BRUSSELS – Russian energy giant PAO Gazprom has formally committed to changing some business practices to settle a multiyear antitrust case, the European Union said Thursday, in a procedure that allows the state-owned company to avoid billion-dollar fines.
The announcement, which contrasts with billion-dollar antitrust fines levied by the same office on internet companies like Alphabet Inc.’s Google, comes amid strained relations between Russia and the West.
“This case is not about the flag of the company – it is about achieving the outcome that best serves European consumers and businesses,” said EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager.
The European Commission, which serves as the EU’s antitrust watchdog, said Gazprom has committed to a variety of pledges for an eight-year period that will enable the free flow of gas in central and Eastern Europe at competitive prices. The company has already made some of those changes of its own volition in response to customer pressure.
Should the company renege on its promises, it could be hit with a fine as high as 10 percent of its annual revenue, the EU said.
“We are satisfied with the commitments decision announced today by the European Commission in relation to the settlement of the investigation,” said Alexander Medvedev, Gazprom’s deputy chairman. “We believe that today’s decision is the most reasonable outcome for the well-functioning of the entire European gas market.”
The EU started probing Gazprom’s business practices in 2011. In spring 2015, Vestager formally accused Gazprom of violating antitrust rules in eight European countries where it is the dominant gas supplier – Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia.
By 2016, the EU and Gazprom had agreed to settle the case and over the past year, have been negotiating tweaks to the company’s commitments after testing the terms with complainants and competitors.
As part of this, Gazprom has pledged to remove contractual restrictions that prevented customers from reselling gas across borders, the bloc said Thursday.
The commission said Gazprom had also promised to set gas prices in line with competitive western European gas markets and that the company would allow customers to more frequently ask for price revisions.