The EU Commission approves a €270 million Italian measure to support rail freight and commercial passenger operators affected by the COVID-19 pandemic

State aid: Commission approves €270 million Italian measure to support rail freight and commercial passenger operators affected by coronavirus outbreak*

The European Commission has approved, under EU State aid rules, a €270 million Italian measure supporting both the rail freight sector and the rail commercial passenger sector in the context of the coronavirus outbreak.

Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “Also in the context of the coronavirus outbreak, it is important to maintain the competitiveness of rail freight and commercial passenger operators with respect to other modes of transport, in line with the EU Green Deal objectives. The measure approved today enables the Italian authorities to further support this sector in the current challenging situation. We continue working with all Member States to ensure that national support measures can be put in place as quickly and effectively as possible, in line with EU rules.”

The measure aims at preserving the competitiveness of rail passenger operations and maintaining a stable, reliable and sufficient service offer. The measure, with a total budget of €270 million, enables Italy to relieve rail freight operators and rail commercial passenger operators of part of the costs related to track access charges (i.e. the charges that railway companies have to pay for the use of the rail network) during the period from 10 March to 31 December 2020. This support helps rail operators in Italy to cope with the difficult situation caused by the coronavirus outbreak, preventing the loss of market shares to road operators and preserving the benefits of the shift of traffic from road to rail achieved prior to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Commission found that the measure is beneficial for the environment and for mobility as it supports rail transport, which is less polluting than road transport, while also decreasing road congestion. The Commission also found that the measure is proportionate and necessary to achieve the objective pursued, namely to support the modal shift from road to rail whilst not leading to undue competition distortions.

Finally, the reduction of infrastructure access charges is in line with Regulation (EU) 2020/1429. This Regulation allows and encourages Member States to temporarily authorise the reduction, waiver or deferral of charges for accessing rail infrastructure below direct costs.

As a result, the Commission concluded that the measure complies with EU State aid rules, in particular the 2008 Commission Guidelines on State aid for railway undertakings (“the Railway Guidelines”).

This measure follows the Commission’s recent approval, under Article 107(2)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, of a €511 million Italian scheme compensating providers of commercial rail passenger services for the damage suffered due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Background

The Railway Guidelines clarify the rules set out in EU treaties for the public funding of railway companies and provide guidance on the compatibility of State aid for railway companies with the EU treaties.

The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.59376 in the State aid case register on the Commission’s competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of State aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the Competition Weekly e-News.

*This is the original title of the press release. The title above has been amended in order to match the e-Competitions format. Individual authors are welcome to provide original independent commentaries on the case law. Articles are subject to approval by the Board of e-Competitions Bulletin before publication based on the Editorial Policy (click here).

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European Commission, The EU Commission approves a €270 million Italian measure to support rail freight and commercial passenger operators affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, 24 March 2021, e-Competitions Competition Law & Covid-19, Art. N° 99830

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