State Aid Law Blog

State Aid Uncovered Blog/Guest State Aid Blog

On a weekly basis Phedon Nicolaides posts critical analysis pieces on the latest State aid judgments and decisions on his blog State Aid Uncovered. Each article presents the main points of a court ruling or Commission‘s decision, places them in the context of similar case law or practice, assesses the underlying reasoning, and identifies any inconsistencies or contradictions.
Occasional guest blog posts by other State aid experts complement the State aid knowledge hub.

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Professor at Maastricht University; Professor at University of Nicosia, and Academic Director at Lexxion Training

Rescue Aid

Member State must demonstrate that rescue or restructuring aid aims to prevent social hardship or address market failure. The Temporary Framework is coming to an end The European Commission announced on 12 May 2022 that the Temporary Framework will be abolished on 30 June 2022, with the exception of the two types of support that were inserted in the Temporary […]

Risk Finance

Risk finance aid in the form of tax relief based on the GBER must be limited to private investors. Introduction Decisions of the European Commission authorising aid for risk finance are very rare. This is the consequence of the success of the Commission to get Member States to use almost exclusively the General Block Exemption Regulation [GBER] for the design […]

The Standard of Proof in State Aid Complaints and the “Informational Disadvantage” of Complainants

The Commission must use its investigative powers to seek clarification from Member States in order for it to establish whether a measure constitutes State aid, or is compatible aid, or is existing aid. Introduction Complaints are an important source of information to the Commission. The possibility afforded to undertakings to lodge such complaints with the Commission is intended to dissuade […]

Member States Must Recover of their Own Initiative Illegally Granted Aid

Aid granted illegal must be recovered by the granting authority without any need for a prior Commission decision ordering recovery. The amount of recovered aid may be limited to that which is in excess of what is allowed by the GBER. Introduction It is a well-established principle in the case law that a “prudent market operator” is responsible to check […]

Injection of Capital in a Postal Operator

The resources of a public undertaking necessarily count as “state resources”, regardless of the degree of autonomy of the public undertaking. However, not every decision of a public undertaking can necessarily be “imputed” to the state. A prudent investor may take into account authorised State aid. A prudent investor may tolerate short-term losses if it can realise sufficient profits in […]

A First Commission Decision on Natural Gas Storage

Compensation that guarantees a normal or fair rate of return eliminates risk that is inherent in market transactions and therefore confers an advantage in the meaning of Article 107(1) TFEU. Introduction On 23 March 2022, the European Commission announced plans to mitigate the spike in energy prices caused by the war in Ukraine. Chief among those plans were proposals for […]

Intra-State Transfers and the Discretion of Public Authorities

Resources transferred from one public authority to another for the purpose of being used to subsidise undertakings do not fall within the scope of Article 107(1) TFEU if the recipient authority has discretion in their disbursement. Introduction A public authority that carries out economic activities becomes an undertaking that is subject to the prohibition of Article 107(1) TFEU. When the […]

A New Temporary Crisis Framework

Introduction A new Temporary Framework which is called “Temporary Crisis Framework” [TCF] to distinguish it from the currently applicable Temporary Framework on covid-19 related State aid was adopted on 23 March 2022, almost two years to the date of the publication of the rules on covid-19 related State aid.[1] The purpose of the TCF is to enable Member States to […]

I. Vouchers for SMEs II. Funding of Aid with Revenue from Levies Imposed on the Aid Beneficiaries

State aid rules apply both to direct and indirect beneficiaries of aid. Introduction This week’s article reviews a Commission decision and a judgment of the Court of Justice. The Commission decision concerns Italian vouchers for SMEs to pay for the use of fast broadband services. The judgment deals with a German measure supporting milk quality tests. In both cases an […]

Another Altmark Compliant Case!

Any non-SGEI obligation attached to a public service contract may not raise the cost of the service above the level of the “least cost to the community”. Introduction It is very rare for measures of compensation for public service obligations to be found by the European Commission to be compliant with the Altmark conditions. Nonetheless, in the past two years […]

The Concept of “Undertaking in Difficulty” and Evidential Requirements

The “subscribed share capital” of a company includes the capital that is already paid and any future amount that shareholders have irrevocably committed to pay. Introduction Undertakings in difficulty may not receive any kind of aid except aid to compensate for damage caused by a natural disaster or exceptional occurrence and, under strict conditions, rescue and/or restructuring aid. In most […]

Security of Energy Supply

Guaranteed supply of electricity at fixed prices to a state-owned network operator involves a transfer of state resources to the supplier. Guaranteed supply of electricity at fixed prices confers an advantage to the supplier. Introduction Member States are allowed to take measures to ensure the security of energy supplies. There is a variety of such measures: imposition of obligations on […]

Compensation for Damage and De Minimis Aid

Compensation for damage caused by protected animals is State aid. Member States may categorise compensatory payments as de minimis aid and refuse to make payments in excess of the de minimis threshold. Introduction Advantage in the meaning of Article 107(1) TFEU is any benefit granted by the state that is not available under normal market conditions. Normal market conditions are […]

Compensation and State Aid

An event that causes damage for which the state is liable is distinct from the act that confers the right for compensation. Introduction The concept of State aid covers all resources that are controlled by the state, regardless of the reason why such resources may be transferred to or put at the disposal of an undertaking. On 25 January 2022, […]

