Stena Line has issued a statement saying that it considers the European Commission’s tacit approval of public financing for the Fehmarn Belt fixed rail-road link between Denmark and Germany to be discriminatory and not in line with E.U. State aid rules.
Consequently, Stena Line will await the publication of the full decision and consider appealing the decision.
Stena Line is one of the world's largest ferry operators with 35 ferries and 22 routes in northern Europe.
“The existence of nine ferry routes between 14 different ports is based on established interconnectivity needs and fair competition,” says Carl-Johan Hagman, CEO Stena Line. “The market is more than adequately served by these ferry routes. All the State’s involvement achieves is an extra eight billion euros cost for the taxpayers.
“A fixed undersea tunnel link between Rødby and Puttgarden supported by unjustified State aid creates an un-level playing field and distorts competition with the well-functioning ferry services which have been provided for many years. It also goes against the principle of shifting transport away from road.”
Stena Line notes that the European Commission’s press release does not confirm whether the payment of state aid has taken place, but simply states that if state aid is involved, the aid can be approved.
In doing so, the Commission seems to be taking an approach which is entirely out of touch with well-established case-law of the Union Courts and the practice of the European Commission, such as the Øresund Commission Decision, which confirms that public financing for commercially exploited infrastructure is subject to the State aid rules, says Hagman.
In addition, the Commission does not seem to have prescribed a timeframe for the state aid. “The idea of open-ended state aid without time limits, for a project of this magnitude, simply makes no sense,” says hagman. “This provides the operators of the tunnel with the ability to use the state aid to dump their state-subsidised prices, thereby squeezing out competitors such as ferry operators.”
Stena Line awaits the publication of the full Decision and will consider to challenge the Decision before the Union courts in Luxembourg. No doubt other affected operators will be doing likewise.