Cristina Magdaleno Galdona |
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (EFE).- The president of the National Markets and Competition Commission (CNMC), Cani Fernández, said in an interview with Efe that she was not concerned about the decision of the National Court to temporarily suspend the sanctions. imposed by the regulator on various construction companies, and that this fact does not imply the cancellation of the fines.
In the almost two and a half years that have passed since assuming the presidency of this body, Fernández has had to face several battles, such as the intervention in the energy market or the disciplinary procedure against the construction cartel that resulted in multi-million dollar fines for Dragados. -ACS, FCC, Ferrovial, OHL and Sacyr, and which the National Court has temporarily suspended, a case on which he said he was “reasonably calm”.
In an interview with EFE, after participating in the XIV Annual Conference of the Contest that brought together the CNMC and national and regional authorities held in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Cani Fernández reviews the challenges that the CNMC must a day in which electricity marked its lowest price in 17 months, 56 euros per megawatt hour (MWh).
Favorable for intervening in the energy market
Question: You were in favor of intervention in the energy market in exceptional circumstances. Do you think the measures taken so far are working?
Answer: They work, yes. We are seeing a general drop in energy prices. The prices that consumers pay are in any case lower than those which would have existed in the absence of these measures, that is a fact. Even consumers who pay the gas cap would have paid far more than what they are currently paying. But we cannot forget that the energy market is designed at European level.
In the countries of Northern Europe which until before the war were well supplied with Russian gas pipelines and which are now experiencing difficulties, even supply problems, the question is whether this market is sufficient, whether it is temporary or whether a major reform is needed that ignores the marginalist market.
The question is ultimately whether the measures we adopt in this situation should be an additional instrument which can be used when we have significant changes in the energy markets which are not merely temporary, or whether, on the contrary, we must continue with a market logic in which there is no type of intervention and that each of the Member States adopts the measures within this framework.
Q: Like the Iberian mechanism.
A: Of course, what is clear is that the Iberian mechanism did indeed have a downward impact on energy prices and the Commission was even analyzing the possibility of extending something similar to the rest of the world. ‘European Union. At the moment we are in the middle of discussing different measures, but the truth is that in Spain these measures have had an impact. I know people think they are paying for very expensive energy, but the only thing I can say is that without these mechanisms, the scenario would be worse.
Q: Facua recently reported that Iberdrola was hiding information on its website regarding access to the regulated gas tariff. Was a file type started?
A: We have received many complaints from consumers asking to switch to regulated gas pricing and not being diligent about it. There has been a flurry of enquiries, some 8,000 new ones each week, from consumers demanding change, with all that that entails. It is likely that the companies could not have foreseen and dimensioned it, so bottlenecks could have been created. Faced with these complaints, we opened an information file in which we requested information from all the companies to find out how quickly they are implementing these procedures. An informative file is not a disciplinary file, and now we are in the phase of obtaining information to know if there is a problem of hindrance.
rise in inflation
Q: In this context of inflation with sharp increases in food prices, has the CNMC found evidence of malfeasance among department stores or supermarket chains?
A: We constantly monitor with particular attention the sectors that affect the most vulnerable citizens and the shopping cart is a good example. We cannot intervene on prices, but we must maintain effective competition. If prices are high despite the competition, the reasons must be sought and at the moment they are obvious, such as the increase in the cost of raw materials or energy. We do not observe elements of collusion. It must be guaranteed that the rules of the game are respected and that there are no concerted situations.
Q: The liberalization of long-distance bus lines will be launched soon. Do you think that the model that existed until now has already given everything? What recommendations has the CNMC made in this regard?
A: The Spanish system is a concession system, which is rare in Europe, and which has proven to be rigid as it does not allow itineraries to be adapted to the new needs of travellers. When we started to carry out the study on this subject, more than 52% of bus concessions had expired, in some cases with average durations of up to 30 years. Thus, it is difficult to integrate digital innovation, for example. In the rest of Europe, the liberalization of connections to major cities has meant a difference with Spain by saving up to 30% of the price. With sufficient elements of competition, prices would fall, although it is true that this must also be combined with territorial needs. This combination of a model of liberalization with a possible public service could be an alternative, in particular on lines of more than 100 kilometers so that competition takes hold, lowers prices and improves services.
Q: It has now been two years since the liberalization of the railways. What is his assessment?
A: Spain is a success in the liberalization of railways. At present, Iryo, the third high-speed operator, is already entering, and the reality is that no other country in the European Union has three high-speed rail operators. This has led to significant price reductions on the Madrid-Barcelona corridor where competition is already effective. Ouigo has also entered Madrid-Valencia and there have been substantial price reductions and a noticeable increase in frequencies, which also expands consumers’ options when choosing equipment, making it more attractive and a viable option by compared to the alternative to highly polluting road transport.
Sanctions for construction companies
Q: What is your assessment of the suspension by the National Court of the sanctions that the CNMC imposed on construction companies that had formed a cartel since 1992 to distribute public contracts?
A: The press repeated that she had canceled Sacyr’s sanction when in reality what happened was that she was suspended. This is very common in our judicial system, which is highly guarantor and has suspended the fine on a conservatory basis, as the National Court does, I would say in almost 100% of cases. It is often said that with the precautionary measure, a sanction is canceled, which can then be confirmed by the final decision, for example, of the Supreme Court.
Q: This is not the first time this has happened to you.
A: For some time we have seen how the National Court overturns many of our resolutions. We are working internally at CNMC to strengthen the content and also improve the way we communicate our actions because there are times when we assume that competition issues are known to everyone and maybe that is not the case. But let me tell you that, for example, the Supreme Court so far this year has agreed with us every time, upheld 100% of our resolutions, and the year before almost 95%. Every time a decision is reversed, we analyze where we went wrong and try to strengthen our processes, but I’m reasonably calm.
Q: In your opinion, which sector concentrates the greatest volume of CNMC’s investigative resources?
A: Public procurement, definitely. This is our priority, especially in the current context, where a large part of the recovery and resilience funds will go through public markets. We must be fully prepared for this to happen in the most competitive and efficient way possible because this is a historic opportunity that we cannot miss. More than 10% of our GDP is generated by public procurement, which also generates a ripple effect for all sectors of the economy. We also try to teach public procurement, to train public employees. In Andalusia, for example, up to 400 unnecessary procedures have been detected and can be eliminated.
With such a sudden influx of funds that we are going to have, having to allocate them quickly and with the fear of doing wrong, the natural tendency in the field of administrations is to ask for more reports, to lengthen the procedures and to cover a lot.
Q: Recently, there have been changes in the leadership of CNMC. There is even talk of a “crisis of governance”. With the appointment of Rocío Prieto as director of energy, will this question be settled?
A: I would like someone to explain to me what the governance crisis is. The first surprise was me. There was no governance crisis, on the contrary. I think we have a much calmer CNMC than at the previous stage. Rocío Prieto is the longest-serving Deputy Director of the Department of Energy and has a spectacular CV.