The UK and France will reject the European Commission's request to lower Eurotunnel charges for passenger and freight trains using the Channel Tunnel, the chief executive of operator Eurotunnel said on Friday.
The commission says excessively high track-access charges are resulting in high ticket prices for passengers using the Eurostar service linking London with Paris and Brussels. The charges are also stifling growth in freight trains crossing the Channel, it says.
It gave both countries until today (Monday) to respond to a request to lower its fees or face possible court action.
"I met both ministers in person a couple of hours ago and they told me that both France and Britain would jointly reject the EU's request," Eurotunnel chief executive Jacques Gounon told Reuters on Friday.
The French transport ministry confirmed that it found the Commission's grievances unfounded.
"We will argue that these charges are based on long-term costs - that they include the cost of building the infrastructure and amortising the investment, that they don't only take into account operational costs and that this is in line with a European directive," a ministry spokeswoman said.
A UK Department for Transport spokesman reiterated that the government did not consider itself in breach of its obligations.
"It's a long-term concession ... entirely funded by the private sector, so you cannot reason in the way you would for public infrastructure that is funded by taxpayers," Gounon said.
Eurotunnel charges a one-way reservation fee of €4,320 for Eurostar trains and €16.60 per passenger. EU officials have said that if the charges were roughly halved, this would double the amount of daily freight train services, making up the difference.
But Gounon questioned whether this would work, saying transport operators limit the number of trains they run each day.
Meanwhile, Eurotunnel is challenging a Competition Commission ruling calling for it to dispose of its My Ferry Link ferries on the Dover-Calais route due to monopoly concerns.
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