Brussels, 19 June 2013
State aid: Commission opens in-depth inquiry into State measure in favour of Scandinavian Airlines (SAS)
The European Commission has opened an in-depth investigation to verify whether a public support measure granted in 2012 by Sweden and Denmark to Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) is in line with EU state aid rules. The Commission has also examined other measures in favour of SAS in 2009, 2010 and 2012 and has come to the conclusion that they were carried out on market terms and therefore do not involve state aid.
SAS is the major air carrier in Scandinavia. Its four biggest shareholders are Sweden (21.4%), Denmark (14.3%), Norway (14.3%) and the Knut and Alice Wallenberg foundation (KAW) (7.6%). SAS' financial position has been weak for several years and its financial performance has deteriorated significantly since 2008.
In order to implement a cost reduction program, Sweden, Denmark and Norway, together with KAW and several private players, injected capital into SAS in March 2009 and in April 2010 through two right issues (case SA.29785). The Commission concluded that these measures involved no state aid because they were carried out on market conditions and therefore provided no undue advantage to SAS. This finding is notably based on the fact that public and private players participated equally in the rights issues.
In April 2012, SAS and the Swedish state-owned company Swedavia entered into a sale-and-lease-back transaction regarding real estate belonging to SAS (case SA.36327). The Commission concluded that this transaction did not entail state aid as it was carried out on market conditions. In particular, the sales process was carried out through an auction and the price was established on the basis of an independent evaluation.
Also in 2012, SAS prepared a business plan with the aim of becoming profitable again. In this context, a revolving credit facility (RCF) granted in the past to SAS by a number of banks was replaced by a new RCF of SEK 3.5 billion (around €400 million). Half of the new RCF is provided by Sweden, Denmark and Norway in proportion to their shareholding and the remaining 50% by most of the banks that participated in the old RCF and KAW (case SA.35668).
The Commission doubts that the new RCF was carried out on market conditions, as the public shareholders on the one hand and the banks and KAW on the other hand were not in a comparable situation. In particular, while the public shareholders increased their exposure to SAS through the participation in the new RCF, the banks significantly reduced theirs given that they roughly halved their contribution to the new RCF when compared to the previous RCF. Furthermore, the Commission has concerns regarding the reliability of the business plan, on the basis of which the public shareholders decided to participate in the new RCF. It has therefore opened an inquiry into the participation of Sweden and Denmark in this measure. The opening of an in-depth investigation gives interested third parties an opportunity to comment on the measures under assessment. It does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.
Public interventions in companies that carry out economic activities can be considered free of state aid in the meaning of the EU rules when they are made on terms that a private player operating under market conditions would have accepted (the market economy investor principle – MEIP). If a transaction is carried out simultaneously and under the same terms and conditions by public bodies and private operators who are in a comparable situation (pari passu transaction), it can normally be considered that such transaction is in line with the MEIP.
If the MEIP is not respected, the public intervention constitutes state aid in the meaning of Article 107 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), because it procured an economic advantage to the beneficiary that its competitors did not have. The Commission will then proceed to assess, whether such aid can be found compatible with the common EU rules that allow certain categories of aid.
The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case numbers SA.29785, SA.35668 and SA.36327 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.
As regards the participation of Norway to the new RCF, the EFTA Surveillance Authority has adopted a parallel decision. For further information see the website of the EFTA Surveillance Authority.