The Mysterious “Substantial” Competitive Effect

State aid has a “substantial” effect on competitors when it has a direct and negative impact on their market positions that goes beyond the typical influence of aid on competitive relationships. Introduction State aid always harms competition and competitors. A public measure that has no effect on competition is not State aid. Therefore, it is not enough for a company […]

I. The Commission Need not Always Open the Formal Investigation Procedure before Correcting a Faulty Decision II. Fines for Failure to Recover Incompatible Aid

The formal investigation procedure need not be re-opened when the fault lies in the legal assessment of the measure in question. Incompatible State aid has to be recovered quickly and effectively, even from insolvent undertakings. Introduction This article examines two recent judgments concerning Greece. The first judgment explains when the Commission does not have to re-open the formal investigation procedure […]

Duplication of Infrastructure Does not Promote Regional Development

A private investor is not interested in regional development. A private investor recoups its investment in infrastructure from revenue from the operation of that infrastructure. Duplication of infrastructure does not contribute to regional development. Introduction In 2015 the European Commission caused a buzz in the State aid community when it decided that investment aid granted to a small Polish airport […]

A Non-Selective Financial Tax with a Narrow Scope

The scope of a tax must be objectively defined in order for those excluded from the tax not to benefit from a selective advantage. Introduction Taxes are burdens, so they fall outside the scope of Article 107(1) TFEU which prohibits selective benefits funded with state resources. Normally, Article 107(1) applies to benefits from tax exemptions or tax derogations which result […]

Private Creditor and the Ability of the Debtor to Repay

There are no rules as to the promptness with which a private creditor must act in order to enforce its claims. However, a hypothetical private creditor need not demand that a debtor be declared insolvent as soon as it fails, without taking any account of its longer-term potential. Introduction When the state accepts to restructure debt owed to it or […]

Public Funding of an Energy Infrastructure Project

State aid up to 100% of the funding gap of a project can be compatible with the internal market. Introduction The European Commission approved investment aid for a Liquefied Natural Gas [LNG] terminal in Alexandroupolis in northern Greece [case SA.55526]. The project involves the following: A Floating Storage Regasification Unit [FSRU] for the storage and regasification of LNG. The construction […]

Illegal Aid Cannot be Regularised a Posteriori

A Commission decision finding non-notified aid to be compatible with the internal market cannot remedy the illegality that existed before the Commission decision. Introduction In November 2021, the General Court rejected an appeal by the recipient of illegal aid who had asked the Commission to declare the aid compatible with the internal market even though the Member State concerned had […]

How to Determine Selectivity

A measure is selective when it excludes undertakings that are equally capable of contributing to the achievement of its objectives. Introduction Since no two undertakings are exactly the same, how can it be determined whether they are in a comparable situation? Differences in their features such as size or the type of technology they use do not necessarily mean that […]

First Case of a “Private Debtor” Test?

A public authority acting as a “private debtor” tries to minimise the amount that it has to pay. Introduction In assessing whether commercial transactions between public authorities and undertakings are free of State aid, the European Commission and EU courts apply the market economy investor principle [MEIP]. In essence, this principle tests whether a public investor behaves like a private […]

An Unusual Case of a “Self Notification” of State Aid by an Aid Beneficiary

Aid beneficiaries may not “notify” State aid to the Commission. Only Member States may notify aid. Beneficiaries of non-notified aid may ask national courts to penalise the granting authorities. Introduction What should an undertaking do when it finds out that a public measure from which it has been benefitting contains State aid that has not been notified to the European […]

When Does an Amendment of an Existing Aid Make it a New Aid?

Existing aid becomes new aid if any amendment affects the assessment of its compatibility with the internal market. Introduction Member States often amend and adjust State aid measures after they are approved by the Commission. Such changes must be carried carefully because they can turn an existing aid into new aid and all new aid has to be notified to […]

Public Funding of an Undertaking in a Closed Sector

Public funding of undertakings in sectors closed to competition does not constitute State aid. A sector is closed to competition when competition on and for the market is precluded by law. Introduction Determining when State aid does not affected cross-border trade is both difficult and tricky. But there is one exception; when the sector is closed to competition. A sector […]

6th Revision of the Temporary Framework for Covid-19 State Aid

Introduction On Thursday, 18 November 2021, the European Commission adopted a sixth amendment to the Temporary Framework [TF] for State aid measures to combat covid-19. The document laying down the new amendments can be accessed here: https://ec.europa.eu/competition-policy/document/download/a822acec-f0c6-4c8c-ab49-fc2dd34188ec_en The TF was scheduled to expire on 31 December 2021. The new amendment extends its validity to 30 June 2022. It also changes […]

Selectivity and Tax Measures

The reference system for determining the selectivity of a tax measure must have its own logic and be autonomous and its identification depends on the content, structure and specific effects of the applicable rules. A measure that does not exclude any particular undertaking can be selective if it treats differently undertakings which are in similar situations. Introduction On 6 October […]

Compensatory Payments and State Resources

Funds used in compensation mechanisms mandated by the state become state resources Introduction The Court of Justice has stressed repeatedly that any resource over which the state can exercise control becomes a state resource, regardless of whether it is managed by a public authority or a private entity. Member States, however, keep inventing novel and complicated arrangements in which mandated […]

Market Economy Operator

Comparing prices charged by different airports is not a suitable method for detecting the existence of selective advantages. Introduction Airports enter into complex agreements with airlines. When airports are in public ownership or operate under a mandate by the state, their agreements with airlines may contain State aid. It is, however, very difficult to detect State aid in these agreements […]

Legitimate Expectations and the “Right” to State Aid

Legitimate expectations can only be created by EU institutions giving unambiguous and unconditional assurances. No undertaking enjoys a right to State aid. Member States may reduce the amount of State aid they grant. Introduction As the process of transition to green economy accelerates, Member States have been reducing the subsidies they promised to grant to the early investors in the […]

Is Anyone who is Affected by State Aid an “Interested Party” that can Challenge a Commission Decision?

