The Constitutional Court said it has decided that members of the public may not contest regulator-approved prices of electricity and natural gas. The Monday decision was made on an application by Ombudsman Maya Manolova against a six-year-old provision in the Energy Act.
The controversial provision says that the regulator's decisions on maximum prices of electricity and gas are "individual administrative acts" issued for the energy operators and end users have no legal interest to challenge them in court.
Manolova argued that this provision went counter three texts in the Constitution: on rule of law, on the right to defence in court and the right to appeal administrative acts.
The Ombudsman's arguments were dismissed by the Constitutional Court by a majority of ten to two votes. It recalled that the regulator only sets the ceiling prices while the end price is set in a contract between the supplier and the end user. Theoretically, users have the option of accepting the contract or negotiating special terms.
Therefore, the regulator's decisions concern directly only the interests of energy operators.
Employers' support for energy regulator's head
In a separate development, four nationally represented employer organizations sent a message to Parliament's Chair declaring support for the head of the energy regulator, Ivan Ivanov, who was personally accused by the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party and the national Ombudsman for the latest hike in electricity and heating prices. They want him replaced and threaten to alert prosecutors about some of the regulator's decisions.
In their joint message, the Bulgarian Industrial Association, the Association of Industrial Capital in Bulgaria, the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Confederation of Employers and Industrialists in Bulgaria say that under Ivanov's management the regulator has earned the respect of the business community for being independent and for protecting the interests of all consumers.
They warn that Ivanov's replacement could cause shocks in the energy sector which would affect adversely the entire economy of the country.
The employer organizations argue that the regulator had no way of preventing the price hike considering that energy has appreciated by 20-30 per cent on the free market and that the price of natural gas has gone up and not reflecting this in the end-prices would have sent the sector in collapse like the one in 2015.