Eurostar/Thalys merger proposal: what will be the consequences for the passengers?
Following discussions in October between a delegation from EPF and the team in the European Commission’s powerful Competition department responsible for transport, EPF undertook to give thought to the implications for passengers of the proposed merger of Thalys and Eurostar which had just been announced.
SNCF is currently the dominant shareholder in both companies. EPF realises that the merger may enable the two high speed operators to offer a more extensive network, increase connectivity and service frequency and help meet increasing demand for more sustainable travel. But we are also concerned that that without suitable remedies in place, the joining of the two undertakings to create one company is likely to reduce competition, resulting in higher fares, reduced service levels on those sections where Thalys and Eurostar presently compete and create obstacles for new entrants.
EPF has therefore suggested that DG COMP should insist that a number of passenger safeguards should be imposed before the merger gets a green light. The conditions are ones that Eurostar accepted previously when reorganising its company structure. The remedies suggested by EPF include commitments designed to ensure access for new entrants on routes served by Eurostar and Thalys; measures to ensure fair access in the allocation of international train paths to other operators; and access to transparent, non-discriminatory, accurate, up-to-date and non-exclusive realtime open data. This is vital to passengers both when planning and making a journey. EPF is also seeking guarantees that the existing range of cheaper fares and service offers will be assured in future and – particularly bearing in mind Eurostar’s recent decision to cease cooperation in ticket-selling with Deutsche Bahn – the assurance that that other operates will in future have opportunities to cooperate with the new high speed venture. Mergers must show benefits for passengers as well as the shareholders in the companies involved.