THE European Commission (EC) has approved the merger of high-speed operators Eurostar and Thalys under the Green Speed project announced in September 2019.

The EC announced on March 29 that it had approved under European Union (EU) merger regulations the acquisition by French National Railways (SNCF) of full control of Thalys’ parent company THIF Factory, which is jointly controlled by SNCF and Belgian National Railways (SNCB).

The planned merger between the two operators was announced in September 2019 with the aim of it being ratified in April 2020, however the Covid-19 pandemic delayed this progress.

Thalys currently operates high-speed services between France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, while Eurostar operates services through the Channel tunnel from London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. Eurostar is owned by SNCF, (which owns 55%), SNCB, (which owns 5%) and Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) and Hermes Infrastructure (which together own 40%), but solely managed by SNCF.

The commission found that the merger would not raise competition concerns given its very limited impact on the market structure.

Merger plans

The Green Speed merger involves the reorganisation of Eurostar and Thalys under a holding company, HoldCo, which will hold 100% of the shares of both operators and be solely managed by SNCF.

Under a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by SNCF, Patina, SNCB, Hermes and CDPQ on November 30 2020, SNCF, Patina and SNCB will contribute to the HoldCo all of their shares in Thalys and Eurostar. Following the merger, SNCF will have the majority of the share capital and sole control of HoldCo.

The company confirmed in October 2021 that the Eurostar brand will be retained. The holding company will be based in Brussels, while train control will be conducted from London for Eurostar while Thalys train control will remain in Brussels. The initial aim is to grow the combined pre-pandemic passenger figures from 19 million to 30 million by 2030.