State aid: invitation to submit comments with regard to the Hurtigruten case

On 30 June 2016 the “invitation to submit comments pursuant to Article 1(2) in Part I of Protocol 3 to the Agreement between the EFTA States on the Establishment of a Surveillance Authority and a Court of Justice on state aid issues concerning potential aid to Hurtigruten ASA under the Coastal Agreement for Hurtigruten Maritime Service 2012-2019” was published on the Official Journal of the European Union.

Hurtigruten ASA (“Hurtigruten”) is a Norwegian company that operates combined transport services of persons and goods. Following a tender procedure Hurtigruten signed an agreement with Norwegian authorities, in April 2011, for the procurement of transport services related to the Bergen-Kirkenes coastal route for the period 1 January 2012 to 31 December 2019. Norwegian authorities classified the service under this agreement as a service of general economic interest of such relevance to be considered as a public service obligation (“PSO”), and paid Hurtigruten a total compensation of 5,120 million Norwegian Krone for the eight–year duration of the agreement. The agreement imposes also on Hurtigruten specific minimum capacity and schedule requirements regarding the aforementioned route.

The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) Surveillance Authority has some doubts on the admissibility of the State aid concerned, in particular because some conditions related to the selective economic advantage may not be satisfied, like a clear definition of a public service obligation, the fact that the parameters on the basis of which the compensation is calculated must be established in advance in an objective and transparent manner, the fact that the compensation granted does not exceed what is necessary to cover all or part of the costs incurred in discharging the PSO, and the requirement of launching a tender procedure or a benchmarking exercise with an efficient operator (Hurtigruten offer was the only offer presented in the tender procedure).

In light of the above considerations, the Authority has decided to open a formal investigation procedure in accordance with the Agreement between the EFTA States on the Establishment of a Surveillance Authority and a Court of Justice. Interested parties are invited to submit their comments by 30 July 2016.