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Eni Plan to Triple French Gas Accounts Dwarfed by GDF Suez Share

April 9 (Bloomberg) -- Eni SpA’s plan to almost triple gas accounts in French homes will still leave the biggest Italian energy company’s operations in its European neighbor dwarfed by former monopoly GDF Suez SA.

Eni seeks to boost household customers in France to about 800,000 by the end of 2017 from about 300,000 last year, Gioacchino Costa, senior vice president for western Europe at Eni Gas & Power, told reporters today in Paris. In contrast, GDF Suez had more than 9 million.

Eni also seeks to grab as much as a fifth of the market for small and medium-sized businesses from 12.5 percent now, Costa said.

The company took control of Altergaz in 2010 with the aim of accelerating the business’s efforts to compete with GDF Suez after the opening of the French market in 2007. Direct Energie, another rival to the former monopoly, had 237,000 home and business customers at the end of last year. France has been criticized by the European Commission for failing to do enough to open its energy markets to competition.

“A key to opening the market will be the elimination of regulated gas rates in France,” Costa said today. They’re due to be removed in phases from June for large users like factories.

Legal decisions on regulated gas rates have ruled against state price-setting policies, with the nation’s highest court saying the system has to cover utilities’ costs. The French gas market is experiencing “intense competition,” especially for businesses, GDF Suez said in its latest annual report.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tara Patel in Paris at tpatel2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Will Kennedy at wkennedy3@bloomberg.net Tony Barrett, Alex Devine

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