Hapag-Lloyd state aid decision imminent.
BRUSSELS competition authorities are close to deciding whether government guarantees to German container line Hapag-Lloyd can be justified under European Union crisis guidelines.
Discussion is said to have centred on whether the reported ?1.2bn ($1.6bn) loan guarantee falls under the temporary framework for the economic crisis, which sets limits to both cash grants and loan guarantees.
The decision, which according to one report is scheduled for release this month, will test the attitude of the commission"s directorate-general for competition towards the maritime industry. Responsibility for maritime state aid decisions was transferred there last week from the directorate-general for transport.
?The issue at stake is whether the state guarantee falls within the temporary framework for the economic crisis,? said one insider. The maximum permissible government loan guarantee is determined by ?the total annual wage bill of the beneficiary for 2008, or on the basis of the Community average labour costs established by Eurostat [the EU"s statistical arm].?
There have been reports of other elements to the state aid package offered by the German authorities. Cash grants are also allowed, though the ?500,000 limit is small. One suggestion is that Germany is also backing the line via training aid. State aid rules specify EU member states may grant ?training aid to companies totalling up to 80% of eligible costs?.
One source said: ?We thought at the beginning there was just one element to the package but now it looks as thought here are three.?
Any ruling will be closely studied by competitors and can be challenged in the EU court.
New state aid guidelines for shipping are being drawn up by the European Commission, though it is unclear whether transport officials or competition officials will be leading the review.
Shipowners hope there will be no change in the tonnage tax system which is credited with bolstering the EU-owned fleet.
A European parliament report on maritime transport policy by Peter Van Dalen, a Euro MP on the transport committee, calls on national governments ?to encourage the use of their flag, for example by providing fiscal facilities such as tonnage taxation and reduced taxation of seafarers?.