Norway accused of breaching ownership law
The EFTA Surveillance Authority has sent a letter of formal notice to Norway, stating that its ban on controlling more than 25 % of fish farming concessions is in breach of the fundamental EEA right of establishment.
Acquisitions leading to majority control over more than 15 % of the total number of salmon and trout farming concessions are subject to prior authorisation of the Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs, according to Norwegian law. Acquisitions leading to majority ownership of more than 25 % 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 aquaculture sector is made less attractive, so the Authority has found that the freedom of establishment has been infringed.
Although the Authority says it 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.
The letter 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.