brussels conference last week.
“I have to be quite open with you,” Günther Oettinger told an audience of businessmen and diplomats on 29 September. “I have some doubts as to whether the  goal is achievable by that deadline.”
Oettinger also announced that the European Commission would begin infringement proceedings against 18 member states which had not adopted the EU’s third energy package, six months after the official deadline.
“We are very disturbed to see that there seems to be a certain amount of hesitation among all member states,” Oettinger said.
“Unfortunately, the same representative, the same minister who approves a package in the [European] Council does not push the implementation of that package through,” he lamented.
EU member states which have not begun to transpose legislation yet include: Bulgaria, Estonia, Spain, Cyprus, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom.
But an EU official later told EurActiv that as many as 20 member states could be included in the final Brussels action.
After receiving letters of formal notice, the states will have two months to reply. If they still fail to comply, the European Commission would then be approached for a reasoned opinion against them.
“After that, the final stage is that we would go to the European Court of Justice,” the official said. “We would ask the court to condemn them and request a lump sum and a penalty payment from the member states concerned.” A payment could then be levied for each day of non-compliance.
Rowing against the tide
The third energy liberalisation package was adopted in July 2009 to prevent the formation of energy company monopolies, by splitting their supply and production chains from transmission activities – a process dubbed “ownership unbundling” in EU jargon.
The Commission’s argument was that unbundling energy production from transmission businesses – gas pipelines and electricity grids – would encourage investment in energy infrastructure.
In a speech replete with mixed and often despairing metaphors, Oettinger spoke of a European energy market that was at a “standstill,” “taking one step forward and two back” and rowing against the tide.
“If we stop rowing then we will be dragged in the wrong direction by the current,” he said.
His language, and the “naming and shaming” of tardy member states reflected frustration in Brussels at the slow pace of movement towards the 2014 goal, the EU official said.
“Time matters,” he told EurActiv. “We need investment in infrastructure to reach our targets and therefore we need a stable regulatory framework.”
In a further sign of a beefing up of the EU energy department’s resolve, on 27 September, the Commission raided 20 gas companies from mostly central and eastern European countries, including the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom, suspected of anti-competitive practices.