The EU said on Thursday it has launched legal action against 18 of its 27 member states over a failure to implement bloc law domestically in a bid to open up gas and electricity markets. Infringement proceedings against the 18 were launched for a failure to sufficiently liberalise gas distribution markets and ensure open access to pipelines in order to lower prices for businesses and consumers. The same first step towards court action was taken against 17 of these countries for restrictions in access to electricity grids. For both gas and electricity markets, Britain, France and Spain are in the group being pursued, while Germany, Italy and Poland are not. \"We need competition,\" said EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger\'s spokeswoman, Marlene Holzner, saying that way, \"in the end, consumers get a fair price for electricity and gas.\" She said the liberalisation drive was \"also important for gas security,\" after a series of problems in recent winters when Russian giant Gazprom turned off its delivery taps over payment rows with transit country Ukraine. Home to half a billion consumers and about 20 million companies, the European Union is an energy exporter\'s dream as it imports 60 percent of its crucial electricity-generating gas requirements, as well as 80 percent of its oil needs. EU leaders in February committed to fully link national and regional electricity grids and gas pipelines by 2014 to allow power to circulate freely and cheaply from those who produce it and have surpluses to those who don\'t and need it. The network development cost over the remainder of the decade is tipped to exceed 200 billion euros ($270.3 billion), almost all of which is to be found through private investment. A senior commission spokeswoman underlined that only about five percent of all infringement proceedings ever go to the European courts in Luxembourg.