Brussels, 15 October 2014
State aid: Commission approves public financing of Øresund fixed rail-road link infrastructure project
The European Commission has concluded that public financing granted by the Swedish and Danish states to the Øresund fixed rail-road link infrastructure project and hinterland connections on both sides of Øresund was in line with EU state aid rules. The Commission found in particular that the measures furthered common transport priorities without unduly distorting competition in the Single Market.
Commission Vice-President in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia said: "The Øresund link has considerably reduced the travel time and fostered regional integration between Denmark and Sweden. The benefits of this large-scale infrastructure project clearly outweigh any potential distortions of competition brought about by the aid."
The Øresund fixed rail-road link is composed of a toll-funded 16km bridge, the artificial island of Peberholm and a partially immersed tunnel for road and railway traffic from the Swedish coast to the Danish island of Amager. It is the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe and connects Copenhagen to Malmö. The link was constructed between 1995 and 2000 and has been in operation since June 2000. It is owned and operated by a consortium formed by the Danish and Swedish states on the basis of an intergovernmental agreement. The project was one of the European Council's 1994 priority projects (TEN-T) (see IP/00/688).
In 2013, following a complaint, the Commission examined alleged state aid for (i) the construction and operation of the Øresund link through premium free state guarantees (Denmark and Sweden) and various tax advantages (Denmark), including special rules on asset depreciation and loss carry forward; and (ii) the construction and operation of the access roads and railways on both sides of the Øresund strait.
As regards the first set of measures, the Commission found that they constitute state aid as they procured a selective advantage to the link, which is operated on a commercial basis. However the Commission's investigation showed that the measures were necessary to realise this project of common European interest. Moreover, the measures were proportionate to the objective.
The Commission also found that the financing of the hinterland road and rail connections in Sweden and Denmark involved no state aid within the meaning of the EU rules. Indeed those connections form an integral part of the public transport network in Denmark and Sweden. The public financing of such general infrastructure is neither liable to distort competition nor to affect trade between Member States.
Traditionally, public support for the construction and operation of infrastructure projects was considered to involve no state aid. However, there have been important market developments which led to increasingly commercial use of those infrastructures. Recent judgments of the EU Court of Justice reflect these developments in holding that public funding of infrastructure investment projects is subject to EU state aid rules when the infrastructure is intended to be commercially exploited (Joined Cases T-443/08 and T-455/08 Leipzig Halle). Therefore public funding for projects like the Øresund link must now be assessed under EU state aid rules.
The state aid scrutiny carried out by the Commission aims to preserve equitable conditions of competition in the provision and operation of transport infrastructure while, at the same time, allowing governments to support such infrastructure projects, where necessary.
The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case numbers SA.36558, SA.36662 and SA.38371 in the State Aid Register on the 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.