ROME Nov 6 Italy's Eni (ENI.MI) is studying the
possible sale of the strategic TAG pipeline, which transports
Russian gas through Austria into Italy, to settle a dispute with
Brussels, sources close to the issue said on Friday.
European Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes has asked Eni
to sell TAG, which is 89 percent controlled by Eni and seen as
strategic by the company and by Italian government, as part of a
probe dating from 2007 into restrictive pipeline practices.
Two sources said that Eni, at a hearing with the Commission
on Nov. 27, could offer to sell the pipeline -- maybe to Italian
institutional investors -- but try to keep rights to transport
gas through the pipeline to honour its existing contracts.
"On that occasion Eni could offer the EU to sell TAG," said
one of the sources.
"This might satisfy the EU, since this way the new owners of
the pipeline could make the investments needed to increase its
capacity and sell to other operators," said another source,
referring to Kroes' main complaint about Eni's ownership of TAG.
Eni declined to comment.
The probe also concerns the TENP and Transitgas pipelines
which carry gas into Italy from northern Europe, and in which
Eni holds 49 and 46 percent respectively.
Eni has previously proposed to Kroes giving up management of
the pipeline, but that offer was considered insufficient. Eni
has also said in the past that it would rather pay a fine and
keep TAG than divest such a strategically important asset.
(Reporting by Alberto Sisto; writing by Stephen Brown)