In Spain, as in many other countries, the gas sector is crucial given its strategic importance and its necessary use for many industrial and consumer applications. It is also one of the most complex sectors, with several players spread over different upstream and downstream markets such as production, supply, transport, or retailing.
The Spanish gas retail market achieved full liberalization in 2003. However, according to the Spanish Competition Authority ("CNMC") view, some of the competition problems that were identified have persisted beyond liberalization and the structure of the market is characterised by high levels of concentration and vertical integration, which may facilitate restrictive behaviours by the main actors active in this sector. In fact, formal proceedings have been opened on numerous occasions aiming to investigate anticompetitive practices in the Spanish gas market over the past 20 years.
The most recent precedents in the gas sector have provided sanctions for acts of unfair competition which affected the public interest by the distortion of free competition and price fixing practices by a sectoral association. Abusive conducts by dominant undertakings have also been repeatedly fined consisting of, for instance, a refusal to change retail supplier; refusal to access the transport network; or the imposition of excessive prices.
CNMC has now apparently become aware of a new potential abuse in the Spanish gas market. In particular, the CNMC has recently announced that it is conducting an investigation for alleged restrictive behaviour that would consist of an abuse of dominant position through a market foreclosure strategy involving third-party competitors.
A few weeks ago, it became public knowledge that the CNMC has carried out a dawn raid on 30 September and 1 October 2020 at the premises of a gas company. However, the CNMC has so far decided not to make public the name of the company under investigation.
Despite the absence of details regarding the status of the investigation, it has already had a high impact on the media. For the time being, it remains to be seen whether there are further developments regarding this case or, by contrast, whether the CNMC considers that there is not enough evidence that justify the opening of formal proceedings.