ECONOMY

Competition for ferries

The European Commission is planning to lift the special exemption ferry operators enjoy from competition rules, after a survey it had commissioned found this would cut fares. The EU’s executive body announced yesterday that the report by consulting group Global Insight recommended the liberalization of ticket prices as this would lead to their decline without compromising the level of service provided, the competitiveness of the sector’s European companies regardless of their size, the ports or other aspects of shipping. For more than a century, ferry companies have joined the so-called liner shipping conferences in which they agree on imposing common or similar fares for regularly scheduled sea services. In 1986 EU governments decided to exempt ferry operators from antitrust laws, hoping to secure stability in fares and services. «The study found that repealing the current exemption for liner conferences from EC treaty competition rules on restrictive business practices is likely to lead to a decline in transport prices,» the Commission said. By the end of the year, the Commission intends to submit a specific legal proposal to this end, offering as alternative solutions the maintenance, modification or abolition of the current regulation, and particularly the possibility of replacing the existing exemption with other methods, such as guidelines (besides the already-existing cooperation forms such as syndicates and alliances). What has been rejected is the proposal submitted by the European Liner Affairs Association, a trade group, for the creation of an information exchange system. Brussels believes if such a scheme were to be accepted it would amount to «an invitation to collude to the detriment of transport users and final consumers.»