France's antitrust watchdog has
ordered GDF Suez to give competitors access to part of
its customer database and said the utility company might have
abused its dominant position in the gas market.
GDF Suez denies the allegation.
Following a complaint by rival energy group Direct Energie
, GDF Suez will have to open up its corporate customer
database by Nov. 3 and to its household database by Dec. 15,
France's competition authority said on Tuesday.
The watchdog will also begin an in-depth investigation into
GDF Suez's market practices that will run until late 2015 or
If this finds that GDF Suez has abused its dominant
position, the watchdog could fine the company as much as 10
percent of its worldwide sales. GDF Suez's 2013 sales were 81.3
billion euros($104.7 billion).
GDF Suez said it was considering its options, including a
possible appeal against the watchdog's decision. "GDF Suez
firmly denies having made any use of a dominant position," the
France's energy market was liberalised in 2007, giving
consumers the option of switching from the former monopoly
operator GDF Suez to alternative suppliers. But the competition
watchdog said that seven years after liberalisation, the
development of alternative gas suppliers was extremely limited.
At the end of 2013, alternative suppliers - not including
EDF - had only 5 percent of the household market and 13 percent
of the industrial market, despite offering market prices that
are up to 15 percent below GDF Suez's regulated tariffs, the
competition authority said. This is hampering the
competitiveness of French companies and the purchasing power of
Direct Energy's complaint, filed in April, said GDF Suez was
using its database of customers on regulated gas tariffs to
offer them both gas and electricity at market prices, allowing
it to maintain its position in the gas market and win new
GDF Suez offers government-regulated gas tariffs, but also
offers market prices like its newer competitors.
The watchdog said Direct Energy had accused GDF Suez of
confusing regulated and competitive tariffs.
The competition body said GDF Suez was suspected of having
"abused its dominant position on the gas market by using
infrastructure dedicated to the regulated market to
commercialise competitive offers."
GDF Suez said the French gas market had become very
competitive since its opening to industrial customers in 2000
and 2004 and to residential customers in 2007.
The company said that according to energy regulator CRE,
alternative suppliers have a 14.7 percent share of all
consumption sites and 14.9 percent of annualised consumption
volumes. It also said in the non-residential market, alternative
suppliers have a 26.2 percent share of all sites and 49.6
percent of volumes. CRE figures include EDF's market share.
Besides Direct Energie, GDF Suez's main competitors are
power utility EDF, Italy's Eni and Belgian
independent energy retailer Lampiris.
Last year, the competition authority recommended France
gradually phase out regulated gas tariffs because they hinder
competition and keep prices artificially high. But the
government rejected this.
Regulated tariffs for small commercial and industrial firms
will be phased out in two stages between January 2015 and
January 2016, but France has no plans to do away with regulated
tariffs for households.
GDF Suez shares, which are up 13.4 percent year to date,
were down 0.9 percent at midday, underperforming the broader
market which was down 0.3 percent.
(1 US dollar = 0.7765 euro)
(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by David Evans and Jane
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