With the general public sale of tickets for the Rugby World Cup 2023 opening on Tuesday, April 6, sports fans the world over will be able to catch a first glimpse of normality and excitement in what many hope will be by then a post-corona world. To be held in France, the tenth edition of the Rugby Union World Cup is set to be a historical event, as it rings in the 200th anniversary of the “invention” of the sport by William Web Ellis in 1823.
To mark the event, and to account for the steadily growing interest in rugby across the globe, the organisers are offering a record 2.6 million tickets in the run-up to the event, sold in a broad two-phase process designed to provide as many places to eager rugby fans and in a manner as organized and fair as possible. Since March 15, pre-registered “Family” and MasterCard users have been able to obtain tickets. This first batch of tickets is available until April 5, with general sale kicking off the following day.
Fair and transparent phases
However, this approach – which differs from ticket sales used for other major sports event in that it “reserves” a batch of tickets to registered members rather than distributing them by public ballot or lottery – came under criticism, when the massive ticket-run briefly overwhelmed the sales website. Following 250,000 simultaneous connections and after selling up to 1,000 tickets per minute at one point, the website crashed for seven minutes, causing frustration among fans.
Even so, it’s important to stress that the principles of “fairness, accessibility and transparency” underpinning the system were never compromised, according to the CEO of France 2023, Claude Atcher. While acknowledging that some fans may be disappointed about what happened, he explained that France 2023 “deliberately wanted to open the website and the ticket sales to everyone at the same time”. Furthermore, World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont also commented that the phased approach was a deliberate choice for making France 2023 “the most accessible tournament to date.”
The world’s greatest World Cup?
In light of the more than 500,000 registrations for the pre-sale, an organisation spokesperson also elucidated that “the process was what we believed to be the fairest. We believe a ballot or lottery is not as fair as rewarding the people who show their motivation to sign up in advance.” As such, these difficulties notwithstanding, the overall success of the sales campaign so far is impressive and speaks for itself. According to estimates by the Rugby World Cup organisers, more than 300,000 tickets were sold on March 15 within twelve hours. Given that the competition is still two years away – scheduled to take place from September 8 to October 28, 2023 – observers estimate that no other sporting event had ever been met “with such success and aroused such collective enthusiasm.”
Indeed, if the overwhelming demand for tickets shows one thing, it is the desperate desire of countless people to return to normality and see their respective teams live on the field after more than a year of coronavirus-induced freeze. It’s therefore no surprise that the sales so far have far exceeded expectations, as well as those of previous World Cups.
As rugby fans the world over eagerly await the tournament, France 2023 is already breaking records before the event has even kicked off.
Commission approves €4 billion French measure to recapitalize Air France
The European Commission has approved French plans to grant up to €4 billion for the recapitalization of Air France through its Holding company. The measure was approved under the state aid Temporary Framework.
Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “France will contribute up to €4 billion to reinforce Air France's equity and help the airline face financial difficulties resulting from the coronavirus outbreak. At the same time, the public support will come with strings attached, in particular to ensure the French state is sufficiently remunerated, and further measures to limit distortions of competition. In particular, Air France has committed to make available slots at the congested Paris Orly airport, where Air France hold significant market power. This gives competing carriers the chance to expand their activities at this airport, ensuring fair prices and increased choice for European consumers.”
The French recapitalization measure
Air France is a major network airline operating in France. It is owned by the Air France-KLM Holding company, in which the French state holds a 14.3% participation. With a fleet of over 300 planes, Air France plays a very important role in the French economy, in terms of employment and connectivity for many French regions including those overseas (Départements et Régions d'outre-mer DOM-TOM).
In 2019, the Air France-KLM airline group reported an annual operating profit of approximately €750 million. However, as a result of the travel restrictions introduced by France and by many destination countries to limit the spread of the coronavirus, Air France and its Holding company have suffered a significant reduction of their activities, leading to major operating losses.
In this context, France notified to the Commission under the Temporary Framework a recapitalisation of up to €4 billion of Air France and its Holding company. The recapitalisation by France, which is part of the first step of the recapitalisation plan of the group, comprises:
(ii) a capital injection by the State , through the subscription of new shares in a share capital increase opened to existing shareholders and the market, in a limit of €1 billion depending on the size of this operation.
KLM, the other strategic subsidiary of the Air France-KLM group, will not benefit from the aid. Among others, this is ensured by (i) the specific features of the aid instruments; (ii) the corporate and governance structure of the Air France-KLM group; and (iii) a commitment that relationships between Air France and its Holding, on the one hand, and KLM, on the other hand, will continue to be based on market terms.
The Commission found that the French measure is in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, as regards:
- Conditions on the necessity, appropriateness and size of intervention: The capital injection will not exceed the minimum needed to ensure the viability of Air France and its Holding company, and will not go beyond restoring their capital positions compared to before the coronavirus outbreak.
- Conditions on the State's entry in the capital of companies and remuneration: The recapitalization aid will prevent an insolvency of Air France and its Holding company, which would have serious consequences on French employment, connectivity and foreign trade. The French state will receive an appropriate remuneration for the investment and there are additional mechanisms in place to incentivise Air France and its Holding company to buy back the State's equity participation obtained as a result of the recapitalisation.