A non-competitor cannot normally claim to be “interested party”. The Commission does not have to prove to the normal legal standard the existence of state aid when it opens the formal investigation procedure. Introduction This week’s article reviews two recent judgments: one on the status of “interest party” and another on the obligations of the Commission when it opens the […]

Security of Supply May Justify a Deviation from Public Procurement Rules

Security of supply justifies a deviation from the normal procurement procedures as long as the same security cannot be achieved through a competitive selection of suppliers. Introduction Point 19 of the 2012 SGEI Framework requires that the assignment of a public mission to an undertaking must comply with the applicable public procurement rules. It does not impose an obligation for […]

What the Commission Must Find Out in the Preliminary Examination of State Aid: The Lessons from Tempus Energy on what is Sufficient Information

The Commission must open the formal investigation procedure when it has serious doubts based on the information available to it. Introduction Once I asked an administrator of an institute where I used to work why I was not informed about certain benefits that were available to staff. “Because you did not ask”, he answered. How could I ask about something […]

A Faulty Sale Procedure Can Lead to Presumption of State Aid and Annulment of a State Aid Decision

A sale of public assets cannot be presumed to be free of State aid when bidders are not treated equally. Introduction When the state sells a company it owns, there is a presumption that no State aid benefits either the buyer or the company that is sold if the sale is open transparent, non-discriminatory, unconditional and the chosen buyer is […]

Market Economy Operator Test: Timisoara Airport & Wizz Air

Public funding of activities that fall within the remit of the state does not constitute state aid. Although the presence of a credible ex ante business plan based on realistic assumptions is a strong indicator that the MEOT is satisfied, its absence does not necessarily prove that the MEOT is failed. Introduction Following a complaint by Carpatair, the European Commission […]

Pricing of Guarantees

A market guarantee premium must cover all costs assumed by the guarantor including the cost of possible default, cost of capital and the cost of administering the guarantee. Introduction Financial instruments are much in vogue. The Pan-European Guarantee Fund and to a smaller extent the Recovery and Resilience Fund are implemented through financial instruments that seek to leverage private participation. […]

Assignment of Public Service Obligations

The compensation for public service obligations may include reasonable profit and incentives for cost reduction. Introduction Member States have discretion to define services they consider to be in the general economic interest [SGEI]. However, they need to justify that definition. The Court of Justice has ruled on numerous occasions that an SGEI has “special characteristics” that set it apart from […]

Public Funding of an Undertaking in a Closed Sector

Public funding of undertaking in a closed sector [legal monopoly] does not distort competition and therefore does not constitute State aid. A legal monopoly has to conform with internal market rules. Introduction In July 2017, the Commission received a complaint by “C” [the complainant] alleging that Germany had granted State aid to two companies, RVV and Nordwasser, which supplied fresh […]

It is Difficult to Challenge a Commission Decision Opening the Formal Investigation Procedure

The assessment of the Commission in an “opening decision” is only provisional. The Commission is not required to prioritise its investigations or to extend them to anyone who may be in a similar situation. The right of non-discrimination is not violated when the Commission chooses to investigate some instead of all possible cases of State aid. An individual measure that […]

The Problem of Multiple Awards of Aid to the Undertaking and to the Same Group

Multiple awards of aid to the same undertaking are allowed as long as they cover different costs. Multiple awards of aid to the same group are allowed as long as aid does not leak from one undertaking in the group to another. Introduction In the first half of 2021, the General Court ruled in ten cases of appeal lodged by […]

The European Commission’s Opening Decision in the German Lignite Phase-Out Case – Part II.

The article is based on a legal opinion, that was given to LEAG. Doubts regarding the existence of an advantage – continued Compensation amounts based on a MEO settlement agreement An essential component of the compensation covering the full scope of any damages caused to the operators affected by the early closure is also the avoidance of legal and factual […]

The European Commission’s Opening Decision in the German Lignite Phase-Out Case – Part I.

The article is based on a legal opinion, that was given to LEAG. Introduction The European Green Deal envisages a clean and decarbonised energy sector with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.[1] These ambitious objectives entrust the Member States with enormous tasks in connection with the transformation process, which must always be designed in a proportionate manner. For this purpose, […]

When Do Legal Exemptions Constitute State Aid?

Exemption from a fine does not constitute State aid when it is based on transparent and pre-determined criteria. Infringement of EU law determines the compatibility of State aid, not the existence of State aid. Introduction An exemption from legal requirements that confers a selective advantage does not necessarily amount to State aid. In most cases, when beneficiaries are found not […]

Methods for Determining Property Value

Member States may use different methods for determining the value of property as long as they produce similar results. Introduction The base for property taxation is normally the value of the property, not size or location. The difficulty in determining the value of property is that land or buildings have no intrinsic value. It all depends on the purpose for […]

Pre- Notifications, Preliminary Investigations and the Rights of Third Parties in State Aid Procedures – Beware of the Black Hole!

