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PR(04)31: EFTA Surveillance Authority initiates formal investigation procedure against intended prolongation of the “Hurtigruten agreement”

11.8.2004

The EFTA Surveillance Authority has today adopted a decision to initiate a formal investigation procedure for the prolongation of the so-called “Hurtigruten agreement”. Under this Agreement, two maritime companies, Ofotens og Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskab ASA and Troms Fylkes Dampskibsselskap ASA, are entrusted with the provision of maritime transport services consisting of the combined transport of persons and goods along the coastal line from Bergen to Kirkenes, serving 34 ports of call on a daily basis throughout the year. In return, the Norwegian State grants an annual public  compensation to these companies.

The original agreement entered into force on 1 January 2002. In a decision of 19 December 2001, the Authority authorised the agreement until 31 December 2004. The Norwegian authorities committed themselves to carry out an open, transparent and non discriminatory procedure for the provision of maritime transport services between Bergen and Kirkenes and to undertake a study on the transportation needs along the Norwegian coast in order to establish the need for a public service compensation. The Authority accepted that a prolongation of the contracts for an additional year, which needed to be renotified to the Authority, might become necessary if an operator chosen by a public tender procedure would not be able to commence business before January 2005.

In April of this year, the Norwegian authorities informed the Authority of their intention to prolong the existing agreements until the end of 2005 and possibly the end of 2006. The Authority has doubts as to the compatibility of the intended prolongation of the Hurtigruten agreement with the State aid provisions of the EEA Agreement. Firstly, the amount of compensation which the companies will receive has not yet been established and the Authority has therefore no basis for assessing whether this amount would entail any overcompensation for the provision of a public service. Secondly, the Authority will analyse the information presented in experts’reports on the transport needs along the coast, both with regard to the scope of the public service obligation and to the necessary amount to compensate for that obligation. Furthermore, the Authority has doubts whether a prolongation of the contract for two years is necessary.

 

For further information, please contact Mr Amund Utne, Director Competition and State aid, tel.: (+32) (0) 286 18 51 or Ms. Annette Kliemann, Officer Competition and State aid, tel.: (+32) (0) 2 286 18 80.




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