For the gas market, the Federal Pipelines Act of 1963 merely sets out an obligation to transport gas. It obligates network operators to conclude contracts with third parties on the transport of gas, providing this is technically possible, economically feasible and the third party provides appropriate compensation. In the event of disputes, the SFOE adjudicates on the obligations set out in the contract and the contractual conditions on a case-by-case basis. Alternatively, the Swiss Competition Commission (COMCO) can enforce the right to through-transmission on the basis of relevant cartel law.
With the development of the EU internal gas market, which began in the 1990s, interest grew among major industries and traders in Switzerland to buy gas on the European traded markets and to transport it themselves to Switzerland as far as the point of consumption. Legal uncertainty regarding numerous details relevant for the implementation of the transport obligation led to the conclusion of the Associations Agreement on Gas in 2012, which regulated access to the network for gas supplies to large industrial customers. For other end-consumers, there was no provision for free choice of supplier.
In 2020, however, COMCO decided that smaller end-consumers should also be permitted in principle to choose their supplier. For this reason, two gas network operators in central Switzerland were fined for illegally refusing access to the gas network. While this decision was only binding for the two companies concerned, it sent a clear message to network operators throughout Switzerland.
Still today, however, there is no standard legal framework to ensure effective competition for the whole of Switzerland. As a result, different conditions for the supply of gas by third parties have become established within the various regions of the network, for instance concerning measurements or relating to forecasts and accounting in the context of what is known as the balancing process. Access to the transport network is still decided on a case-by-case basis, and four separate accounting zones continue to exist in Switzerland.
The Federal Gas Supply Act, which underwent a process of national consultation from October 2019 to February 2020, provides for clear rules in order to facilitate the development of an efficient gas market in Switzerland. Following the evaluation of the consultation process, the Federal Council is expected to submit to Parliament its dispatch on the Act in the course of 2021.