The Slovenia Times

Watchdog looking into Petrol, OMV over fuel shortages, report says


Ljubljana - The competition watchdog is launching an investigation into whether Petrol and OMV Slovenija, the country's two largest fuel retailers, have abused their dominant market position in recent days as there were fuel shortages right before a new pricing regime kicked in, the news portal Necenzurirano reported on Tuesday.

The Competition Protection Agency (AVK) will check whether Petrol and OMV Slovenija, which control the vast majority of the market, have abused their position by filling storage tanks under their petrol stations too slowly or by deliberately emptying them in recent days.

This comes after people rushed to pumps to fill up their gas tanks before petrol and diesel prices went up, and a lot of service stations ran out of fuel over the past weekend and yesterday. The price hike is a result of a new pricing model that kicked in today and under which prices outside the motorway network are regulated and prices along motorways liberalised.

Petrol, the country's largest energy company with 318 petrol stations, had to deal with the most logistical difficulties, the investigative outlet Necenzurirano said.

The AVK would like to know the levels of petrol and diesel reserves at individual service stations following the announcement of the partial abolition of price regulation. They would also like to establish when Petrol and OMV started to fill up these reserves and how many tankers they used for this purpose, what the consumption at individual service stations was and by how much it deviated from the long-term daily average.

The watchdog is said to have taken action also because fuel shortages occurred at most service stations across the country, not only at those with a high volume of transit traffic. The AVK will also investigate possible concerted action or collusion between retailers.

The maximum fine for this is up to 10% of the company's annual turnover. In the event that the AVK does not receive the information it needs to analyse the situation, it may fine them up to 1% of their turnover.

The AVK told the STA that it could not comment on any ongoing proceedings, but added that it had been actively monitoring the situation on the motor fuels market for some time.

It also expressed support for the re-regulation of off-motorway fuel, noting that although they had not directly detected a restriction of competition on the market, they had found sufficient indications to argue that the market in this format does not function efficiently.

Moreover, they reiterated their call to discuss efforts to reduce obstacles regarding the siting of service stations, regulate consumer information on prices that should be displayed on boards at pumps, and regulate the obligation to communicate or enforce new fuel prices.

Due to the new pricing regime that replaced temporary blanket price caps and will be in place for a year, the demand has more than doubled in recent days, so the suppliers have been citing logistical problems due to the stepped up footfall at service stations.

Meanwhile, Necenzurirano argues that it was definitely not in Petrol's and OMV's interest to sell large quantities of fuel at lower prices in the days just before the price hike.

Petrol sells on average between 15,500 and 17,000 litres of diesel or petrol per day. If the increased volume of fuel that was prompted by the price hike had been sold today instead of Monday or Sunday, Petrol would have generated hundreds of thousands of euros more in revenue, the portal added.

Peter PiĊĦek, the head of the transport department at the Chamber of Craft and Small Business (OZS), said it was unacceptable that petrol stations had run out of fuel in recent days regardless of the stepped-up demand, as he pointed a finger at retailers.

He does not believe this was done on purpose though, rather he thinks it was a result of a lack of organisation. The road transport sector would like to see the introduction of a dedicated fuel system under which fuel would be reserved for hauliers, he said.

According to Prime Minister Robert Golob, the government will put diesel prices for hauliers along motorways on an equal footing with the off-motorway prices to avoid increased traffic and logistical issues outside the motorway network. "We will find a way for hauliers to fill up their tanks without any material damage," Golob said today.

This measure, in addition to some other mitigation measures, is expected to be approved by the government on Thursday. Reiterating that the fuel shortages should not have happened, Golob said that things needed to be sorted out immediately and that any conclusions would be drawn once the results of inspections are in.

Demand for fuel at pumps is less intense today compared to the previous days, Petrol and OMV said. They expect that the situation should return to normal within a few days.

They have both dismissed the allegations about abusing their dominant market position.

Currently, regular petrol costs EUR 1.755 a litre outside motorways, up from EUR 1.56, and diesel costs EUR 1.848 a litre, up from EUR 1.668. At service stations along motorways and expressways, where retailers set their own prices, the two fuels are about 20 cents more expensive.


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