The news emerged in a European Commission statement on the EU's website, which confirmed that a document of formal objections to Distrigas's practices was sent on May 10, 2006.
The antitrust charges center on the issue of long term contracts that Distrigas, an arm of the soon-to-be-merged French group Suez, has established in the Belgian market and which may be hindering access to the gas market for new entrants.
The statement of objections outlines the commission’s preliminary view that a significant proportion of the Belgian gas market is unavailable for competition for long periods because Distrigas – the dominant gas supplier in Belgium – has concluded long term gas supply contracts with many of its industrial customers, the EC’s bulletin reads.
If confirmed, this would have a particularly worrying effect on competition as a large proportion of other gas sales in Belgium are intra-group sales within the Suez group (eg. Distrigas sales to Electrabel) and so not accessible to potential new market entrants.
The suspected competition problem identified by the investigation into Distrigas (long-term downstream contracts between wholesalers and industrial customers having the effect of excluding would-be market entrants) illustrates one of the problems identified in the energy sector competition inquiry. The sector inquiry has emphasized the importance of this problem. However, the Distrigas inquiry predates the energy sector inquiry and information collected in the sector inquiry has not been used in the Distrigas inquiry. The Distrigas investigation has been carried out separately, the statement reads.
The commission also stressed that the investigation into Distrigas is separate from the review of the antitrust consequences of the Suez-Gaz de France merger.