The entire EU energy market was thrown open to competition yesterday, allowing consumers to choose their gas and electricity suppliers and spelling an end for monopolistic state-run utilities.
The liberalization process has been resisted in some countries and welcomed in others, highlighting different attitudes to competition and the notion of protecting national interests in the energy sector.
The European Commission, which has championed the process, notes that reforms have not been fully implemented in some parts of the EU, meaning a handful of former state energy monopolies still enjoy a crushing grip on their domestic markets.
"It is undeniable that great progress has been made," EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said in a recent speech. "However, it is equally undeniable that many of our basic objectives have not yet been achieved."
"Markets remain stubbornly national in scope, cross-border trade is difficult and limited, and far too many customers have little or no real competitive choice of supplier," he said.
In theory, companies have been able to choose a supplier for their gas and power since 2004. Yesterday marked the first time the household market has been opened.
Ten of the EU's 27 member states have led the liberalization vanguard ahead of the deadlines, with the UK setting the trend by opening its markets to competition as far back as 1990.
But the long journey to full market liberalization has been marked by frequent battles between the commission and more reluctant member states.
The commission is also keen to see more powerful energy regulators to fight anti-competitive behavior, improved cooperation between network operators and increased investment.
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