State aid: Commission opens in-depth investigation into support for Romanian rail freight operator CFR Marfa

The European Commission has opened an in-depth investigation to assess whether debt write-offs by the Romanian government in favour of the fully state owned rail freight operator CFR Marfa, and the failure to collect debts from the company, have given the company an unfair advantage in breach of EU State aid rules.

Unlike passenger rail transport, the freight rail transport market in Romania is highly competitive, with numerous private operators, some having gained considerable market share following market liberalisation in 2007.

Commenting, Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said;

The rail freight market is an essential component of any economy’s transport links. CFR Marfa is the incumbent in this market in Romania and has benefitted from the cancellation of public debts and the failure of public creditors to collect debts owed by it. We need to check whether a private investor would have acted in the same way as the public authorities did here and, if not, to assess whether these measures are compatible with EU State aid rules.”

In March 2017, the Association of Romanian Private Rail Freight Operators filed a formal complaint with the Commission alleging that CFR Marfa had received State aid in breach of EU rules.

The Commission’s investigation will be looking at:

  • a number of state support measures in favour of CFR Marfa concerning a debt-to-equity swap amounting to RON 1,669 million (around €360 million) in 2013; and,
  • the failure to collect, since at least 2010, of social security debts and outstanding taxes of CFR Marfa, and of debts towards CFR Infrastructure, the Romanian rail infrastructure manager (which is also fully state-owned)

Under TFEU, public interventions in favour of companies can only be considered free of State aid when they are made on terms that a private operator would have accepted under market conditions (the market economy investor principle or ‘MEIP’).

The Commission will now assess whether this was the case for CFR Marfa’s public creditors or whether, on the contrary, the state intervention has given CFR Marfa a selective economic advantage over its competitors and constitutes State aid.

The Commission’s Rescue & Restructuring Guidelines only allow a state intervention for a company in financial difficulty under specific conditions, requiring – in particular – that the company is subject to a sound restructuring plan ensuring its return to long-term viability and that the company contributes to the cost of restructuring.

If the Commission were to conclude that CFR Marfa has received State aid, it would then assess whether this could be compatible with EU rules that authorise certain categories of aid.

The opening of an investigation gives interested third parties the opportunity to submit comments. It does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.