* Federal cartel office intervenes in Berlin row
* Fight is about public versus private-sector operations
* Licence up for renewal
FRANKFURT, July 2 Germany's federal cartel
office on Wednesday said it had begun investigations into the
planned award of an operating licence for the city of Berlin's
7,000 km gas network to public sector group Berlin Energie from
The probe follows a complaint about the planned award from a
private sector gas company GASAG and its distribution network
The plans to award the licence to a public sector group are
another example of a "re-communalisation" wave in the German
utility industry in which assets such as power and gas grids are
returned to public hands.
This marks a reversal of the trend towards liberalisation
that has driven energy policy over the past two decades.
Supporters of the trend argue this is better for consumer
prices, local jobs and promoting green energy policies, but
cartel authorities stress owners must face the competitive
GASAG, the current licence operator for the Berlin gas
network, is owned by subsidiaries of GDF Suez,
Vattenfall and E.ON.
"We will try and establish whether the decision and
selection of the transfer of the concession for the Berlin gas
grid breach any regulations seeking to prevent abuse under
cartel law," Andreas Mundt, president of the Bonn-based
authority, said in a statement.
The federal cartel office had been acting as a consultant in
the selection procedure since 2012 and had pointed out an
especially critical "change-of-control" clause that would
protect the interests of future municipal owners, it said.
It pointed out that the current plan was decided solely by
the city of Berlin, where there is friction over the issue
within a coalition government made up of Conservatives and
Social Democrats, and not subject to a vote by the cartel
Cartel law must ensure that the most suitable operator is
picked for energy network operations, not one deemed more
advantageous for respective political causes.
(Reporting by Vera Eckert. Editing by Jane Merriman)