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Norwegian Aquaculture Ownership Ceilings in Breach of EEA Law

13 July 2012

NORWAY - The Norwegian ban on controlling more than 25 per cent of fish farming concessions is in breach of the fundamental EEA right of establishment. This is the preliminary conclusion of a letter of formal notice sent by the EFTA Surveillance Authority to Norway.

According to Norwegian law, acquisitions leading to majority control over more than 15 per cent of the total number of salmon and trout farming concessions are subject to prior authorisation of the Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs. Moreover, acquisitions leading to majority ownership of more than 25 per cent of the concessions are totally banned.

Since these ceilings hinder or even preclude business structures above a certain size, the establishment of businesses in the Norwegian acquaculture sector is made less attractive. The Authority therefore finds that the freedom of establishment has been infringed.

Although the Authority acknowledges that regional policy objectives may justify certain restrictions, Norway has not been able to demonstrate that the ownership ceilings are suitable and necessary in order to achieve the legitimate objectives invoked. The achievement of a particular industry structure as such - e.g. a certain mix between small, medium and bigger businesses - is a purely economic objective which cannot serve to justify restrictions to the fundamental freedoms.

Issuing a letter of formal notice is the first stage of the infringement proceedings, giving Norway a two months deadline to provide its observations. After the expiry of the time limit the Authority will consider, in light of any observations received from Norway, to deliver a reasoned opinion.

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