The European Commission and the EFTA Surveillance Authority performed yesterday, 7 February 2012, a series of unannounced inspections in the electricity sector in several European countries (at least in Norway, France, Sweden and Finland). They targeted particularly power exchanges, as they suspect that some of them may have infringed EU antitrust rules on cartels and restrictive business behaviours. Such practices are prohibited by Articles 101 TFEU and Article 53 EEA Agreement.
As regards Norway and France, it seems like the inspection focused on coordination of behaviours by sharing the market between themselves. The announcement of a Joint Venture in September 2011 between Nord Pool Spot and EPEX Spot with the intention of establishing a joint IT system platform was also at the center of the European authorities inspections (see press release by EPEX Spot, 28.09.2011). The two power exchanges mentioned at that time that "The Joint Venture will reinforce the ongoing European integration projects. It is expected to accelerate and simplify the creation of a single price calculation in the European day-ahead markets. [...] Nord Pool Spot and EPEX Sport will continue as separate power exchanges, i.e. keep their rulebooks and be in charge of their respective customers."
As mentioned in the Commission's press release (MEMO/12/78), unannounced inspections are the first and preliminary step before the opening of a concrete antitrust case: "The fact that the Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour nor does it prejudice the outcome of the investigation itself. The Commission respects the rights of defence, in particular the right of companies to be heard in antirust proceedings."
National newspapers echoed the conduct of inspections, like Dagens Næringsliv (picture), which write today on the suspected cooperation between Nord Pool Spot and the German-French EPEX Spot. See also article by Le Parisien.