The European Commission on Thursday invited public comment
on P&O Stena Line's request to extend its exemption from competition rules on ferry runs between Britain and mainland Europe. The Commission said it was "inviting interested parties to submit their comments within 30 days" on renewing the joint venture's three-year exemption from rules that often bar competitors from teaming up together.
The exemption expires on March 10. The Commission said no official complaint had been received about competitive effects of the joint venture over the past three years, although some consumers took a different view. "The Commission will carefully consider the various letters it has received from individual consumers complaining of increased prices for their cross-Channel travel," it said in a statement.
A spokesman for P&O Stena, Peter Smith, said in a telephone interview from London that prices had increased when extra revenue derived from profitable duty-free shops disappeared in 1999.
He said P&O and other operators "saw their profit margin reduced dramatically when duty-free arrangements finished." In Brussels, Commission spokeswoman Amelia Torres told reporters that if the Commission takes no further action then the joint venture would automatically get a six-year extension after 90 days. - (Reuters)