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European Commission - Press release
State aid: Commission opens in-depth investigations in air transport sector in France, Germany and Sweden
Brussels, 25 January 2012 - The European Commission will investigate whether financial arrangements between public authorities and the airports of Niederrhein-Weeze, Altenburg-Nobitz (both in Germany), Pau (France) and Västerås (Sweden), as well as rebates and marketing agreements concluded between these airports and some of the airlines using them, are in line with EU State aid rules. The opening of proceedings gives interested third parties an opportunity to submit comments on the measures under assessment; it does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.
The Commission has opened three distinct in-depth investigations and extended the scope of a fourth investigation opened in November 2007 into contracts regarding the Pau airport (see IP/07/1794).
Investments by public authorities into companies carrying out economic activities are in line with EU state aid rules when they are made on terms that a private player operating under market conditions would accept (the market economy investor principle, MEIP). In the aviation sector, infrastructure investment subsidies can in principle be found compatible with the guidelines on state aid in the aviation sector when they are necessary, proportionate, pursue an objective of general interest, ensure non-discriminatory access for all users and do not unduly affect trade in the internal market. Operating support is far more likely to distort competition between airports and is therefore in principle incompatible with the internal market.
On the basis of the information at its disposal the Commission cannot exclude that the measures in favour of the four airports and their customer airlines involve state aid which gives them an unfair advantage vis-à-vis their competitors and is thus incompatible with the internal market.
Niederrhein-Weeze is a regional airport in North Rhine-Westphalia, near Duisburg. It has allegedly received over the last ten years several loans or grants on terms that differ from market conditions. In addition, it is experiencing financial difficulties and its operations appear to be dependent on public support. The Commission, therefore, has doubts that the public authorities acted in accordance with the MEIP and that the airport could operate under market conditions.
Altenburg-Nobitz is a regional airport in Thüringen. Between 2000 and 2009, it received several capital contributions from shareholders to cover its losses. The Commission has doubts that the MEIP has been respected and that the airport could operate under market conditions. Moreover, the Commission has concerns that contractual rebates or marketing arrangements concluded between the airport and the low-cost airline Ryanair could procure the latter an undue economic advantage over its competitors.
Västerås is a regional airport around 100 km from Stockholm. It allegedly has received operating aid and several shareholder contributions to cover its losses since 2001. Moreover, the Commission has concerns that marketing and airport charge arrangements with Ryanair could procure an undue economic advantage to the latter that its competitors do not have.
Pau is a regional airport in Pyrénées-Atlantiques (Aquitaine). In 2007, the Commission had opened an in-depth investigation into contracts concerning the use of the Pau airport infrastructure and the provision of marketing services to promote the location (see IP/07/1794). The Commission has now extended the scope of this investigation to cover all contracts concluded by the airport with airlines between 2003 and 2011 as well as several infrastructure subsidies and other public measures granted in favour of the airport during this period.
In 2012 the Commission plans to adopt new guidelines on aviation – covering both airlines and the financing of airport infrastructure – following a public consultation.
On the same day, the Commission has opened an in-depth investigation into restructuring aid for Air Malta (see IP/12/42). On 9 January 2012 the Commission also ordered Hungary to recover incompatible state aid from national carrier Malév (see IP/12/7).
The non-confidential versions of the decisions will be published in the Official Journal of the EU and made available under the case numbers: SA.19880 and SA.32576 (Niederrhein-Weeze), SA.26500 (Altenburg-Nobitz), SA.22614 (Pau) and SA.18857 (Västerås) 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.