The European Commission decided
that the Netherlands shall
recover maritime transport aid granted to Dutch port
and inland waterway towage operations carried out in the Union. The aid was initially intended for maritime transport operations at sea but was also granted to towage operations in ports and inland waterways. The Commission considers that operating aid cannot be granted to such activities and found the aid to be incompatible with competition rules .
Though the Commission approved in 1996 the Dutch aid in question, it was not at the time notified that the aid would apply to port towage operations fully carried out in ports or inland waterways. Having received complaints in this respect, the Commission assessed the Dutch subsidies and came to the conclusion that the aid in question had not been approved in an earlier Commission decision and that it is not compatible with the Treaty. To avoid distortion of competition, the Commission orders today the recovery of the illegal aid.
On a background of market opening in the German ports of Hamburg and Bremen, Dutch towage companies gained a certain market share to the detriment of German operators. The Dutch authorities confirmed that port towage operations fully carried out in ports or inland waterways are partly qualifying for the aid, the Commission opened the formal investigation procedure. Comments have been received from the Dutch authorities and from 51 interested third parties.