PARIS, June 13 -- The European Commission took a formal step in antitrust investigations June 11 by sending a statement of objections to Germany's E.On AG and France's Gaz de France concerning what it suspects was a "concerted practice" to keep out of each other's home gas supply market, even after the liberalization of the European gas markets.
The statement follows surprise inspections carried out in 2006 at each company's premises and the opening of formal procedures in July 2007. It means the commission has decided to pursue the case after examining it over the last months. If a company is deemed guilty, such an official document generally is followed with fines as high as 10% of a company's worldwide sales.
Gaz de France has confirmed receiving the objections in which the commission, "voices its suspicion of collusion with E.On to restrict competition on their respective national markets regarding, in particular, deliveries of natural gas transported via the MEGAL pipeline."
Gaz de France said although the procedure will give it access to information the commission possesses, it does not prejudge the final outcome of the procedure.
E.On, through its subsidiary E.On Ruhrgas AG, and Gaz de France are the leading gas suppliers in Germany and France respectively and two of the largest players in the European gas industry. Jointly they own 51% and 44% of the 1,077-km MEGAL gas pipeline. Austrias OMV owns the 5% balance.
MEGAL links the Czech and Austrian borders to France's borders, bringing Russian gas to the French market in the framework of an agreement signed in 1975.