Approval is conditional on compliance with commitments meant to facilitate the entry of new rail operators
The European Commission has approved the acquisition of Eurostar International Ltd by the French rail operator SNCF Mobilités. This approval is conditional on compliance with commitments meant to facilitate the entry of new rail operators onto the London‑Brussels and London‑Paris routes, on which Eurostar is currently the only operator.
Since it was set up in 2010, Eurostar has been jointly controlled by SNCF and the UK government. SNCB, the Belgian national railway, holds a minority share. On 4 March, the UK government announced it had agreed to sell its stake in Eurostar to a private company. Under the deal in question here, SNCF has negotiated a new shareholder agreement giving it sole control of Eurostar.
The European Commission found that the planned merger as originally notified would have hindered the entry of competitors to Eurostar onto the London‑Paris and London‑Brussels routes, thereby perpetuating Eurostar’s dominant position on these markets. A market survey concluded that access to stations and to the services provided there in France and in Belgium, and access to maintenance centres in France, Belgium and the UK, would become more difficult owing to capacity limitations and the fact that Eurostar and its shareholders SNCF and SNCB managed the infrastructure concerned. In addition, access to train paths at peak times would be problematic owing to Eurostar’s priority access as the incumbent operator.
To appease those concerns, Eurostar, SNCF Mobilités and SNCB offered commitments to ensure that any new entrant would have fair and non‑discriminatory access to:
- standard and cross‑Channel areas and services, such as ticket offices, passenger information services and cross‑Channel areas in stations in France and Belgium currently managed by SNCF and SNCB;
- maintenance centres in France, the UK and Belgium currently managed by SNCF, Eurostar and SNCB for services such as overnight storage, servicing and cleaning of trains and light maintenance; and
- train paths currently used by Eurostar at peak times, should a new entrant not be able to obtain such access through the usual procedure for path allocation by the infrastructure managers.
The Commission said it ”takes the view that the commitments offered reduce the barriers to entry for new operators seeking to offer international rail passenger transport services on the London‑Paris and London‑Brussels routes and that the planned merger, as modified by the commitments, does not raise any competition concerns.”