Brussels, 7 November 2012
State aid: Commission extends in-depth investigation into Italian support measures in favour of former Tirrenia Group
The European Commission has extended the scope of an in-depth investigation opened in October 2011 into public support measures in favour of companies of the former Tirrenia Group (see IP/11/1157), namely Tirrenia di Navigazione, Caremar, Laziomar, Saremar, Siremar and Toremar. The Commission will now also investigate whether several measures granted to these companies or their buyers after the opening of the investigation in October 2011 are in line with EU state aid rules. The extension of the investigation will give interested third parties an opportunity to comment on these additional measures. It does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.
The Commission will investigate public service compensations granted to the companies of the former Tirrenia Group for operating certain maritime routes. So far, the investigation covered the period 2009-2011. The Commission needs to verify if the compensations granted as of January 2012 until full completion of the privatisation of the companies are in line with EU rules on Services of General Economic Interest (SGEI).
The Commission will also assess whether the new public service compensations granted by Italy to the buyers of the companies are in line with these rules.
In addition, the Commission will assess the compatibility with EU state aid rules of the prolongation of rescue aid for Tirrenia di Navigazione and Siremar beyond the 6 months duration foreseen by the guidelines on State aid for the rescue and restructuring of companies. The rescue aid had been authorised by the Commission in November 2010. However, the public financing has been reimbursed by the companies one year later than the authorised duration of six months.
Furthermore, the Commission will investigate measures adopted by the Sardinian regional authorities in favour of Saremar following the transfer of Saremar's shareholding from Tirrenia to the region. The Commission will also assess whether a counter-guarantee allegedly granted by Sicily has given the buyer of Siremar an unfair advantage.
In addition, the Commission will investigate whether Tirrenia di Navigazione has been sold to CIN at a price lower than the market value established by an independent expert appointed by the national authorities.
Finally, the Commission is concerned that certain conditions imposed by the regional authorities in the privatisation of the companies could have restricted the number of participants in the tenders. On the basis of the information available at this stage, the Commission cannot exclude that other bidders would have participated in the tender if the tender had been unconditional.
In October 2011 the Commission launched an in-depth investigation into various measures adopted by the Italian State in favour of the companies of the former Tirrenia Group. The Commission is looking closely at the public service compensation paid during 2009-2011 to the companies of the group. In addition, the Commission is assessing whether the sale of Tirrenia di Navigazione and Siremar was carried out at market price. Several other support measures adopted in the context of the privatisation of the companies are also investigated.
Following the opening of the investigation, the Commission has received additional complaints on alleged state aid measures to former Tirrenia Group companies and/or their acquirers.
In 2011-2012, Tirrenia di Navigazione, Siremar and Toremar were privatised. Tirrenia di Navigazione was sold to Compagnia Italiana di Navigazione (CIN), Siremar was sold to Compagnia delle Isole (Cdl) and Toremar to Moby.
The privatisation of the remaining companies of the former Tirrenia Group, i.e. Caremar, Saremar and Laziomar is underway.
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 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.
Background on EU state aid rules
The Member States enjoy a wide margin of discretion in the definition of services of general interest. The Commission must, however, ensure that public funding granted for the provision of such services does not unduly distort competition in the EU Single Market.
In 2003, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on the assessment of public service compensation in the context of EU state aid rules (case C-280/00, Altmark Trans). The ruling set out the four conditions that compensation granted by a Member State to SGEI providers must meet in order not to constitute state aid within the meaning of EU competition law. These criteria are: (i) explicit entrustment of the public service obligation, (ii) objective, transparent and pre-defined conditions for compensation, (iii) no over-compensation and (iv) choice of the least costly provider through an open tender or a level of compensation based on the costs of a typical, well-run company. In December 2011, the Commission adopted a revised package specifying how EU state aid rules apply to SGEIs (see IP/11/1571).
When a company is privatised through an asset sale, the Commission considers, in principle, that the sale is free of state aid if the assets have been sold to the highest bidder through an open, transparent, non discriminatory and unconditional procedure.
EU guidelines on the rescue and restructuring of companies in difficulties (see MEMO/04/172) allow temporary aid to rescue companies in difficulty for a period of six months. At the end of this rescue period, the aid needs to be reimbursed.