The European Commission said on Friday it had opened an in-depth investigation into alleged state aid to two container terminal operators in Europe's second busiest port, Antwerp in Belgium.
The Commission said concession agreements for PSA Antwerp NV and Antwerp Gateway NV contained a requirement for the handling of a minimum tonnage. The two did not reach this between 2009 and 2012, meaning they would have to pay compensation to the publicly-owned port authority.
However, the Antwerp Port Authority decided in 2013 to reduce the minimum tonnage retroactively, reducing the compensation to be paid by some 80 percent.
The Commission said it received a complaint from a competitor and opened an in-depth investigation to determine whether a private investor would have acted in the same way to reduce the compensation due.
If not carried out on market terms, it would constitute state aid. The Commission would have to determine whether to authorise such aid under rules allowing member states to grant state aid for certain public interest goods.
The concession contracts were concluded in 2004 for a period of 42 years related to the transhipment of containers in the Deurganck dock.
Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop