By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
The European Commission will begin an investigation into Bulgaria’s energy sector next week, the government media office in Sofia said on April 9 2013.
The investigation into Bulgaria’s legislative framework for the energy sector and the structural components and major problems of the industry will be the focus of the probe, to be carried out by officials from the EC’s directorate-general for energy.
Electricity prices and monopolies within Bulgaria’s energy sector were the vehicle for the protests in early 2013 that led to the resignation of the centre-right government and the calling of early parliamentary elections, to be held on May 12.
An investigation by Bulgarian prosecutors into the energy sector resulted in the announcement on April 3 that five criminal proceedings were to be initiated.
These proceedings are the result of prosecutors establishing that there had been serious irregularities in the proceedings of the State Energy and Water Regulatory Commission, including inadequate control by the commission of the three energy distribution companies in Bulgaria. Prosecutors also alleged that the National Electricity Company had been involved in illegal deals and willful neglect, while the economy ministry had failed in its legal duty to protect the state’s interest in one of the companies, CEZ. The prosecutors said that in the case of CEZ, a violation of the Public Procurement Act also had been found.
Irregularities in Bulgaria’s energy sector in recent years had resulted in significant and unlawful increases in the prices of electricity paid by end-users, according to prosecutors.
While temporary measures have been taken to bring down electricity prices in Bulgaria, there is a question mark over their future, especially after the head of the regulator, Evgenia Haritonova, said on April 9 that the price of electricity could again go up from July 1.
Bulgaria has not yet liberalised its electricity market and has not introduced the third energy package, as required by the EU, putting the country in line to face large financial penalties.
Earlier, however, experts quoted by Bulgarian National Radio cautioned that liberalizing the energy market, allowing consumers to choose their supplier, would not necessarily mean lower prices for electricity.