Passenger transport services by rail and by road. The Court of Justice rules on the calculation of the maximum contractual term according to Regulation 1370/2007

On 19 March 2020, the European Court of Justice held its judgment in Case C-45/19, Compañía de Tranvías de La Coruña SA v. Ayuntamiento de A Coruña, on the interpretation of Article 8(3) of Regulation (EC) No 1370/2007. The request has been made in proceedings between Compañía de Tranvías de La Coruña SA (“Compañía de Tranvías”) and the Ayuntamiento de A Coruña(Municipal Council of La Coruña; “the municipality of La Coruña”) concerning the term of a public transport contract directly awarded to Compañía de Tranvías.

On 6 February 1987, Compañía de Tranvías and the municipality of La Coruña signed a contract in order to unify into a single concession all the urban transport routes which it held, which set 31 December 2024 as the single expiry date for all the services concerned. At a later time, on 5 July 1996 those parties concluded another contract in order to include in the former one a new public transport service by tramway with the same expiry date. Following a 2016 letter from the municipality of La Coruña stating that the concession would be terminated automatically after a period of 30 years from the date of its grant, Compañía de Tranvías submitted observations in which it claimed that the maximum period of 30 years laid down in Article 8 of Regulation No 1370/2007 had to be calculated from 3 December 2009, the date on which that regulation entered into force, or 26 July 2000, the objective date laid down in Article 8 of that regulation.

On 30 November 2016, the municipality of La Coruña maintained the concession for a maximum period of two years, and decided to consult the Commission concerning the proposal by Compañía de Tranvías to apply the exception provided for in Article 8(3) of that regulation, in order to extend the duration of the concession until its expiry date. Since the municipality of La Coruña rejected the internal administrative appeal brought by Compañía de Tranvías against that decision, the company appealed the Juzgado de lo Contencioso-Administrativo No 2 A Coruña (Administrative Court No 2 of La Coruña; “the referring court”) which, in light of the need to interpret European legislation, stayed the proceedings and asked the Court of Justice since when the maximum term of 30 years laid down in Article 8(3) of Regulation (EC) No 1370/2007 runs.

Despite the wording of the second sentence of the second subparagraph of Article 8(3) of Regulation No 1370/2007 does not expressly specify the starting point from which the maximum period of 30 years must be calculated, according to the Court such period must begin to run on the date of the entry into force of that regulation. Besides preserving the effectiveness of the specific transitional period provided for by the provision, indeed, such a date makes it also possible to set a final identical term for all contracts still in progress at the end of that period, placing the competent authorities and the economic operators concerned on an equal footing.

Marco Stillo