By closing its boat ramp, the Dutch municipality of Harlingen ends situation of unfair competition


The municipality of Harlingen (in the north of the Netherlands) owns a boat ramp, and, as such, competed unfairly with a local business that also owns a boat ramp. Last year, the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) ordered the municipality to include all costs in its prices for using the boat ramp. ACM had given the municipality until 23 May 2019 to find a solution for ending the violation. The municipality of Harlingen is looking for an operator of the municipal boat ramp. Until an operator has been found, the boat ramp will be closed.

What is going on?

The municipality of Harlingen owns a boat ramp in the harbor. A local business owner also owns a boat ramp nearby. Since the municipality does not pass on any costs to boat owners for using the boat ramp, the municipality thus competed unfairly with the local business owner. Such situations are violations of the Dutch Competition Act. That is because the municipality does indeed incur costs for operation and maintenance of the boat ramp. Those costs are thus borne by taxpayers.

In December 2018, ACM ruled that the municipality must include all costs for using the boat ramp. The municipality had to do so by the end of January 2019. This has still not happened. That is why ACM ordered (subject to periodic penalty payments) that the municipality end the situation of unfair competition no later than May 23, for example, by having a third party operate the boat ramp. The municipality has thus far not been successful. The municipality has therefore decided to close the boat ramp temporarily until they have found a solution where all costs for operation and maintenance of the boat ramp are included in the prices. Since the boat ramp has now been closed, the situation of unfair competition has also ended.

Fair competition

ACM ensures that markets work well for people and businesses. There are special rules in place for governments that engage in commercial activities. These rules are laid down in the Dutch law on competitive neutrality, the Dutch Act on Government and Free Markets, which is part of the Dutch Competition Act. According to this law, governments must include all costs if they engage in commercial activities. ACM enforces compliance with these rules.