- Conditions regarding the exit of the State from the capital of the companies concerned: France committed to work out a credible exit strategy within 12 months after the aid is granted, unless the State's intervention is reduced below the level of 25% of equity by then. If six years after receiving the recapitalisation aid, the State's shareholding in the Holding is not significantly reduced in line with the Temporary Framework, a restructuring plan for Air France will be notified to the Commission.
- Conditions regarding governance: Until 100% of the recapitalisation is redeemed , Air France and its Holding company are subject to bans on dividends, non-mandatory coupon payments and share buybacks. Moreover, until at least 75% of the recapitalisation is redeemed (in line with the conditions under the Temporary Framework), a strict limitation of the remuneration of their management, including a ban on bonus payments, is applied. These conditions also aim at incentivising Air France, its Holding company and its owners to buy back the State's equity participation obtained as a result of the recapitalisation as soon as the economic situation allows.
- Prohibition of cross-subsidisation and acquisition ban: To ensure that Air France and its Holding company do not unduly benefit from the recapitalisation aid by the State to the detriment of fair competition in the Single Market, they cannot use the aid to support economic activities of integrated companies that were in financial difficulties prior to 31 December 2019. Moreover, until at least 75% of the recapitalisation is redeemed, Air France and its Holding company are in principle prevented from acquiring a stake of more than 10% in competitors or other operators in the same line of business.
- Commitments to preserve effective competition: Air France will benefit from a recapitalisation measure above €250m and holds a significant market power in Paris Orly airport, where Air France has a large presence. That airport is structurally highly congested, meaning that airlines cannot get access to the landing and take-off slots that they request for their operation at the airport. Therefore, in line with requirements of the Temporary Framework, additional measures to preserve effective competition are necessary. These consist in Air France making available up to 18 slots per day at Paris Orly airport to a competing carrier. These measures will enable the lasting entry or expansion of a competing carrier at this airport, to the benefit of consumers. In addition, these measures require that the competing carrier obtaining Air France's slots bases its aircraft and crews at Paris Orly airport, in compliance with national and EU labour laws.
- Public transparency and reporting: Air France and its Holding company will have to publish information on the use of the aid received, including on how the use of the aid received supports the companies' activities in line with EU and national obligations linked to the green and digital transformation.
- Monitoring: A trustee, who will have to be appointed by Air France and its Holding before 5 May 2021, will monitor and ensure, under the Commission's instructions, compliance with the different commitments. The trustee will report periodically to the Commission.
The Commission concluded that the recapitalisation measure will contribute to manage the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak in France: the measure aims at restoring the balance sheet position and liquidity of Air France and its Holding company in the exceptional situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, while maintaining the necessary safeguards to limit competition distortions. It is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in Temporary Framework.
On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules.
The Commission has adopted a Temporary Framework to enable Member States to use the full flexibility foreseen under State aid rules to support the economy in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The Temporary Framework, as amended on 3 April, 8 May, 29 June, 13 October 2020 and 28 January 2021, provides for the following types of aid, which can be granted by member states:
(i) Direct grants, equity injections, selective tax advantages and advance payments of up to €225,000 to a company active in the primary agricultural sector, €270,000 to a company active in the fishery and aquaculture sector and €1.8 million to a company active in all other sectors to address its urgent liquidity needs. Member states can also give, up to the nominal value of €1.8 million per company zero-interest loans or guarantees on loans covering 100% of the risk, except in the primary agriculture sector and in the fishery and aquaculture sector, where the limits of €225,000 and €270,000 per company respectively, apply.
(ii) State guarantees for loans taken by companies to ensure banks keep providing loans to the customers who need them. These state guarantees can cover up to 90% of risk on loans to help businesses cover immediate working capital and investment needs.
(iii) Subsidised public loans to companies (senior and subordinated debt) with favourable interest rates to companies. These loans can help businesses cover immediate working capital and investment needs.
(iv) Safeguards for banks that channel State aid to the real economy that such aid is considered as direct aid to the banks' customers, not to the banks themselves, and gives guidance on how to ensure minimal distortion of competition between banks.
(v) Public short-term export credit insurance for all countries, without the need for the Member State in question to demonstrate that the respective country is temporarily “non-marketable”.
(vi) Support for coronavirus related research and development (R&D) to address the current health crisis in the form of direct grants, repayable advances or tax advantages. A bonus may be granted for cross-border cooperation projects between Member States.
(vii) Support for the construction and upscaling of testing facilities to develop and test products (including vaccines, ventilators and protective clothing) useful to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, up to first industrial deployment. This can take the form of direct grants, tax advantages, repayable advances and no-loss guarantees. Companies may benefit from a bonus when their investment is supported by more than one Member State and when the investment is concluded within two months after the granting of the aid.
(viii) Support for the production of products relevant to tackle the coronavirus outbreak in the form of direct grants, tax advantages, repayable advances and no-loss guarantees. Companies may benefit from a bonus when their investment is supported by more than one Member State and when the investment is concluded within two months after the granting of the aid.
