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ACER Boss Says Agency Fully Operational in March

Brussels, 24 November (STA) - Alberto Pototschnig, the executive director of the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER), the first EU agency to be based in Slovenia, has told the STA that the new agency's top oficials would arrive in Slovenia by February 2011 and the agency would be formally launched on 3 March.

"The primary task of ACER will be promoting cooperation of national regulators," Pototschnig of Italy summed up the agency's mission, adding that it can only operate internationally and has no direct powers regarding national matters.

Slovenia was awarded the seat of ACER last December by the EU ministers responsible for energy in a move which secured the country its first seat of an EU agency by receiving 15 votes, while its rival Slovakia got 11.

On Friday, Pototschnig and Slovenian Foreign Minister Samuel Zbogar will sign an agreement on the agency's headquarters. According to the Foreign Ministry, the deal will represent the legal basis for the agency's work, its privileges and immunity and other rights and obligations.

According to Pototschnig, the agency will also put forward opinions and recommendations. In certain areas and cases, ACER will be able to take binding decisions, for example if a national regulator asks for it or if national regulators fail to reach agreement on their own.

Regarding some criticism that ACER is only a "toothless tiger", Pototschnig said it would be unrealistic to expect a transition from the system of voluntary cooperation in energy to a European regulator in one stroke.

The agency is expected to become fully operational on 3 March, when the EU's third energy legislative package enters into force. The legislation aims at liberalising the EU energy market, in which ACER will have a role, Pototschnig said.

One of the tasks of the new agency will be drafting guidelines for the definition of European network rules, which will be binding in all member states.

"This will be the first time that uniform rules binding on all 27 member states will be applied to the electricity and gas markets," Pototschnig said, adding that ACER will have to draft around 20 guidelines which will represent the bulk of the agency's work in the coming years.

The 50-year-old Pototschnig was previously the head of the Madrid-based energy consultancy Mercados Energy International.

The agency is still recruiting employees, whose final number is planned to stand at 52. The agency will start working with 10 employees, and the recruiting process is expected to be wrapped up by the end of 2011.

ACER will have an electricity department, a gas department and an administrative department. It will also have three bodies - a complaint committee, executive committee and a board of regulators, which will meet mainly in Ljubljana.

The agency is funded from the EU budget. EUR 2m has been earmarked for its work this year and EUR 5m for 2011.

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