Brussels steps up dispute with Gazprom
The European Commission threatened the Russian company Gazprom with a multi-billion euro fine on Wednesday. In ongoing anti-trust proceedings it has accused the gas giant of abusing its dominant market position regarding supplies to several EU member states. The EU will provoke further conflict with Russia, some commentators fear. For others, the defence of the common market warrants such disputes with foreign companies and governments.
Commission right to disregard political situation
Initiating protracted and exhaustive antitrust charges against two global companies at the same time deserves respect, the left-liberal daily Berliner Zeitung believes: "Companies like Google and Gazprom have unlimited possibilities at their disposal for defending themselves. As regards the Russian gas company, it is also noteworthy that Brussels did not refrain from escalating its anti-trust proceedings due to overriding political considerations. In view of the Ukraine conflict, the Europeans' relations with Russia are already in tatters, and the charges against Gazprom only stand to make matters more complicated. But this is a question of protecting one of the Union's central pillars: the functioning of the single market. If necessary that means being ready to enter into conflict with foreign companies and governments."
Standing up to the gas giant
The European Commission's decision to take action against Gazprom is a positive development, the conservative daily Rzeczpospolita writes in delight: "It has understood that the colossus from the East must be forced to recognise the rules of free competition. Otherwise it will be subject to the dictates of a company that is simply a prolongation of the Kremlin. The Russians are pursuing a policy in Europe according to the principle of 'divide and rule'. And not only in the gas sector, but also on food imports. They negotiate with individual states, giving some preferential treatment and using others as scapegoats - depending on the Kremlin's needs. The EU, which represents a major global market, won't accept this and has the means to counter it effectively, as we are now seeing."
Anti-trust case a geopolitical minefield
By adopting a sharper tone with its anti-trust complaint against Gazprom the EU is treading on thin ice geopolitically and could provoke yet another conflict with Putin, the liberal business daily Il Sole 24 Ore warns: "It's the political aspect that distinguishes this case from other proceedings like those against Google or Microsoft. It shifts the debate about gas pipelines and contracts to far more dangerous ground. The war in Donbass, the frozen trade relations with Moscow, the cohesion of the 28 EU member states. … When the EU began its investigation against Gazprom Vladimir Putin signed a decree to protect Gazprom that forbids the passing on of information to foreign countries without the Kremlin's approval. Now that Brussels has fired the first shot, Gazprom is calling for the case to be examined on a state by state basis. Moscow doesn't recognise the EU legislation regarding the monopoly. So the consequences of these proceedings could be far more serious than a fine."
EU and Gazprom need each other
Mutual independence will force the EU and Gazprom to reach an amicable agreement in the anti-trust dispute, the conservative daily La Vanguardia writes: "In Brussels and other European capitals there are fears of a harsh reaction from Moscow as a defensive measure against this commercial sanction. However the indications are that everything will be done to seek an amicable agreement. In reality the European Commission and the Russian company have to be on good terms because a breakdown in relations and collaboration would have negative consequences for both sides. The EU is the Gazprom's main customer and the company, in turn, is practically the exclusive supplier of natural gas to many countries in northern, central and eastern Europe."