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PR(00)21: The EFTA Surveillance Authority decided to open formal investigation procedures against compensation payments to express bus operators in Norway

16.9.2002

By yesterday’s decision, the EFTA Surveillance Authority decided to open a formal investigation procedure regarding aid in the form of compensation payments to express bus operators in Norway.

The Authority was informed about the aid scheme at issue through a complaint lodged in September 1999. The complainant alleged that express bus operators received State support in order to offset additional costs resulting from the abolition of the previous exemption of bus operators from the autodiesel levy. Until 1 January 1999, all bus operators were exempted from a levy on autodiesel. As of that date, the exemption was abolished. Later, it was decided by the Norwegian authorities to grant express bus operators compensation for the additional costs resulting from this abolition from the tax exemption under a scheme administered by the Norwegian Transport Ministry.

The Authority takes the view that the information submitted and the arguments presented by the Norwegian Government do not clarify the issues of concern to the extent necessary for the Authority to conclude on the compatibility of the compensation scheme. The decision to open proceedings is without prejudice to the final decision of the Authority, which may conclude that the aid is compatible with the functioning of the EEA Agreement.

Under the decision to open the formal investigation procedure, the Norwegian Government was invited to submit its comments and to provide all relevant information to assess the compatibility of the compensation scheme with the EEA State aid provisions. The Norwegian Government was further reminded of the fact that unlawful aid may be recovered from the recipients should the Authority find the compensation scheme to be incompatible with the EEA Agreement. Finally and with respect to the proposed continuation of the compensation scheme for 2001, the Authority reminded the Norwegian Government of its obligation not to put the aid into effect. The Authority drew the Norwegian Government’s attention to the fact that the Authority may request by an interim decision Norway to suspend payment of the aid pending the outcome of the investigation.

The Authority will inform interested parties by publication of this decision in the EEA Section of the Official Journal of the European Communities and the EEA Supplement thereto. Interested parties will be invited to submit their comments within one month of the date of such publication.

For further information please contact Mr. Amund Utne (tel.: 286.18.50) or Mrs. Alexandra Antoniadis (tel.: 286.18.52).

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