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PR(06)31: The EFTA Surveillance Authority opens formal investigation regarding aid granted to the Hurtigruten companies in 2004

5.7.2006

The EFTA Surveillance Authority today opened a formal investigation regarding compensation for increased social security contributions granted by the Norwegian authorities to the Hurtigruten companies in 2004. The Authority is in doubt whether the aid to the Hurtigruten companies complies with the state aid rules of the EEA Agreement.

In relation with the phasing-out of the former Norwegian scheme concerning regionally differentiated social security rates, the Norwegian authorities over the 2004 State budget granted a compensation of up to NOK 8.5 million (approximately EUR 1.1 million) to the Hurtigruten companies. NOK 7.352 million (approximately EUR 900 000) was paid out to the companies. The compensation was paid out to fully compensate the Hurtigruten companies' increased social security costs without making a distinction between the part of the social security costs pertaining to the commercial activities of the companies and those activities which might be considered public service activities within the meaning of Article 59(2) of the EEA Agreement.

It is the preliminary opinion of the Authority that the aid granted to the Hurtigruten companies seems to exceed the amount of compensation necessary in order for the companies to fulfil their public service obligations. Such over-compensation would not be compatible with Article 59(2) of the EEA Agreement, and would thus constitute state aid incompatible with the EEA Agreement.

Today's decision to open the formal investigation procedure will be published in the EEA Section of and the EEA Supplement to the Official Journal of the European Communities. The Authority will take its final decision after having reviewed comments from the Norwegian Government and from any other interested parties.

For further information, please contact:

Mr Amund Utne
Director, Competition and State Aid Directorate,
Tel. (+32)(0)2 286 18 50; or

Ms Marie Wiersholm
National Expert, Competition and State Aid Directorate,
Tel. (+32)(0)2 286 18 65.

5 July 2006




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