Wednesday

11th Dec 2019

EU officials take on Gazprom, Putin in price-gouge probe

  • Gazprom logo in Moscow (Photo: qwertyuiop)

The EU has said Russia's Gazprom might be guilty of price-fixing in Europe in a move set to test political relations.

The Europan Commission on Tuesday (4 September) said it has launched a probe into three "suspected" activities: hindering free flow of gas between EU countries; preventing diversification of gas supply; and imposing "unfair prices" on customers.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

Its case is based on documents snatched in dawn raids last September from 20 Gazprom and Gazprom subsidiary offices in 10 EU countries, including Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany and Poland.

Lithuania, which gets 100 percent of its gas from Russia, originally prompted the raids by a complaint to Brussels.

"I can confirm that we have asked the European Commission to look into possible abuse of the European competition rules over unfair pricing and I believe the probe is justified," its energy minister, Arvydas Sekmokas, told Lithuania's Baltic News Service on Tuesday.

A lawyer involved in two existing disputes on price-fixing between Gazprom and Lithuania and Gazprom and Poland at an international arbitration court in Stockholm told EUobserver: "They [the EU] might have a case ... Gazprom's [dominant] market position has been an issue for many years."

Gazprom has so far not reacted officially.

But its spokesman, Sergei Kupriyanov, told Reuters by phone: "Let them investigate."

The commission probe could take years to resolve. In theory, it could end with a 10 percent fine of the company's income in the markets where it is found guilty of wrongdoing - a figure in the billions of euros.

The commission's anti-trust department operates independently of its political masters in President Jose Manuel's Barroso's team, with Tuesday's statement underlining the technical nature of the case by citing chapter and verse of EU competition law.

A contact close to Gazprom told this website the matter "should not be politicised" and that "it wouldn't help at all" to try to influence the EU executive's decision.

But Gazprom has an arsenal of friends in high places to take its side.

Russian President Vladimir Putin himself warned Barroso at two recent summits not to use EU law to try to weaken the Russian state-owned firm's position in Europe.

Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is on Gazprom's payroll.

It pays lobbying firm GPlus, run by former EU anti-trust official Peter Guilford, an estimated €2 million a year to plead its views in Brussels.

It also has purported links to Russian intelligence services.

A senior source in Belgium's intelligence service, the VSSE, which is responsible for protecting the EU institutions from foreign spies, told EUobserver that Russian espionage activity in the EU capital is at the same level as the Cold War, with a special focus on EU energy policy.

Another contact, a senior EU official, told this website in a separate interview: "It [Gazprom] is not a normal company in the European sense of the word."

Correction: The original story said a fine could be 10 percent of Gazprom's total turnover. In fact, it could be 10 percent of its income in the markets where it is judged to have misbehaved

EU officials distance themselves from Gazprom stunt

Current and former top EU officials on Monday denied that they have any connection with Gazprom in a yachting project which has been flying the EU flag for the past six years but which is now sponsored by the Russian firm.

Opinion

Gazprom: A wolf in green clothing

People like me love conspiracy theories, especially on Russia. Now it seems that one of them has come true.

Feature

Promises and doubts: Africa's free-trade adventure

The EU is hoping that a continent-wide free trade agreement in Africa will help lift millions out of poverty and help solve issues of security and migration. But its message of values and equal partnership do not resonate with everyone.

Interview

EU Africa envoy: Europe needs to look beyond migration

Europe's obsession with migration from Africa means it risks losing out the continent's potential when it comes to trade, says the EU's ambassador to the African Union, Ranier Sabatucci. "Africa is a growing continent, it is the future," he says.

News in Brief

  1. Hungary asked to apologise after council leak
  2. MEPs: Finnish budget proposal 'impossible to implement'
  3. EP committee supports 'Future of EU Conference'
  4. EU survey: climate change must be parliament's priority
  5. Zahradil resigns as rapporteur on EU-Vietnam trade deal
  6. Russia plans 'Arctic Air Defence" with S-400 missiles
  7. Belgium: King does another round of consultations
  8. Thousands protest Orban's theatre clampdown

Feature

Promises and doubts: Africa's free-trade adventure

The EU is hoping that a continent-wide free trade agreement in Africa will help lift millions out of poverty and help solve issues of security and migration. But its message of values and equal partnership do not resonate with everyone.

Opinion

Why von der Leyen must put rights at core of business

Ursula von der Leyen's in-tray must include those European executives on trial for systematic workplace harassment, the break-up of European slavery rings, and allegations of European companies' abuse in palm oil, including child labour, land grabs, and deforestation.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. Hungary quizzed over EU rules amid twitter row
  2. Spanish King meets party leaders to break deadlock
  3. EU alarmed by prospects of battle for Tripoli
  4. EU must manage climate and industry together
  5. Does Malta's Labour Party now belong in S&D?
  6. Green Deal targets pit Left against Right in parliament
  7. Human rights abusers to face future EU blacklists
  8. Zahradil 'conflict of interest' probe may flounder

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us