On 20 September 2018, the European Commission issued its decision in the case of the Port of Naples. In particular, the decision concerns the granting of EUR 44 million of subsidies from the Italian national budget to the Port Authority of Naples to renovate the dry docks leased to Cantieri del Mediterraneo, a shipbuilding and ship repair company.
Following an in-depth investigation, the Commission considered that:
- the Port Authority received non-refundable financial support that it would not have benefited from under normal market conditions; and
- Cantieri del Mediterraneo also benefited from these subsidies, as the rental price of the refurbished dry docks was lower than the market price. Furthermore, there was no invitation to tender.
The Commission therefore found that these subsidies gave the parties an undue economic advantage, constituting illegal and incompatible State aid under European rules.
The Commission conducted a parallel investigation into complaints about whether the delayed collection of concession fees by the Port Authority in favour of seven concessionaires at the Port of Naples constituted State aid. Since the Port Authority had not waived its claims but had arranged instalment plans, including interest on arrears, the Commission considered that no State aid had been granted, with the Port Authority acting as a diligent market creditor.
Note that ports were not covered by State aid rules until recently. Now they are clearly subject to those constraints. To simplify the administrative process, the European Exemption Regulation of 14 June 2017 now covers investment aid granted to ports, which means there is no requirement to notify such aid to the European Commission. However, its scope is quite limited.