The European Commission has opened an in-depth investigation to verify whether exemptions from corporate tax granted under Dutch law to public companies, including port operators, are in line with EU state aid rules.
The Commission has concerns that exempting certain companies merely because they are publicly owned may give them an advantage over their competitors.
According to the Commission, the opening of an in-depth investigation gives interested parties an opportunity to submit comments on the measures under assessment; it does not prejudge the outcome.
Separately, the Commission is also gathering information on taxation of ports in other Member States.
The Commission has informed France and Belgium of its concerns regarding the taxation of ports in these countries and has asked Germany to provide further information to ensure that there are no undue competitive advantages being granted to ports.
Commission Vice President in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia said: “Fair competition is crucial for all market players. The Commission therefore needs to verify that public companies, including port operators, in the Netherlands are not given more favourable tax treatment than their private competitors.
Furthermore, there should be a level-playing field between ports in the EU, so it is important to make sure that state aid rules are being complied with in all Member States.”
In May 2013, following complaints, the Commission asked The Netherlands to abolish tax provisions exempting certain public companies from the obligation to pay corporate tax.
Since then, the Dutch authorities have expressed their intention to subject public companies to corporate tax, but under their plans a number of exceptions would remain, notably for five Dutch seaports: Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Zeeland, Groningen and Moerdijk.
Given that the Dutch authorities have not fully accepted the measures proposed by the Commission to ensure compliance with the state aid rules, the Commission has now opened an in-depth investigation.
The European cargo owners, represented by the European Shippers’ Council (ESC) , demand the European Commission conducts a broad in-depth investigation into state aid for all seaports.
“The investigation of the European Commission, as announced today, should not primarily focus only on the Dutch or Northern European seaports, but to all European seaports. Furthermore, EU state aid guidelines for seaports is very much welcomed by European shippers. Only then a real level playing field for seaports, and for the users of the ports, can be created,” ECS said.
Press Release, July 10th, 2014, Image: Port of Rotterdam, ESC