Rome – On May 5th this year, the European Commission presented a proposal for a regulation aimed at preventing the acquisition and business activities of non-EU companies supported by public subsidies from their home countries, known as “Distorting Foreign Subsidies” , restrict or even block. . Specifically, the proposal by EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager stipulates that companies that receive more than 50 million euros in foreign grants and are interested in acquiring activities in the European Union for more than 500 million euros or in tenders for at least 250 million euros to participate, have to contact Brussels in advance of the transaction and, in the event of a positive result of the antitrust investigation, obtain their approval.
The aim of this investigation, which can be initiated ex officio by the Commission if the company concerned does not give notice, is to qualify the financial contribution received from the government of a non-EU country as a foreign subsidy to the regulation that regulates the market can distort, as well as the possible existence of positive effects that can offset the above-mentioned distorting effects of the market (the so-called “Balance test“). In the event of a negative result, the Balance test, the Commission may impose remedial measures or accept commitments to correct the bias so that the acquisitions can neither be completed nor the contracts awarded to the bidder pending verification. In the event of failure to comply with these obligations, the Commission can impose fines on these companies of up to 10% of the turnover.
The Reason of the regulation in question certainly consists in guaranteeing equal access to the internal market and avoiding distortions of competition through competitive advantages stemming from the funding received and not from the innovation and quality of the products and / or services, especially taking into account the strict controls in place . State aid to which European companies are exposed. This initiative, long overdue, is all the more necessary today in view of the serious crisis and instability caused by the Covid-19 health emergency, especially in view of the well-known case of the privatization of the port of Piraeus, one and perhaps the most important strategic asset that Greece used to pay off its debts and avoid them default with the associated risk of an exit from the eurozone during the severe economic crisis of 2008.
It is worth remembering that Piraeus was acquired by China Ocean Shipping Company (Cosco), a Chinese state-owned company engaged in the transportation of container by sea, now the third largest in the world, through a process that began in 2008 when the group received a 35-year concession from the Greek government to piers II and III of the port of Piraeus for 4.3 billion euros. The “rise” then continued in 2013 when the company decided to make a new investment of 230 million euros in the expansion of Pier III to increase the production volume, which had already risen from 0.7 million in 2009 to 2014 to increase. TEU to 3.6 million TEU thanks to Cosco management. The Chinese company’s acquisition of the majority stake in the Port of Piraeus was completed on August 10, 2016, the day COSCO acquired 51% of the Port Authority of Piraeus (PPA) listed on the Athens Stock Exchange. for 280.5 million euros, a further 16% is to be added in August 2021 with an investment of a further 88 million euros, provided that the planned public investments are made. In this way, in addition to acquiring all three piers of Piraeus, the company also acquired the ferry port, the cruise port, the car terminal, the ship repair facilities and all the properties adjacent to the port, not only as a Terminal operator, but also as a concessionaire, customer and supplier.
This has enabled China to play an increasingly important role in trade in Europe and also to strengthen its role as a trading company partner and their influence on international affairs, especially after the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on August 27, 2018 between China and Greece. in relation to its liability to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which will make Athens the “gateway” to the New Silk Road in Europe.
As part of this project, Cosco also acquired stakes in other airports in the European Union, such as Container terminals Rotterdam, Antwerp, Zeebrugge, Bilbao, Valencia as well as in the train stations of Madrid and Zaragoza, while China Merchant, another Chinese public giant, holds a minority stake in the port of Marseille. Italian port infrastructures have also been the subject of major Chinese investments inesi, just think of Cosco’s takeover of 40% of Vado Ligure’s platform, an automated one Container terminal, for 53 million euros in 2016.
Apart from the considerable and complex geopolitical implications of the operations mentioned, it is evident that European port infrastructures, especially in view of the regulatory vacuum in the internal market, due to which subsidies granted by governments are not largely controlled, while the subsidies granted by the member states are subject to careful and inflexible control by the European Commission subject.
In addition, the exponential growth of 600% is Container Traffic in Piraeus, now the first port in the Mediterranean to call at more than 5 million TEU alone, certainly has a strong impact on the Italian ports, which saw almost no growth between 2016 and 2020 and a national level of just under 10 .7 million TEU.
The decline of the Italian ports in envelope is mainly related to the weakness of the retroport and intermodal infrastructures of some ports such as Cagliari and Taranto, the latter closed to container traffic since 2015 after the departure of the Evergreen company and recently missing thanks to the arrival of CMA CGM and Yilport in the multisectoral port Investment and, perhaps more importantly, a national and European strategy capable of strengthening our assets and curbing unfair competition from non-EU countries in this sector. The hope is that the adoption of the Foreign Takeover Regulation, which is currently the subject of the ordinary legislative process, is just the beginning of a more cautious and far-sighted European policy to revitalize our strategic infrastructures.
* Gianni & Origoni law firm