The persistently cautious approach of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to recognizing any really meaningful rights for third parties in State aid proceedings before the European Commission as well as in judicial proceedings is well-known and frequently criticized. With the recent adoption of the new Climate Law at the end of June and the official launch […]

A Rare Commission Decision on an SGEI Measure that Could Have Been Exempted from Notification

A public service obligation must be imposed by an act of entrustment that describes in detail the terms of the obligation, identifies the undertaking that offers the service and lays down procedures for preventing over-compensation. Introduction The purpose of Commission Decision 2012/21 on services of general economic interest [SGEI] is, like the GBER, to exempt certain aid measures from prior […]

The Italian Health System Is not Economic in Nature

Certain elements of competition that raise efficiency do not undermine the social solidarity foundations of a health care system. Introduction A question that has been addressed by the Court of Justice but not in sufficient detail is whether the providers of non-economic health services can compete with each other. The answer is conditionally affirmative. Competition that does not undermine the […]

Public Support to Ultrafast Networks in the Italian NRRP

As part of the investments to support the digitisation, innovation and competitiveness of the production system[1], the Italian Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP) has allocated €6.71 billion for interventions in favor of ultra-fast networks (ultra-broadband and 5G)[2]. The amount will be deployed by 2026 to achieve the objectives defined in the “Italian Strategy for ultra-broadband”[3] in accordance with the EU […]

Existing Aid, New Aid and Retroactive Application of a Block Exemption Regulation

Changes to approved aid measures result in new aid. Only purely formal or administrative changes do not turn existing aid into new. Prolongation of an existing aid measure is not purely formal or administrative. Introduction Any change to an approved aid measure that affects its compatibility with the internal market turns it into a new aid that has to be […]

The UK’s New Subsidy Control Bill: Targeting a Faster, More Permissive Regime Than EU State Aid Rules

The long awaited Subsidy Control Bill has been published by the UK Government with bold promises that it will “create a new system for subsidies that can enable key domestic priorities, such as levelling up economic growth across the UK and driving our green industrial revolution“.  In this article we identify the main changes immediately emerging from the draft legislation, […]

Disentangling the Impact of Covid-19 from other Business Problems

State aid may only compensate for the direct damage caused by covid-19. Introduction Aid that compensates for damage caused by natural disasters or exceptional occurrences is declared by Article 107(2)(b) TFEU to be compatible with the internal market. That is why Article 1(4)(c) of the GBER does not exclude, as is normally the practice, undertakings in difficulty from schemes that […]

Amazon and the Difficulty of Finding a Comparable Tax Payer

To apply the Arm’s Length Principle to transactions between two related companies, the Commission must identify the less complex company of the two and compare it to a similar independent company. Methodological errors in the application of the Arm’s Length Principle by national authorities does not necessarily prove the existence of advantage. Introduction On 12 May 2021 the Commission suffered […]

Is State Aid for Locally Established Undertakings Compatible with the Internal Market?

Limitation of State aid to companies which have a durable link with the local economy can be compatible with the internal market. Introduction By prohibiting barriers to free movement and establishment in the internal market, the EU seeks to make the choice of location of a company largely irrelevant. All companies should be treated the same regardless of where they […]

State Aid to Group of Companies

In assessing the compatibility of State aid with the internal market, the Commission must also consider previous awards to a legally distinct but related company. In assessing the need for rescue/restructuring aid, the Commission must also consider whether the recipient is a member of a group that can provide internal funding. Introduction Paragraph 11 of the Commission’s Notice on the […]

Economic Continuity and Recovery of Indirect State Aid

Special insolvency procedures can confer a selective advantage that constitutes State aid. A recovery order can be extended to the new owner of a company that had received incompatible State aid. Introduction Recipients of State aid that is found to be incompatible with the internal market have to pay it back with interest. This liability for repayment also extend to […]

The Impossibility of Proving the Absolute Impossibility to Recover Incompatible State Aid

It is not sufficient to claim that is it absolutely impossible to recover incompatible State aid. It must be shown that alternative methods have been actually tried without success. Introduction It is rather impossible for Member States to prove that it is absolutely impossible to recover State aid that has been found by the Commission, and confirmed by EU courts, […]

Compensation for Universal Service Provision

As long as the compensation does not exceed the net extra costs of the universal service activities, it may be used to offset other costs. Introduction The rules on State aid for services of general economic interest [SGEI] are very generous because they allow both investment and operating aid. Yet, it is not easy to comply with those rules because […]

State Aid and Essential National Interest

State aid that is necessary for protecting essential national interests can be compatible with the internal market. Introduction State aid should support outcomes that the market by itself cannot achieve. This implies that State aid that is restricted to only one or a few undertakings is unlikely to be capable of delivering the desired outcome. Yet, sometimes there may be […]

State Aid Measures May not be Funded through Discriminatory Taxes

A tax that is levied on both imported and domestic products but its revenue finances only domestic products infringes fundamental provisions of the EU Treaty. Introduction Member States finance the generation of electricity from renewable energy sources [RES] with revenue they raise through levies or charges on consumers of electricity. On 14 April 2021, the General Court in judgment in […]

