Richard North, 05/04/2006  

The EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg - where so many member states appear to be headingRather like British motorists, who are being fined for offences at a rate of one in two each year, the commission yesterday took the almost unprecedented action of nominating no less than seventeen member states as candidates for legal action over the state of their energy markets.

This, according to the Telegraph, includes the UK which has been caught up in the flurry of infringement, even though, last November, the commission praised British, Dutch and Danish efforts to implement EU energy market "liberalisation" rules.

Although this is a "technical" offence, concerning the setting up of an electricity "interconnector" between Britain and Northern Ireland, more fundamental infringement proceedings are being targeted at Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Sweden and Slovakia.

EU energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs says the action had been launched because member states had to implement EU gas and electricity liberalisation rules "in full, not only in form but in substance".

The Times tells us that the commission has actually launched 28 cases against the seventeen member states, reminding us that this is the commission's answer to the French policy of "economic patriotism", blocking foreign takeovers.

The move has not gone down well in France, with one diplomat saying: "We don't understand. The Commission has chosen the path of formalising the conflict. It’s an extra ratchet."

Interestingly, as well as the energy sector, the commission also initiated action against several countries for restricting foreign competition in gambling, and for failing to apply EU telecoms rules properly.

Then, separately today, the commission has announced it is to begin legal action against Belgium and Hungary over their laws on the importation of biocides and pesticides, and against Spain for failing to allow herbal products to be marketed fairly. It is also taking infringement proceedings against Italy and Cyprus in relation to EU transport laws.

Clearly, the commission is seeking to reassert its authority over its fractious member states, "formalising the conflict", as the French put it. It is a high risk strategy which may work but, given the bloody-minded mood prevailing in some states, it could also be the last hurrah.


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