On 27 July 2017 the European Commission required Belgium and France to put an end to tax exemptions for their ports, pointing out that, to avoid distortions of competition, profits by port operators must be taxed under normal national corporate tax laws.

Certain Belgian sea and inland waterway ports (notably the ports of Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, Charleroi, Ghent, Liège, Namur and Ostend, as well as along the canals in Hainaut Province and Flanders) and most French ports (including the 11 “grands ports maritimes” of Bordeaux, Dunkerque, La Rochelle, Le Havre, Marseille, Nantes-Saint-Nazaire, Rouen, Guadeloupe, Guyane, Martinique and Réunion, as well as the Port autonome de Paris), are exempt from the general corporate income tax regime of their respective national legislations. These ports are subject to a different tax regime and the overall level of taxation is lower than other companies in Belgium or France.

The Commission considers that the corporate tax exemptions granted to Belgian and French ports provide them with a selective advantage, without pursuing a clear objective of public interest, in breach of EU State aid rules. In fact, the tax savings generated by the port operators can be used to fund any type of activity or to subsidise the prices charged by the ports to customers, to the detriment of fair competition.

Belgium and France will have to take the necessary steps to put an end to tax exemptions for ports by the end of 2017. In this way, the profits generated by the economic activities of the port operators will be taxed under the normal national tax laws, avoiding distortions of competition. However, since the corporate tax exemption for ports already existed before the accession of France and Belgium to the EU, the Commission cannot ask such Member States to recover the aid already granted.