Turnover Taxes Can Be Progressive without Being Selective

Progressive rates can be part of a reference tax system. The reference tax system is, in principle, made up of the tax base, the tax rates and the taxable events. Introduction Progressive turnover taxes were thought to be selective because they are levied on gross revenue before costs are deducted and larger volumes of revenue are taxed at higher rates. […]

Individual Aid Measures to Combat Covid-19

Aid to remedy a serious economic disturbance may be granted to a single company that is important for the national economy. EU law does not extend to competitors a right to the same aid. Introduction Between March 2020 and April 2021, the European Commission has authorised aid totalling more than EUR 2.5 trillion to remedy the serious economic disturbance caused […]

Draft New RDI Framework

The new RDI Framework provides continuity with clarity. On Monday, 19 April 2021, the European Commission published the new Regional Aid Guidelines for the period 2022-2027. They can be accessed at: https://ec.europa.eu/competition/state_aid/regional_aid/RAG_2021_adopted_communication.zip Introduction On 8 April 2021, the European Commission published the text of the draft new RDI Framework and launched public consultation.[1] The draft RDI Framework is accompanied by […]

State Guarantee to an Energy Project

A state guarantee can bridge the funding gap of an infrastructure project. Introduction State aid rules allow energy infrastructure projects to be supported by as much aid as is necessary to bridge their “funding gap”; i.e. the difference between the initial investment cost and the present value of their expected net operating revenue which is the future gross revenue minus […]

Lease Contracts and Competitive Selection

Vague award criteria can be discriminatory and harm the transparency of the selection procedure. Introduction After receiving a complaint, the Commission opened a formal investigation into alleged State aid granted by the Estonian Ministry of Rural Affairs to AS Tartu Agro, a private limited company, which produced milk, meat and cereals. According to the complaint, the Ministry had granted unlawful […]

“Global” Assessment of Tax Schemes

It is incumbent on the Commission to carry out a global assessment of tax schemes. But it must take into account only those provisions of schemes that apply ex ante and do not depend on the circumstances of individual tax payers. Only when aid has to be recovered must the provisions that apply to the specific circumstances of individual tax […]

Exclusive Rights and State Aid

Exclusive rights may constitute State aid if they mandate payments with resources over which the state can exercise control. Compensation for the cost of public service obligations may be granted only if the obligations are clear and define a service that is different from market services. Introduction Article 106(1) TFEU requires Member States not to distort competition when they grant […]

The Pan-European Guarantee Fund: The First State Aid Instrument at EU Level

The Fund managed by the EIB constitutes State aid granted collectively by participating Member States. Introduction One of the many responses of the European Union to the economic harm wreaked by the pandemic was the establishment of the Pan-European Guarantee Fund [the Fund] by the European Investment Bank. Member States were invited to contribute to the Fund. This is both […]

Can the Decision of a Private Entity be Imputed to the State?

A measure is imputable to the state whenever the state is involved in its adoption or shapes the decision that leads to its adoption. Introduction One of the trickiest aspects of determining whether a financial transaction involves State aid is its attribution or imputation to a decision of the state, especially when the entity providing the funding is private. Private […]

State Aid May be Limited to Undertakings with Close Links with the National Economy (Part II)

State aid may be used to compensate airlines licensed by domestic authorities for losses incurred as a result of national travel restrictions. [In case you have missed part I, you can access it here.] Introduction The European Commission acted swiftly to adopt a fairly accommodating and wide-ranging “Temporary Framework” to regulate State aid for the purposes of counter-acting the impact […]

State Aid May be Limited to Undertakings with Close Links with the National Economy (Part I)

State aid may be used to compensate airlines licensed by domestic authorities for losses incurred as a result of national travel restrictions. Introduction The European Commission acted swiftly to adopt a fairly accommodating and wide-ranging “Temporary Framework” to regulate State aid for the purposes of counter-acting the impact of covid-19. The Temporary Framework was welcomed by both Member States and […]

Liquidity Assistance to Banks to Counter the Effects of Covid-19

Any direct public support of financial institutions affected by covid-19 has to comply with both State aid rules and the rules of the banking union. Introduction The Temporary Framework for State aid to combat covid-19 excludes financial institutions. But it does not mean that banks do not benefit indirectly from State aid granted to other sectors of the economy. This […]

The State Acting as a Regulator

When the state acts as a regulator, it does not have to charge a licence fee that maximises its revenue. Introduction Governments can influence the allocation of resources with at least three instruments: subsidisation, taxation and regulation. All three may contain State aid; if subsidies are selective, if taxes allow for exemptions and if regulation involves charges which are not […]

Helsinki Busses, Loans, Article 93 and Indemnification

Bus transportation provided by public authorities constitutes economic activity. Loans given by a public authority to its transport unit have to be priced at market rates. The market value of public assets sold to third parties has to reflect any state indemnities. Temporary Framework The European Commission announced on 28 January 2021 a fifth amendment to the Temporary Framework. [1] […]

Training and State Resources

The definition of quality indicators and the establishment of certificates of quality do not amount to control by the state over the resources belonging to non-state entities. Introduction Consider the case of a public university which decides to finance the proposal of one of its researchers to launch a research project in collaboration with a private company. For sure the […]

