Brussels - The European Commission has concluded that the public service compensation granted since 2009 to Tirrenia di Navigazione and later to its acquirer Compagnia Italiana di Navigazione for the operation of ferry services in Italy is in line with EU State aid rules. However, it found that other measures in favour of Tirrenia are incompatible with EU State aid rules.
The Commission also concluded that the public service compensation granted between 1992 and 2008 to companies of the former Tirrenia Group (Adriatica, Caremar, Saremar, Siremar and Toremar) is in line with EU State aid rules, with the exception of aid for one specific route, which is incompatible. Italy must now recover €15 million of illegal aid.
"With these decisions we want to ensure that Italy can continue to provide these services on a regular basis throughout the year, and not only during the peak tourist season in the summer,” said Commission's Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy.
Following a series of complaints, the Commission had launched in October 2011 an in-depth investigation into a number of public support measures in favour of companies of the former Tirrenia Group and their respective acquirers. The Commission had concerns that these measures may have given the companies an unfair competitive advantage over their competitors, in breach of EU State aid rules.
On the basis of its in-depth assessment, the Commission has concluded, among others, the following for the measures concerning Tirrenia and its acquirer CIN:
The illegal prolongation of the rescue aid to Tirrenia for one year beyond the six months duration foreseen is incompatible with the 2004 Guidelines on State aid for the rescue and restructuring of companies and has to be recovered; the use of funds, earmarked to upgrade ships, for liquidity purposes constitutes operating aid to Tirrenia as the company neither repaid those funds to the State nor used them for their original purpose (i.e. upgrading its ships). This aid is incompatible with the 2014 rescuing and restructuring Guidelines and therefore has to be recovered by Italy; the exemptions from certain taxes granted to Tirrenia in the context of the privatisation process, reducing the costs that Tirrenia would otherwise have had to bear itself, constitute aid incompatible with the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and has to be recovered by Italy.
The amount to be recovered is approximately 14 million euros (including interest). As the Commission has concluded that there is no economic continuity between Tirrenia and its acquirer CIN, recovery of the incompatible aid will be limited to Tirrenia, which is already in liquidation.
In a separate decision, the Commission also concluded its in-depth investigation into the public service compensation, for a total amount of more than 1.5 billion euros, granted between 1 January 1992 and 31 December 2008 to companies of the former Tirrenia Group (Adriatica, Caremar, Saremar, Siremar and Toremar).
After the EU General Court in 2009 annulled a Commission decision of 2004 approving the aid, the Commission has reassessed these measures. The Commission has found that: the aid granted for the provision of maritime cabotage transport services and the fiscal treatment of mineral oils used as fuel for shipping both constitute existing aid; the aid granted for the provision of international maritime transport services is compatible with EU 2011 SGEI Framework as it covered connections meeting public transport needs and did not distort competition to an extent contrary to the interests of the Union. However, aid granted to Adriatica for the operation of a route to/from Greece for the period January 1992 to July 1994 is incompatible with EU State aid rules as at that time Adriatica was involved in a price fixing cartel for the tariffs for commercial vehicles on that specific route. This aid will thus have to be recovered by Italy.
As Adriatica was acquired by Tirrenia in 2004 and, as mentioned, as the Commission has concluded that there is no economic continuity between Tirrenia and its acquirer CIN, Italy will have to recover the incompatible aid from Tirrenia, which is in liquidation. This amounts to approximately EUR 1 million (including interest).