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Gazprom moves to settle Brussels antitrust inquiry

Gazprom has submitted proposals to Brussels in an effort to bring to an end a five-year long antitrust probe into the company, it said on Tuesday.

The Russian state-controlled energy giant, which did not disclose details of its offer, said that the plan sought to address the European Commission’s concerns “to the extent it is reasonable and possible”.

“We hope that the commission — and ultimately the markets — will respond positively to our proposal,” so allowing the case to be closed “in the near future”, it said.

The move follows signals from Brussels and Gazprom in October that they would seek to reach an agreement based around legally binding pledges from the company on how it sells its gas in Europe.

Should the commission accept the offer, it would mean that Gazprom escaped fines or any imposed terms from Brussels, an outcome that may well anger the Baltic states and other central and eastern European countries that have campaigned for a tough line.

The EU’s concerns have centred on three issues: contract terms preventing cross-border gas sales; tying gas supply to pipeline investment; and unfair gas pricing to Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

People involved in the discussions have suggested that the deal will, in part, codify evolutions in Gazprom’s pricing strategy since the start of the EU probe in 2011.

The company has already made contractual changes that remove restrictions on reselling gas and that require Gazprom to forgo any advantage gained from making gas supplies conditional on acceptance of gas pipelines. These changes came about because of pressure from the commission and increased competition on the European energy market.

We hope that the commission — and ultimately the markets — will respond positively to our proposal

The company’s policies have also shifted in response to arbitration cases bought by European customers.

These evolutions have left gas pricing to central and eastern Europe as the main outstanding issue that needs to be addressed in any settlement.

Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner, said in October that any deal would have to ensure the free flow of gas to these countries “at competitive prices”.

The European Commission confirmed that it had received Gazprom’s offer and would now “carefully assess” it.

That process will include a so-called “market test”, in which the commission invites competitors and other interested parties to comment.

Any deal will be seen as a test of how far the EU’s top antitrust authority is prepared to go to protect EU countries that depend on Russia for the majority of their energy supplies.

An agreement would also mark the end of one of Brussels’ largest, and longest, antitrust probes, which began with surprise raids at 20 sites across 10 countries in September 2011.

Via FT