The European Commission announced the prolongation until end 2022 of various Belgian support measures for maritime transport. The decision was made after an approval was granted by the European Commission under EU State aid rules.
These measures aim to encourage shipping companies to register their ships in Europe and thus ensuring higher social, environmental and safety standards.
Belgium has also committed to a number of changes to its scheme to prevent any discrimination between shipping companies and registries of different European Economic Area (EEA) States and to avoid undue competition distortions.
Under the Belgian scheme, a shipping company is taxed on the basis of ship tonnage rather than the actual profits of the company.
In particular, tonnage taxation will be applied to a shipping company’s:
- core revenues from shipping activities, such as cargo and passenger transport,
- certain ancillary revenues that are closely connected to shipping activities (which are now capped at a maximum of 50% of a ship’s operating revenues),
- revenues from towage and dredging as well as onshore ship management activities, subject to certain conditions.
In the case that a shipping company wants to benefit from the scheme, Belgium suggests that a significant part of its fleet must fly the flag of an EU or EEA State.
In this respect, the Belgian authorities have committed to extend the benefit of tonnage tax to all eligible ships that fly an EEA flag.
As a result any discrimination between shipping companies and registries of different EEA States will be prevented and internal market rules on freedom of establishment will be preserved.
The Commission assessed the amended measures under EU State aid rules, in particular its Guidelines on State aid to maritime transport. It concluded that the Belgian scheme is in line with EU State aid rules, because it will provide incentives to maintain maritime jobs within the EU, whilst preserving competition within the EU Single Market.