EU energy ministers reach unbundling compromise

At their June 6 meeting in Luxembourg, European Union energy ministers reached a compromise on the ownership unbundling dispute.

Doris Leblond
OGJ Correspondent

PARIS, June 10 -- At their June 6 meeting in Luxembourg, European Union energy ministers reached a compromise on the ownership unbundling dispute. Germany and France, which had led the opposition with six other EU countries, may retain ownership of their champions: Electricite de France and Gaz de France in France, and E.On AG and RWE in Germany. The two countries had been the strongest opponents to the dismantling of their integrated gas and electricity utilities.

The terms of the compromise are tough, however. Energy Commissioner spokesman Ferran Taradellas Espuny told OGJ that what was achieved at the Luxembourg meeting was that the diehard unbundling proponents—the UK and the Netherlands together with about half the 27 member states—accepted a less drastic solution than the full ownership unbundling of production and transport. The final agreement will be shaped after the EU Parliament's formal vote in mid-July.

While the sale of the transport-marketing networks has been avoided and ownership retained, the units will be operated independently from their parent company and supervised by a watchdog regulator with bolstered powers.

If the compromise is approved, the integrated groups will have to introduce a number of measures to make sure the separation of production and networks is really "effective." The supervisory body of the network will be competent on all the main subjects that fall within the scope of the shareholder such as investments, debt, and return on investments.

It will be managed completely by an independent transmission operator, and the transmission network personnel will be strictly distinct from personnel of the historic operator.

The adoption of the relevant directives involving the full reorganization of the integrated groups should not take place before 2009 after which member states will have 2 years to incorporate them into their legislation.

Commenting on the compromise, Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs praised the goodwill that led to it, adding, "The agreement covers a wide package of measures, including unbundling, real powers and independence of national energy regulators, and the establishment of a new agency that will be responsible for ensuring much more effective and easy cross-border trade in electricity and gas."

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