The European Commission has started an investigation into reductions in compensation payments to two container terminal operators in the Port of Antwerp, Belgium, to establish whether the alleged aid gave them an undue advantage over competitors.
Under the concession agreements with PSA Antwerp NV and Antwerp Gateway NV, the container terminal operators in the Port of Antwerp, the operators needed to handle a minimum amount of containers in the port every year.
Between 2009 and 2012 the two operators did not reach the set minimum tonnage requirements, and, under the agreements, were obliged to pay compensation to the authority.
However, instead of collecting the compensation, in March 2013 the Antwerp Port Authority, which is a public authority, retroactively revised the minimum tonnage requirements downwards, significantly reducing the amount of compensation to be paid by the two operators by around 80%.
Therefore the reduction in compensation that it granted to PSA Antwerp NV and Antwerp Gateway NV is a public intervention.
“Following a complaint from a competitor, the commission has opened an in-depth investigation to examine whether a private investor would have accepted to reduce its compensation in a similar manner,” the EU commission said.
“If the operation was not carried out on market terms it could constitute state aid as defined by EU rules. The commission would then verify whether such aid could be authorised under state aid rules that allow member states to grant state aid for certain public interest goals.”
In 2004, the Antwerp Port Authority concluded concession contracts with PSA Antwerp NV and Antwerp Gateway NV for a period of 42 years for container transhipment services in the Deurganck dock.