Lettre à l'éditeur - Financial Times : It is short-sighted for the UK to rebuff Eurostar’s bailout bid
Lex (“Eurostar: meeting its Waterloo”, January 19) argues Eurostar should be left to its own devices mainly for being majority owned by France’s SNCF. This would follow the precedent set by the British government with Flybe and have little consequence for consumers and infrastructure, Lex — rather hastily — affirms.
Eurostar is a UK incorporated limited company employing 2,000 people in the UK, directly or indirectly: far more than on the continent. The idea that the passport of its shareholder should influence the decision to support the company is short-sighted. Subsidiaries of British and French companies are receiving state support — be it through furlough schemes or liquidity capacity — on both sides of the channel. The UK subsidiary of RATP, the French state-owned public transport operator, which runs hundreds of bus routes in London, directly benefits from UK government support — and quite rightly.
Furthermore, Eurostar was a profitable, stable and solvent company, until, for legitimate public health considerations, both the French and British governments all but suspended its licence to operate. By contrast, Flybe was a fledging operator flirting with bankruptcy well before Covid.
Government decisions are the source of Eurostar’s troubles, not usual market competition. Eurostar contributes to investment and the maintenance of infrastructure on both sides of the channel through (comparatively high) tolls. The assumption that a new operator would magically blossom two years after Deutsche Bahn, the German state-owned railway, shelved plans to compete on the route and following a government decision to abandon the existing operator to a battlefield of its own creation seems optimistic, at best. The knock-on effect on HS1 and infrastructure investment would be predictably damaging. Beyond the undeniable symbolic dimension of the service and trains’ greener credentials (dismissed rather cavalierly by Lex), letting Eurostar falter would be short-sighted and counterproductive.
Instead, the British and French governments should work together to ensure the operator survives until its normal operating conditions are restored through guaranteed loans and toll payment support — at very little cost to taxpayers, be they in Calais or Dover.
Member of France’s National Assembly