Funding of Public Hospitals

Public healthcare provided in accordance with the principle of social solidarity is not economic in nature. Introduction There are two sectors where economic and non-economic activities mix and cause potential State aid problems: healthcare and education. Healthcare and education provided by public institutions do not differ much from healthcare and education provided by private institutions. The critical difference is not […]

A First Evaluation of Covid-19 State Aid

There is a significant variation across Member States in terms of the number of aid measures as well as the amount of aid. Introduction On 17 December 2020, the European Parliament published a report evaluating the impact of State aid to combat covid-19.[1] The report was requested by the committee responsible for economic policy. The report is probably the first […]

One Agreement, Two Parallel Systems: Subsidies in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and the UK

The agreement on subsidies allows the UK to deviate from EU State aid rules. Introduction After the exit of the United Kingdom [UK] from the European Union [EU] on 31 January 2020, EU State aid rules continued to apply to the UK during a transitional period that came to an end on 31 December 2020. In the closing days of […]

The Time Horizon of a Private Investor

A public authority that claims that it invests for the long term, must still prove that its investment is likely to be profitable. Introduction Public authorities may invest in private companies. However, they need to behave as private investors otherwise they confer an advantage that constitutes State aid. In their defence, public authorities claiming that they act as private investors, […]

Attribution to the State does not necessarily Imply Control by the State

Prices fixed by the state do not necessarily confer control to the state over the private resources which are used to pay those prices. Introduction Judging from how many times EU courts have been asked to interpret the concept of state resources, it seems that one of the most difficult aspects of Article 107(1) TFEU is to determine whether funding […]

The Law, Economics and Art of Compensation for Public Service Obligations

State aid in the form of compensation for public service obligations must exclude any intangible benefits from the obligation, but may include reasonable profit. The Commission guidelines for State aid in agriculture and forestry, the block exemption regulations covering agriculture, forestry, fishery and aquaculture, and the Regulation on de minimis aid for fishery and aquaculture have been prolonged to 31 […]

A Rare Case of Altmark-compliant SGEI (Part II)

For a service to be in the general economic interest, it must be shown to fill a gap in the market or to offer what the market fails to provide adequately. [In case you have missed part I, you can access it here.] Introduction Services of general economic interest [SGEI] are important for the functioning of European societies. However, the […]

A Rare Case of Altmark-compliant SGEI (Part I)

For a service to be in the general economic interest, it must be shown to fill a gap in the market or to offer what the market fails to provide adequately. Introduction Services of general economic interest [SGEI] are important for the functioning of European societies. However, the granting of compensation to an undertaking for the provision of SGEI must […]

De Minimis Aid

If different awards of de minimis aid bring the total amount over the ceiling of EUR 200,000, Member States may withdraw aid already granted or reduce the amount of aid that is scheduled to be granted or simply refuse to grant aid so as to ensure that the total remains below the ceiling for any three-fiscal year period. Introduction A […]

What is the Value of Informal Commission Communications?

An official’s statement can be imputed to his authority if it can be reasonably assumed that the official speaks on behalf of the authority. Introduction It is often asked by national officials how much credence they should give to assurances by Commission officials in the absence of a formal Commission decision and what is the legal value of such assurances. […]

The Concept of SME, Indirect Control by Public Bodies and New Problems for Public Universities and Research Organisations

I am grateful to Peter Staviczky for comments on an earlier draft. A company that is owned by more than 25% by public bodies is not considered to be an SME, regardless of whether those public bodies actually exercise direct or indirect control. A public university can be a public body. Temporary Framework Update: Number of approved and published covid-19 […]

Evaluation of EU State Aid Rules: Need for Greater Transparency

On Friday, 30 November 2020, the European Commission published a Staff Working Document [SWD(2020) 257 final] presenting and assessing the results of the evaluation of the main State aid rules of the EU. The SWD explains the aims of the State Aid Modernisation [SAM] that was launched in 2012 and summarises the findings of the Fitness Check of the GBER, […]

The Common European Interest and the Environmental Impact of State Aid: The Case of Nuclear Power

I am grateful to Peter Staviczky for comments on an earlier version. The possible negative impact of State aid on the environmental is taken into account when the aid measure violates directly the relevant EU law. The Commission protects the interests of other Member States by ensuring that the negative effects of State aid are kept to the minimum possible. […]

Employees’ Social Security Contributions and Compensation for Damage

Fiscal benefits to employees do not constitute State aid as long as they do not confer a direct or indirect advantage to their employers. Update on Temporary Framework: Number of approved and published Covid-19 measures, as of 16 October 2020: 302* Legal basis: Article 107(2)(b): 32; Article 107(3)(b): 255; Article 107(3)(c): 23 Average number of measures per Member State: 11 […]

Market Economy Operator Principle: The Case of FIH

Negotiated transactions are not necessarily market conform. Update on Temporary Framework: Number of approved and published covid-19 measures, as of 9 October 2020: 295* Legal basis: Article 107(2)(b): 32; Article 107(3)(b): 248; Article 107(3)(c): 23 – Average number of measures per Member State: 10.5 – Median number of measures per Member State: 12 – Mode number of measures per Member […]

Member States Beware: Compliance with the GBER and the SME Criteria has just Become more Difficult

I am grateful to Péter Staviczky for comments on an earlier draft of this article. I am solely responsible for its contents. The European Commission retains its sole right to assess the compatibility of aid granted on the basis of the GBER. Criteria defined in national law need not be taken into account by the Commission. The SME status has […]

