European Commission - Press release
State aid: Commission opens in-depth inquiry into Italian support to former Tirrenia Group
Brussels, 5 October 2011 - The European Commission has opened an in-depth investigation under EU state aid rules into several public support measures in favour of companies of the former Tirrenia Group, which operate ferries between mainland Italy and various islands.
The Commission is concerned that the public service compensation granted by Italy to these companies for operating certain maritime routes could procure them an unfair economic advantage over competitors. The Commission will also investigate whether additional support granted to Tirrenia Group companies in the context of their privatisation may distort competition.
The Commission had received complaints concerning the prolongation of the public service contracts after the expiry, in December 2008, of the Conventions that governed the services, as well as aspects of the privatisation process.
The Commission will in particular assess whether this prolongation of public service contracts beyond the end of 2008 was done in line with EU rules on Services of General Economic Interest (SGEI).
The firms concerned are Tirrenia di Navigazione, Caremar, Saremar, Siremar and Toremar. The contracts relate to the maritime transport between mainland Italy with Sicily, Sardinia and other Italian islands.
Commission Vice-President in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia said: "Member States must, of course, compensate companies for the extra costs incurred when providing a service of general economic interest. However, the Commission also has a duty to ensure that those services have been clearly defined and that there is no over compensation. The Commission commends the steps undertaken by Italy to open up the maritime cabotage market but must also ensure that the privatisation of two of the companies, Tirrenia di Navigazione and Siremar, did not entail undue subsidies".
The opening of an in-depth probe allows interested third parties to submit comments on the measures under examination. It does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.
The Commission needs to verify that the maritime services provided by the companies as of 2009 have effectively been defined as services of general economic interest by Italy before entrusting them to the companies and that the compensation paid for their operation is proportionate to the net costs of discharging the public-service obligations conferred on the companies.
Secondly, the Commission needs to determine whether several public measures granted by Italy in the context of the privatisation of the companies of the former Tirrenia Group may procure an unfair economic advantage to the beneficiaries with regard to their competitors. The measures mainly take the form of additional public financing to cover current expenditure and fiscal advantages. Ultimately, the Commission is concerned that the method chosen by Italy to privatise Tirrenia di Navigazione and Siremar may confer an advantage to either the privatised undertakings or their purchasers.
When a company is privatised through an asset sale, the Commission considers, in principle, that the sale is free of aid if the assets have been sold to the highest bidder through an open, transparent, non discriminatory and unconditional procedure. The information available at this stage does not allow the Commission to exclude that other bidders might have participated in the tender - had the selection criteria been more transparent and the tender been unconditional - and made higher offers for Tirrrenia di Navigazione and Siremar.
Caremar, Saremar and Toremar were transferred to the regions of Campania/Lazio, Sardinia and Toscana as part of the reorganisation of the Tirrenia Group for future privatisation. The privatisation of these three companies does not fall within the scope of the current investigation.
Today's opening of procedure is separate from another ongoing procedure reassessing the public service contracts before the end of 2008, after the EU General Court in 2009 annulled1 a Commission decision of 2004 (see IP/04/349) that had found the compensation granted by Italy to the Tirrenia group partly compatible and partly incompatible with EU state aid rules.
The non-confidential version of the decision will be published in the Official Journal of the EU and made available under the case numbers SA.32014, SA.32015, SA.32016, SA.28172, SA.29989, SA.30107, SA.30206, SA.31645 and SA.31715 in the State Aid Register on the DG Competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of state aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the State Aid Weekly e-News