Brussels, 26 May 2010
State aid: Commission approves restructuring of SNCB's freight activities
In line with EU state aid rules, the European Commission has authorised SNCB's plans to restructure its freight activities and convert its freight division into a subsidiary. Under the restructuring plan, the freight division will be legally separated and transformed into a commercial company under ordinary commercial law. The plan also includes a substantial reduction in the capacity of SNCB's freight activities. The Commission has concluded that the restructuring plan will ensure the viability of SNCB's freight activities without unduly distorting competition in the internal market.
"The restructuring of SNCB's freight activities should help improve the efficiency of rail freight transport and introduce more transparency to the market, in particular by creating an independent operator" said Joaquín Almunia, Commission Vice‑President with responsibility for competition policy.
In December 2009 Belgium notified a project to restructure SNCB's freight activities, which are concentrated in SNCB Logistics. To address the problems affecting these activities, the Belgian authorities are planning a series of industrial and commercial restructuring measures, together with financial support from the SNCB group, in which the Belgian State is the key shareholder.
The 2008 Community guidelines on State aid for railway undertakings (IP/08/674) spell out the conditions under which the freight division of such an undertaking may receive restructuring aid. This detailed approach applies for a transitional period, i.e. only to restructuring operations notified before 1 January 2010.
The restructuring measures proposed by Belgium are designed to improve the quality of customer service and the productivity of freight activities, encourage their development on a network of international routes and boost commercial development. The main purpose of the financial support measures is to fund the additional costs of employing permanent staff and to cover losses made in the past.
Since the granting of such aid is linked to the legal separation of the freight division, SNCB's freight activities will be carried out by a commercial company operating under ordinary commercial law. This separation is intended to rule out any cross‑subsidisation between freight activities and the rest of the undertaking and to ensure that the financial relations between freight and passenger transport activities are sustainable and kept on a commercial basis.
In this context the Commission is satisfied that the restructuring plan will enable freight activities to become viable once more under the new subsidiary.
In order to guarantee healthy competition in the market for rail freight transport, compensatory measures will also be taken, including a substantial reduction in the new subsidiary's capacity.
The Commission will check regularly that the restructuring plan is being properly implemented and that the Belgian authorities are honouring their commitments. Detailed reports on this will be sent to the Commission.
The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under case number N 726/2009 in the state aid register on the DG Competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. The electronic newsletter State Aid Weekly e-News lists the most recent decisions on state aid published in the Official Journal and on the website.