EurActiv.com Correspondent's Choice

This article about opening the EU energy sector was published by EurActiv on 15th February 2010.

Günter Oettinger, the EU’s new energy commissioner, faces an uphill battle against national interests in opening up electricity and gas markets, warns Georg Zachmann, energy expert at think-tank Bruegel. In an interview with EurActiv, he says member states risk dragging their feet in implementing EU rules.

“One threat, arguably the biggest one, would be the failure to implement the third energy package,” said Zachmann, who also advises policymakers in Ukraine and Belarus on energy sector issues.

But he warned “this will not be an easy task because many member states are still reluctant” to implement ‘ownership unbundling’ rules that encourage integrated energy companies to sell off their transmission grids.

“Some big companies are opposing this and it will be a tough fight for the Commission to really deliver on the objectives of the third package,” he said, citing RWE in Germany.

Beyond the third package

Although he admitted that meeting existing liberalisation objectives “will already be hard,” Zachmann said “the Commission needs to go beyond that”.

“In the electricity market, I clearly see a point for strengthening the institutions that have been established with the third [energy liberalisation] package, which have very limited powers at the moment,” he said, citing the EU Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators, ACER.

The agency, which will be located in Ljubljana, Slovenia, will coordinate the work of national regulatory authorities when it comes to cross-border gas and electricity networks and will become operational on 3 March 2011. It will be able to take binding decisions on cross-border infrastructure but only if national authorities fail to reach agreement between themselves or if they decide to refer the case to it.

But Zachmann warned the agency will not have sufficient powers to dictate energy investments, saying national interests are likely to continue to dominate.

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