EU regulators probe Eurostar Siemens deal

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European regulators are considering launching a full probe into a decision by Channel Tunnel rail operator Eurostar to buy trains from Germany's Siemens, a top EU official said on Thursday.

The European Union is awaiting a British response to a complaint from Alstom of France.

Brussels is concerned that the Eurostar tender process may have violated laws governing fairness in the award of public contracts, and the EU's French internal market commissioner Michel Barnier's office has sent what it calls an "administrative letter" to British authorities.

The moves follow receipt of a "detailed complaint" from existing Eurostar supplier and French higth-speed TGV train-maker Alstom over the tendering procedure, said Chantal Hughes, Barnier's spokeswoman.

"In order to clarify alleged violations of the EU public procurement law, an administrative letter has been sent to the UK authorities," she said.

"The commission will decide about next steps regarding the complaint in the light of the reply to the questions raised in the letter."

The letter was sent on 26 October. Eventual commission action would be focused on infringement proceedings, and the letter is a clear signal that Alstom's complaints are being taken seriously by Barnier's office.

Alstom failed last week in a British High Court bid to prevent Eurostar from buying the Siemens trains.

Alstom filed the complaint in London, where Eurostar is based, to attempt to force the suspension of a deal for 10 high-speed trains worth around 600 million euros (835 million dollars).

The judge said Alstom did not have a "serious case" and that granting a suspension "would be against the public interest."

As of Wednesday night, the contract had not yet been signed.

The French government has challenged the deal on the grounds it raises safety concerns.

© 2010 AFP

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