Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy stated

Our competition rules reflect that and allow Member States to invest in ports, creating jobs and preserving competition. At the same time, if port operators generate profits from economic activities these should be taxed in the same way of other companies under the normal national tax laws to avoid distortions of competition.

Port authorities conduct both non-economic and economic activities. Specifically

  1. Non-economic activities, such as maritime traffic control and safety or anti-pollution surveillance, typically fall within the competence of public authorities. Such public remit activities fall outside the scope of EU State aid control.
  2. The commercial operation of port infrastructure, such as providing paid access to the port, on the other hand constitutes an economic activity. EU State aid rules apply to these activities.

Therefore, a corporate tax exemption for ports that have profits provides an exonomic advantage to them and involves State Aid which may not be in line with the EU rules.

The European Commission highlights that Italian ports are fully exempt from corporate income tax.

In January 2019, the Commission invited Italy and Spain to adapt their legislation in order to ensure that ports, as from 1 January 2020, would pay corporate tax in the same way as other companies in Italy and Spain, respectively, in line with EU State aid rules.

Spain

The country agreed on changing its corporate income tax legislation to make it complaint with the EU State aid rules. Thus, the Spanish authorities have committed to subject Spanish ports, including those located in the Basque Country, to the normal corporate income tax rules as from 2020. The Commission welcomes this commitment and has now formally accepted.

Italy

On the other hand, Italy has been opposed to changing its tax legislation; Consequently, the Commission launched an investigation to consider whether or not its initial concerns as regards the compatibility of the tax exemptions for Italian ports with EU State aid rules are confirmed.

The investigation will also provide the chance to Italy and other interested parties to comment on the State aid assessment of the tax exemptions, in particular as to the assessment of the economic nature of ports’ activities and the effect on competition and trade.