Brussels, 21 June 2012
Commission requests Italy to comply with EU rules on public service contracts for regional ferry services
The Commission has called on Italy to comply with EU rules on public service contracts once they have expired thereby respecting the principle of non-discrimination among European ship owners. Italy has failed to launch competitive procedures for the award of three public service contracts operated by regional shipping companies, in Campania, Latium and Sardinia. The contracts have expired at the end of 2008, they have been automatically extended afterwards and no competitive procedure has been launched yet for the award of new ones. If Italy fails to inform the Commission within two months of the measures taken to ensure full compliance with EU law, the Commission could refer the case to the EU Court of Justice.
The EU rules
Under the regulation which has liberalised maritime cabotage1, Member States may conclude public service contracts in order to provide their islands with adequate shipping services, but if they do so, they have to respect the principle of non-discrimination among European ship owners. The principle is respected if public service contacts are awarded further to a competitive procedure.
The reason for lodging a formal complaint
The current contracts for regional ferry services in three regions, which technically have expired at the end of 2008, have been extended by means of several legislative provisions. So far, they have not been subject to any kind of competitive procedure yet by the Italian authorities. The services are operated by the shipping company 'Caremar' within the Campania region, by 'Laziomar' within the Latium region, and by 'Saremar' within the Sardinian region- all of which used to belong to the former Italian 'Tirrenia Group'2. The Italian authorities have decided to combine the tenders for the public service contracts with the privatisation of the companies belonging to the former Tirrenia Group.
The practical effect of non-implementation
To let the existing public contracts run prevents other European shipping companies from having a chance to provide public service and users from benefiting of public service improvements. A competitive procedure for public service is especially crucial in the Gulf of Naples, where several operators compete with the incumbent 'Caremar'.
The Commission's request takes the form of a reasoned opinion under EU infringement procedures. If Italy fails to inform the Commission within two months of the measures taken to ensure full compliance with EU law, the Commission could refer the case to the EU Court of Justice.
For more information please see: MEMO/12/464
Council Regulation (EEC) No 3577/92 of 7 December 1992 applying the principle of freedom to provide services to maritime transport within Member States (maritime cabotage)
Tirrenia is a group of State-owned shipping companies providing domestic ferry links with islands in Italy