State aid: Commission concludes that Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) did not receive state aid
The European Commission has concluded that a Revolving Credit Facility (RCF) that Denmark, Sweden and Norway granted to SAS in December 2012 was carried out on market terms and therefore did not constitute state aid within the meaning of EU rules.
SAS is the major air carrier in Scandinavia. Its four biggest shareholders are Sweden (21.4%), Denmark (14.3%), Norway (14.3%) and the Knut and Alice Wallenberg foundation (KAW) (7.6%). SAS's financial position has been problematic for several years and its financial performance has deteriorated significantly since 2008.
In recent years, SAS has been enjoying an RCF provided by several banks, which should originally have expired in June 2013. The banks refused to renew this RCF without a substantial participation from Denmark, Sweden and Norway. In December 2012, the three States decided to finance half of a new RCF of SEK 3.5 billion (around €400 million), together with KAW and the majority of the banks that participated in the old RCF. The measure is linked to the implementation of SAS's new business plan.
The Commission opened an in-depth investigation in June 2013 to assess the conformity of the new RCF with EU state aid rules (see IP/13/567). Under EU rules, a public support measure does not constitute state aid if it was concluded on terms that a private player operating under market conditions would have accepted (the market economy investor principle).
In its investigation, the Commission found that the three states and the banks were not in a comparable position when deciding to participate in the new RCF, in particular in view of the exposure of some of the banks towards SAS beyond the RCF. However, the investigation has also established the robustness of the underlying assumptions of the business plan. Indeed, the plan has been reviewed by external advisers who confirmed its credibility. The plan is therefore an economically reasonable basis for the three States' decision to participate in the new RCF. Moreover, the risks taken by the States were further reduced as the collateral of the new RCF was sufficient.
On this basis, the Commission reached the conclusion that the new RCF was concluded on terms that a private investor operating under market conditions would have accepted. It therefore procured no undue economic advantage to SAS and did not entail state aid. The new RCF was never used and was effectively cancelled on 4 March 2014.
The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.35668 in the State Aid Register on the DG Competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of state aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the State Aid Weekly e-News.
As regards the participation of Norway to the new RCF, the EFTA Surveillance Authority has adopted a parallel decision. For further information see the website of the EFTA Surveillance Authority.