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EasyJet Loses Fight Over Dutch Airport Fees

(CN) - A battle between budget airline easyJet and Dutch competition authorities over operations pricing at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport ended Wednesday, with the EU's lower court siding Dutch officials and the European Commission.

Britain-based easyJet lodged a trio of complaints with Dutch competition authorities in 2008, claiming that the operators of Schiphol airport in Amsterdam had illegally charged fees for security- and passenger-related services.

After the Netherlands rejected easyJet's complaints - for failing to prove the charges violated Dutch law, excessive and were discriminately applied - the airline appealed to the European Commission for help. The EU regulatory body declined to get involved, finding the European Union lacked a legal interest in the case since it had already been handled by Dutch competition authorities.

On appeal to the General Court of the European Union, easyJet argued that the commission made an error in law by basing its refusal to get involved on Dutch national law instead of EU competition law.

But in a 9-page ruling issued Wednesday, the EU's lower court ruled that the commission may refuse to get involved in competition disputes that have already been dismissed by national authorities.

"It is apparent from both the wording and the scheme of EU law that the commission may, in order to reject a complaint, properly rely on the ground that a competition authority of a member state has previously rejected that complaint on priority grounds," the court wrote. "Accordingly, the circumstance - even on the assumption that it is proved - that, in the present dispute, the Dutch competition authorities did not close the complaint which had been brought before it by taking a decision and that it relied on priority grounds did not preclude the commission from finding that that complaint had been dealt with by a competition authority of a member state and from rejecting it on that ground."

And EU regulators may also decline to get involved in competition disputes over national law - provided that national authorities carried out their investigation in light of EU competition law, the Luxembourg-based court said.

"It is apparent from the Dutch decision that easyJet's complaint was reviewed in the light of the provisions of Dutch law and EU law," the court wrote. "The Dutch competition authority in particular held therein, as noted by the commission in the contested decision, that the assessment of the concepts of non-discrimination and reasonableness set out in Dutch law was similar to that carried out under EU competition law.

"The Dutch authority also pointed out that it had interpreted the provisions of Dutch law in accordance with the case-law of the courts of the European Union relating EU law," the court continued. "It further noted that a definition of the relevant market, which was to be carried out as part of an investigation conducted on the basis of the provisions of competition law, was not necessary in this case, since it had assumed that Schiphol was in a position of economic strength."

EU regulators therefore had sufficient reasons not to get involved in easyJet's case, the court concluded.

The budget airline has 60 days to lodge an appeal with the EU high court.

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