Unabhängige Zeitung zu Wirtschaft und Verkehrspolitik
CENTRO INTERNAZIONALE STUDI CONTAINERS
ANNO XXXVIII - Numero APRILE 2020
EU COMMISSION: THERE ARE POSSIBILITIES TO REDUCE THE COSTS OF
"There are possibilities to support the railway sector
with state aid. EU regulation allows this under the current
exceptional circumstances. Railway lobby organisations have been
shouting from the roof to get across this message, and with result.
The European Commission has sent a letter to probably the entire
railway industry to emphasise this once again.."
"At this point of the COVID-19 crisis, rail freight
transport is vital to secure the flows of goods and the continued
operation of the supply chains in the European Union but it suffers
from an important drop in transported volumes", the letter
commences. "Railway undertakings are in serious financial
distress, with some operators facing the prospect of bankruptcy as
result of temporary liquidity shortages."
Temporary Framework for State Aid measures
To address the liquidity shortages and other economic damage
companies face, there are two different aid instruments available,
the European Commission (EC) explains. The first is the Temporary
Framework for State Aid measures, which was amended on 3 April 2020
to cover additional aid measures, and it may be complemented as
necessary. It refers to transport as one of the most affected
The legislation allows member states "to provide direct
grants, tax advantages, State guarantees for loans and subsidised
public loans. To address urgent liquidity needs in a speedy manner
Member States may give, up to the nominal value of 800,000 Euros per
company, zero-interest loans, guarantees on loans covering 100 per
cent of the risk or provide equity. This can be combined also with
so-called de minimis aid (to bring the aid per company to up to 1
million Euros) and with other types of aid. General measures such as
wage subsidies, suspension of corporate and VAT taxes or social
contributions payments are also possible." Article 107(2)(b) of
this legislation also enables Member States to compensate companies
for damages caused by the COVID-19 crisis, including for lost
The EC refers in particular to the possibility of reducing the
costs of railway undertakings, a measure suggested by the Railway
Guidelines, the second piece of legislation. "A number of rail
operators face urgent liquidity problems. It is essential to lower
companies' fixed costs", it writes.
In some EU countries, infrastructure managers have already
started taking action to ensure no reservation charges are levied
for train path cancellations or necessary changes of paths or timing
in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak. The EC welcomes this. "We
understand from the sector that (...) adaptations of charging rules
for the time of the outbreak would provide a certain relief urgently
It continues to suggest three possible measures to provide
relief in this regard:
abandoning reservation charges for short-term cancellations,
unless specifically justified;
infrastructure managers could ensure that any delay in this
period is categorised under force majeure so as to neutralise the
financial effects of the performance scheme;
easing the payment of charges with a postponement of payment
deadlines for applicants, so that financial situations could recover
over a longer time-span.
Reduction of track access charges
Finally, it states that DG MOVE and DG Competition, two EU
institutions, are working to make possible a further decrease of
rail infrastructure charges, and other charges in service facilities
(such as parking charges) within the state aid framework.
"If such a measure, granted to railway undertakings, does
not lead to competition distortions within the sector it could
constitute compatible aid under the Railway Guidelines. We invite
you to contact DG Competition to discuss any plans you may have.
Such measures will be dealt with as a matter of priority."
The commission also makes reference to the possible consequences
this may have on infrastructure managers, which may face a drop in
revenues. "we recommend compensating for foregone income
through national subsidies to them. DG Competition and DG MOVE stand
ready to provide advice how best to structure such a measure. In
particular, where mark-ups are levied according to Article 32(1),
they can also be waived so that rail infrastructure users pay
charges just at direct costs level."
Maintain logistics chains
In the letter, the commission also refers to measures to ensure
that logistics chains are maintained, to "ensure that
environmentally sustainable transport options will be available
after the end of the crisis. EU law does not rule out the
possibility of imposing public service obligations/concluding public
service contracts for rail freight services to ensure the continuity
of the transport of goods.
However, this measure is a little more complicated, as it fall
outside the scope of EU regulation dealing with rail transport.
"Their award would have to comply with the public procurement
Directives. The aim of such a public procurement procedure is to
ensure that any compensation paid constitutes the least cost to the
community and ensures the absence of overcompensation. Provided all
requirements are respected including the absence of
overcompensation, no notification under State aid law would be