Market Economy Operator Test

A rational airport operator considers only incremental revenue and costs and ignores any cost not caused by an agreement with an airline. State aid developments: New Guidelines in State aid in EU ETS The Commission published on Friday, 25 September, in Official Journal C 317, p.5, the new Guidelines on State aid measures in the context of the system for […]

A Real Estate Deal that Does not Affect Intra-EU Trade

Operators selected through competitive, transparent, non-discriminatory and unconditional procedures receive no State aid. When only a single bid is submitted, the market conformity of the outcome must be verified with comparative analysis. Activities are purely local when they are not likely to attract customers or operators from abroad. Update on Temporary Framework: Number of approved and published covid-19 measures, as […]

Non-economic Activities and Services of General Economic Interest

Non-economic tasks and economic activities which are inseparable from those non-economic tasks are together, as a bundle, non-economic in nature. Public compensation for the extra costs of services of general economic interest [SGEI] may not cross-subsidise activities that fall outside the scope of the SGEI. Update on Temporary Framework: Number of approved and published covid-19 measures, as of 11 September […]

State Control without State Imputability

A snapshot of Covid-19 State aid Number of Covid-19 approved measures1, 2 [EU27 + UK, 4 September 2020] 19-15 13-11 9-7 6-4 BE CZ DK IT PL DE FR HU LV NL BG EL FI IE LT LU MT RO SE SK UK AT CY EE ES HR PT SI Source: DG Competition, author’s own calculations 1: Data exclude amendments […]

Pari Passu Investments

Update on Temporary Framework: Number of approved and published covid-19 measures, as of 28 August 2020: 270* Legal basis: Article 107(2)(b): 28; Article 107(3)(b): 228; Article 107(3)(c): 21 Four Member States have implemented 15 or more covid-19 measures each: Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy & Poland. – Average number of measures per Member State: 9.6 – Median number of measures […]

The Non-economic Nature of Certain IT Services for Higher Education

Publicly funded educational services are not economic in nature. Activities intrinsically linked to public tasks are not economic in nature. Update on Temporary Framework: Number of approved and published covid-19 measures, as of 21 August 2020: 262* Legal basis: Article 107(2)(b): 28; Article 107(3)(b): 220; Article 107(3)(c): 20 Four Member States have implemented 16 or more covid-19 measures each: Belgium, […]

MEIP-Compliant Bank Recapitalisation: CEC Bank

An investor who is already a shareholder would take into account not only the return on new investment but also the impact on the overall profitability of the company in which capital is injected. Update on Temporary Framework: Number of approved and published covid-19 measures, as of 14 August 2020: 252* Legal basis: Article 107(2)(b): 27; Article 107(3)(b): 211; Article […]

The Commission Must Act in Accordance with the Principle of Proportionality

The opening of a formal investigation obliges Member States to suspend implementation of their State aid measures. Update on Temporary Framework: Number of approved and published covid-19 measures, as of 7 August 2020: 241* Legal basis: Article 107(2)(b): 25; Article 107(3)(b): 203; Article 107(3)(c): 18 Four Member States have implemented 15 or more covid-19 measures each: Belgium, Denmark, Italy & […]

Draft Regional Aid Guidelines: Simpler and Clearer

Update on Temporary Framework: Number of approved and published covid-19 measures, as of 31 July 2020: 235* Legal basis: Article 107(2)(b): 24; Article 107(3)(b): 198; Article 107(3)(c): 18 Five Member States have implemented 13 or more covid-19 measures each: Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy & Poland. – Average number of measures per Member State: 8.3 – Median number of measures per […]

Taxation of Multinational Companies: The Apple Case – A Political Setback for the Commission, but a Victory on Principle

Defects, incompleteness and inconsistencies in tax rulings are not sufficient to prove the existence of an advantage in the meaning of Article 107(1) TFEU. Update on Temporary Framework: Number of approved and published covid-19 measures, as of 17 July 2020: 213* Legal basis: Article 107(2)(b): 21; Article 107(3)(b): 179; Article 107(3)(c): 18 Five Member States have implemented 13 or more […]

2019 Competition Report

The Annual Competition Report is a useful document, but it should provide more information on the results of the ex post evaluations and ex post monitoring. Update on Temporary Framework: Number of approved and published COVID-19 measures, as of 10 July 2020: 202* Legal basis: Article 107(2)(b): 20; Article 107(3)(b): 171; Article 107(3)(c): 17 Six Member States have implemented 11 […]

Third Amendment to the Temporary Framework & Prolongation of the GBER, De Minimis Regulation and Guidelines

Micro and small enterprises in difficulty are no longer excluded from the Temporary Framework. Undertakings in difficulty as a result of COVID-19 are no longer excluded from the GBER and Guidelines. Update on Temporary Framework: Number of approved and published COVID-19 measures, as of 3 July 2020: 185* Legal basis: Article 107(2)(b): 17 Article 107(3)(b): 155; Article 107(3)(c): 16 Five […]

Health Insurance Based on Social Solidarity Is Non-economic

I am grateful to Peter Staviczky for comments on an earlier version of this article. I am, of course, solely responsible for the views expressed here. Public funding of health insurance systems based on social solidarity does not constitute State aid. Limited competition for the purpose of increasing efficiency does not affect the non-economic nature of such systems. Update on […]

