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EU Commissioner Says Gazprom Appears Set To Comply With Antitrust Rules

European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager says Gazprom's offers have eased concerns and provided "a forward looking solution." (file photo)

BRUSSELS -- EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager says Russia's state-run gas giant Gazprom appears ready to comply with European Union rules in order to end a five-year antitrust case and avoid fines.

Vestager said on March 13 that Gazprom's commitments met its objectives regarding competition concerns raised by eight different EU member states in Central and Eastern Europe.

She said Gazprom’s offers were "important improvements to ensure the free flow of gas at competitive prices."

Meanwhile, the European Commission has asked EU member states that oppose Vestager’s views to file formal objections before May 4 and potentially seek changes in Gazprom’s offer.

Vestager’s remarks could signal a thaw in business ties between Moscow and Brussels despite tensions and ongoing sanctions against Russia over its role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Gazprom, which supplies the EU with one-third of its natural gas, has been under scrutiny by EU regulators since 2012 -- with a case filed in April 2015 claiming that Gazprom overcharged customers in eight Central and Eastern Europe countries and had blocked its rivals.

Since then, Gazprom has offered concessions aimed at avoiding a potential fine of up to 10 percent of its global turnover.

EU regulators say the Russian gas monopoly has agreed to fixed transparent fees and to allow clients the right to include clauses on price revisions in their long-term contracts.

Vestager said on March 13 that Gazprom's offers have eased concerns and provided "a forward looking solution."

As part of the deal, EU regulators say Gazprom also will remove barriers in its contracts to the free flow of gas across borders.

They say it also will remove clauses from its supply contracts with wholesalers and some industrial customers that prevent the reexport of Gazprom deliveries to other countries.

There are divisions within the EU about the bloc’s stance on Russia.

Some EU states see moves toward a settlement with Gazprom as lenient treatment that runs counter to calls for more sanctions over the Kremlin’s support for pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine and its military activity in Syria.

Vestager told journalists in Brussels on March 13 that her view was based on enforcing EU law and was not influenced by politics.

She said that with a settlement, Russia would accept the EU’s authority to apply competition law -- something Moscow has long resisted.

Vestager also said that if Gazprom failed to comply and meet its commitments, the EU could resort to fines without reopening its case.

But the proposed settlement could be strongly criticized by the eight EU states at the heart of the Gazprom antitrust case.

Poland has said it will "play rough" with the EU across the board after a dispute on other issues last week.

Other EU countries involved in the antitrust case include the three Baltic states, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.

With reporting by RFE/RL correspondent Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels and Reuters
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