11 Mar 2002 – Expectations are that the European Union summit being held this week in Barcelona will achieve an agreement on energy market liberalization and a date of 2004 is understood to have been pencilled in for the electricity market.

In an interview with theFinancial Times, Commission president Romano Prodi dismissed concerns that France would block such a deal – fearing the negative impact on public opinion ahead of presidential elections.

In the interview Prodi said that he considered non-household energy markets would be liberalized and that he felt this was a “very major step, covering more than half of the market”. He said he was looking for “stronger engagement” for liberalization of the household market.

Prodi said his optimism was based upon “real progress in many conversations.

The suggested timetable would be part of a package of measures that could see full liberalization scheduled for 2008, according to sources close to the discussions. It is not expected that France would however agree to an outright declaration on both dates at the European Council’s Barcelona summit this week.

It is more likely that such a move on domestic opening would be kept back until an informal meeting of EU energy ministers on Apr 26-28 in Pamplona, or until the Energy Council on Jun 7, according to the sources.

France may be forced to accept the will of its European partners if the Commission threatens to force member states to open their markets by using article 86 of the EU treaty, which allows it to impose liberalization on public sector companies providing services of general interest.

“Article 86 is still valid. Where there is a clear legal power I use it,” Prodi told the newspaper.