The European Commission today welcomed a European Court of Justice judgement condemning France for not reclaiming illegal aid totalling EUR220 million (USD242 million) paid to bankrupt French Mediterranean ferry operator SNCM.
The judgement, released last week, opens the way to further court action against the French government by the commission and a claim for financial penalties for non-compliance with the commission’s original decision.
Today, however, the commission was unwilling to say whether or not it would take further action against France.
Responding to a question from IHS Maritime, competition spokesman Ricardo Cardoso would only say, “The commission welcomes the judgment by the European Court of Justice. The court ruled that France failed to fulfil its obligations under the commission state aid decision of 2 May 2013 by failing to take all the measures needed to recover the illegal and incompatible aid granted to SNCM within the set timeframe.”
Marseilles-based SNCM told IHS Maritime, however, that it believed that further legal action by the commission would fail if current efforts to find a buyer for the company, which runs services to the island of Corsica and North Africa, were successful, enabling it to emerge from judicial administration.
Offers for the company by Baja Ferries boss Daniel Berrebi, Marseilles entrepreneur Christian Garin, and Corsican businessman Patrick Rocca were rejected last month by the Marseilles Court of Commerce, which called for fresh bids for the company.
Since then, the STEF group, owner of SNCM’s partner in the Corsican ferry trade, La Méridionale, has said that it will be presenting a “solid” offer for the company, and a consortium of 70 Corsican companies under the name Corsica Maritima has indicated that it also intends to make a bid.
The court, which condemned the first round of bids for the company as “mediocre”, has said it will look at any new offers on September 25.