“State aid: Commission requests Hungary to end long-term power purchase agreements and recover state aid from power generators
The European Commission has requested Hungary, following an in-depth investigation under EC Treaty state aid rules, to end long term power purchase agreements (PPAs) for electricity because they constitute unlawful and incompatible state aid to the power generators. The PPAs should be terminated before the end of 2008. Hungary must at the same time recover the aid granted to the generators concerned since Hungary’s EU accession.
Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said: “The phasing out of long term purchase agreements is a crucial step in the liberalisation of the electricity market in Hungary. The termination of very similar agreements in Poland in April this year has already led to lower electricity prices. A well-functioning free market can now develop on the Hungarian wholesale electricity market too. I hope that the advantages of genuine competition both for competitors and for consumers will become apparent on the Hungarian market as rapidly as they have in Poland.”
Around two thirds of the electricity generated in Hungary is sold under long term power purchase agreements (PPAs) to the state owned Magyar Villamos Művek (MVM). Such agreements can restrict competition because they close off a significant part of the market from new entrants. New entrants therefore get only a limited chance to compete on the market, and competition cannot develop properly. Following an in-depth investigation (see IP/05/1407), the Commission found that the PPAs concluded between MVM and ten power generators between 1995 and 2001 have been conferring unlawful and incompatible state aid to these generators within the meaning of Article 87(1) of the EC Treaty as from the accession of Hungary to the EU on 1 May 2004. The Commission’s final decision orders the termination of the agreements within 6 months. Hungary must furthermore recover from the power generators the revenues which they could not have obtained from the market without PPAs.
The Commission recognises the major investment in power plants made by the power generators before accession. The Commission has already allowed other Member States to grant state aid in order to help power generators to recoup investment made prior to the liberalisation of the electricity market, provided that the negative effects of such aid on competition was minimised. In 2001, the Commission issued the ‘stranded costs methodology’, which lays down the principles for assessing this form of aid.
The Commission’s investigation revealed that the PPAs in Hungary do not constitute an appropriate tool to compensate the generators for their pre-accession investments. Instead of helping these incumbents to adapt to the conditions of free competition, PPAs rather shield them from competitive pressure. The Commission’s decision only concerns the Hungarian PPAs; should Hungary notify another compensation mechanism, this would need to be assessed on its own merits.
In the case of the PPAS in Poland, the Commission could in the same decision request the termination of the contracts and approve the compensation notified by Poland, which was found compliant with the principles of the ‘stranded costs methodology’.
In the mid-90s, Hungary’s main objective in the energy sector was to ensure security of supply and the modernisation of power generation infrastructure. In order to reach these capital intensive aims, the state introduced a system of PPAs as an incentive for power generators to invest in Hungary. Under these agreements, which have been signed between 1995 and 2001 and expire between 2010 and 2024, MVM has the obligation to buy a fixed volume of generation capacities, a fixed quantity of produced electricity at a fixed price. The PPAs thereby guarantee the generators a return on investment without any commercial risk. PPAs strengthen the position of PPA-bound generators in comparison with others.” – states the press release of the European Commission.
Damages claim by the European Commission24 June, 2008
The intro of the press release of the Commission sais: “The European Commission has filed cases with the Tribunal de Commerce in Brussels seeking compensation from four lifts companies for damages suffered from inflated prices for the installation and maintenance of lifts and escalators. In 2007 these companies were found by the Commission to have operated illegal cartels in several countries, in breach of EC Treaty rules on cartels and restrictive business practices (see IP/07/209). No final amount of the damage can yet be calculated, given the complexity and variety of contractual relations, but it is expected that expert assessments in the context of the court cases will help identify the total amount of overpayment suffered. The Commission’s action covers claims for its own buildings and those of other EU institutions, both in Brussels and Luxembourg”
Any recovery of taxpayers’ money is welcome.
I am pretty sure we will see some comments on the “judge and adjudicator” debate, namely that the Commission is going to sue based on a case that was investigated and decided by it. Since it is a “follow on” claim, this is going to be interesting…
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