(ix) Targeted support in the form of deferral of tax payments and/or suspensions of social security contributions for those sectors, regions or for types of companies that are hit the hardest by the outbreak.
(x) Targeted support in the form of wage subsidies for employees for those companies in sectors or regions that have suffered most from the coronavirus outbreak, and would otherwise have had to lay off personnel.
(xi) Targeted recapitalisation aid to non-financial companies, if no other appropriate solution is available. Safeguards are in place to avoid undue distortions of competition in the Single Market: conditions on the necessity, appropriateness and size of intervention; conditions on the State's entry in the capital of companies and remuneration; conditions regarding the exit of the State from the capital of the companies concerned; conditions regarding governance including dividend ban and remuneration caps for senior management; prohibition of cross-subsidisation and acquisition ban and additional measures to limit competition distortions; transparency and reporting requirements.
(xii) Support for uncovered fixed costs for companies facing a decline in turnover during the eligible period of at least 30% compared to the same period of 2019 in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The support will contribute to a part of the beneficiaries' fixed costs that are not covered by their revenues, up to a maximum amount of €10 million per undertaking.
The Commission will also enable Member States to convert until 31 December 2022 repayable instruments (e.g. guarantees, loans, repayable advances) granted under the Temporary Framework into other forms of aid, such as direct grants, provided the conditions of the Temporary Framework are met.
The Temporary Framework enables Member States to combine all support measures with each other, except for loans and guarantees for the same loan and exceeding the thresholds foreseen by the Temporary Framework. It also enables Member States to combine all support measures granted under the Temporary Framework with existing possibilities to grant de minimis to a company of up to €25,000 over three fiscal years for companies active in the primary agricultural sector, €30,000 over three fiscal years for companies active in the fishery and aquaculture sector and €200,000 over three fiscal years for companies active in all other sectors. At the same time, Member States have to commit to avoid undue cumulation of support measures for the same companies to limit support to meet their actual needs.
Furthermore, the Temporary Framework complements the many other possibilities already available to member states to mitigate the socio-economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak, in line with EU state aid rules. On 13 March 2020, the Commission adopted a Communication on a Coordinated economic response to the COVID-19 outbreak setting out these possibilities. For example, member states can make generally applicable changes in favour of businesses (e.g. deferring taxes, or subsidising short-time work across all sectors), which fall outside state aid rules. They can also grant compensation to companies for damage suffered due to and directly caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
The Temporary Framework will be in place until the end of December 2021. With a view to ensuring legal certainty, the Commission will assess before this date if it needs to be extended.
The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.59913 in the state aid register on the Commission's 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 Competition Weekly e-News.
More information on the Temporary Framework and other action the Commission has taken to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here.
France's Macron addresses country on COVID-19 situation
French President Emmanuel Macron (pictured) delivered a televised address to the nation on Wednesday evening (31 March), as a fast-spreading third wave of COVID-19 infections threatens to over-run hospitals, write Michel Rose and Benoit Van Overstraeten.
The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care increased by 98 on Tuesday (30 March) to breach the 5,000 threshold, the highest number this year.
Public health experts say the burden on intensive care is evidence that the current set of restrictions do not go far enough.
France has been under a nightly curfew since mid-December and in parts of the country, including Paris, the movement of citizens has been restricted and some non-essential stores closed. Bars, restaurants and cinemas have been closed for months.
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo told BFM TV that schools should be closed.
Macron will convene his COVID defence council for a weekly meeting later in the morning.
France and EU close to a deal on Air France bailout: minister
France and the European Union are close to a deal on a bailout for Air France, which like other carriers has been hammered by the coronavirus pandemic, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Monday (29 March), confirming media reports, writes Dominique Vidalon.
“We are nearing a deal...It is a matter days,” Le Maire told France Info radio, adding there could be concessions to ensure fair competition.
“It’s not about closing lines or cutting jobs. Concessions are being asked to ensure fair competition between Air France and other carriers,” Le Maire said without providing further details.
French daily Le Monde said the French government and the European Union’s executive were close to an agreement on the terms of a bailout for Air France.
The expected deal would see Air France give up fewer airport flight slots at its Paris base than initially sought by the European Commission, notably at Orly airport, the newspaper had said.
The Air France-KLM group recorded a €7.1 billion ($8.38bn) net loss for last year.
It received 10.4 billion euros in loans and guarantees from France and the Netherlands and has been negotiating a state-backed recapitalisation, with EU regulators seeking airport slot concessions at Paris-Orly and Amsterdam-Schiphol.
Romania2 days ago
Romania racing to become the second EU country to launch its own satellite
Ireland3 days ago
Another gentle step towards a united Ireland
China3 days ago
China: Bomb attack in Mingjing kills 5
Holland3 days ago
Rutte's prospects of forming new Dutch government wane as coalition partner quits
Russia3 days ago
Kremlin says Russian military movements near Ukraine pose no threat
Bulgaria3 days ago
Bulgaria PM seen losing quarter of seats, no clear path to hold power
coronavirus3 days ago
Greece looks to ease pressure with cautious reopening of shops
Bulgaria3 days ago
Bulgarian general elections: Anti-establishment parties make significant gains