The General Court of the EU overturned on Wednesday the European Commission’s decision against the Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH), which fined it 77 million euros in 2018 for violating competition rules on the European market.
According to the court, the European Commission did not properly prove that the BEH group abused its dominant position on the gas supply market in Bulgaria by not granting third parties access to the Romanian gas pipeline 1, through which natural gas was mainly imported at the time.
The case was brought by BEH after the European Commission ruled on a complaint by “Overgas” against its subsidiaries “Bulgargaz” and “Bulgartransgaz” for blocking competitors’ access to key gas infrastructure and thus depriving consumers of choice providers.
However, according to the General Court of the EU, it is not clear that the lack of access to the Romanian route “is at the root of the difficulties faced by third parties who want to gain access to the said gas pipeline in order to supply gas from Russia to Bulgaria”.
“Thus, all the irregularities that ‘Bulgartransgaz’ may have hypothetically committed in connection with the gas transmission network and the gas storage facility in Chiren cannot constitute a violation of the competition rules of the Union, since no company could enter the Bulgarian gas market, without access to the Romanian gas pipeline 1,” said the decision announced on Wednesday.
The General Court also accepted that the Commission had not given the BEH group the opportunity to fully develop the position about the offense of which she is accused and thus violated its right to defense.
In 2018, the European Commission decided that BEH had blocked access to Bulgaria’s internal gas transmission network, to the gas storage facility in Chiren and to the then-only gas import pipeline in Bulgaria, which was fully reserved by the holding. The violation was carried out between 2010 and 2015. Thus, the state company’s competitors could not enter the wholesale gas supply market and this ensured an almost monopoly position for Bulgargaz, according to the Commission’s now-canceled decision.
As the General Court is the first instance for the Court of Justice of the EU, the parties can appeal the decision, but only on points of law.