The Commission’s White Paper on Foreign Subsidies: A Real Problem that Needs Sharper Tools

The European Commission proposes new instruments to counter unfair foreign subsidies and acquisition of European companies. Temporary Framework: Number of approved Covid-19 measures, as of 20 June 2020: 164* Legal basis: Article 107(2)(b): 14; Article 107(3)(b): 137; Article 107(3)(c): 15 Fifteen measures support R&D, testing or production of Covid-19 related products. Three measures support recapitalisation. The Member States with the […]

Direct v Indirect Advantages: The Case of Sardinian Airports

Public funding that flows through intermediaries to third parties also counts as a state resource if the intermediaries carry out instructions by the funding authority. Temporary Framework: Number of approved covid-19 measures, as of 12 June 2020: 154* Legal basis: Article 107(2)(b): 14; Article 107(3)(b): 130; Article 107(3)(c): 14 Three recapitalisation measures have been approved [Finland, Lithuania & Poland]. The […]

When State Aid Gets Political

We are happy to receive a guest comment on the EU – UK post-Brexit trade negotiations from Professor Emerita, Erika Szyszczak, who is a Fellow of UKTPO at the University of Sussex. This is a longer version of an earlier Blog published on the UKTPO website. Control over State aid is a stumbling block for the future of an EU […]

Private Investor and Preferential Regulatory Treatment

The existence of an advantage has to be proven, not presumed just because its absence cannot be confirmed. Preferential treatment may distort competition but it is not necessarily State aid if there is no transfer of state resources. Temporary Framework: Number of approved covid-19 measures, as of 5 June 2020: 148* Legal basis: Article 107(2)(b): 13; Article 107(3)(b): 125; Article […]

i) Investor-State Arbitration ii) Recovery of Incompatible State Aid iii) State Aid Scoreboard 2019

Member States abolish bilateral investment treaties between themselves. When the Commission orders recovery of incompatible State aid, interest has to be added to the recoverable amount for the whole period of illegality regardless of any national limitation rules. In 2018, Member States granted EUR 121 billion to industry and services, EUR 6.3 billion to agriculture and EUR 50 billion to […]

State Aid for i) Water Development ii) Travel

Aid to individuals in the context of social policy is compatible with the internal market as long as it is granted without discrimination on the origin of products or services. Temporary Framework: Number of approved covid-19 measures, as of 22 May 2020: 129* Legal basis: Article 107(2)(b): 9; Article 107(3)(b): 111; Article 107(3)(c): 12 * Excludes amendments to previously notified […]

No New Aid to Undertakings that Have not Yet Repaid Incompatible Aid

There is no rule in EU law obliging Member States to grant State aid. The European Commission may refuse to authorise aid until previous aid that was found to be incompatible with the internal market is paid back. Temporary Framework: Number of approved covid-19 measures, as of 16 May 2020: 125* Legal basis: Article 107(2)(b): 10; Article 107(3)(b): 105; Article […]

Belgium and COVID-19: The European Commission Approves Several Belgian State Aid Measures

We are happy to share with you an update on the Covid-19 measures that have been approved in Belgium. Our guest auhor Wout De Cock is a PhD candidate at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and part-time teaching assistant at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.* Introduction In issue 1/2020 of the European State Aid Law Quarterly, we concluded that the European Commission […]

Advantage Must be Proven, Not Assumed

The European Commission has to consider whether the private investor principle is applicable in cases of state investments. It is for Member States to prove that their investments conform with the private investor principle. Temporary Framework As of 9 May 2020, the European Commission had approved 113 State aid measures to combat covid-19. Their legal basis was: Article 107(2)(b): 10; […]

Non-recovery of Incompatible State aid Is Costly

Legal and practical difficulties in the recovery of incompatible State aid do not constitute justifiable “absolute impossibility”. Temporary Framework On 1 May, the total number of State aid measures to combat covid-19 approved by the European Commission reached 102. Their legal basis was: Article 107(2)(b): 9; Article 107(3)(b): 86; Article 107(3)(c): 7   Introduction The 2020 Temporary Framework for State […]

Identification of Undertakings in Difficulty

A company is in difficulty if, in practice, its accumulated net losses exceed 50% of its subscribed capital, regardless of whether the subscribed capital is formally written down. The classification of a company as being in difficulty is independent of the sector in which it operates and of whether a private investor would be willing to invest in it. Temporary […]

How to Price a Guarantee

The pricing of a guarantee must take into account not only the financial situation of the borrower but also the value of any collateral. Temporary Framework As of 17 April 2020, the European Commission authorised 61 State aid measures from 23 Member States and the UK to combat covid-19.   Introduction State guarantees on loans make up the largest category […]

COVID-19 Measures Adopted and State Aid Measures (Hopefully) to Be Adopted: An Update from Cyprus

We are happy to share with you an update on the Covid-19 measures that are or will be adopted in Cyprus. Our guest auhor Michail Kamperis is a lawyer and partner at the law firm of Ierotheou, Kamperis & Co. LLC Nicosia, Cyprus. * Sign up for our free news alert  Sign Up For Free   Cyprus is one of […]

Errors in State aid Procedures Need not Result in Annulment of a Commission Decision

Interested parties have a right to know how the compatibility of aid with the internal market is assessed. Temporary Framework developments As of 13 April 2020, the European Commission had authorised 51 measures adopted by 23 Member States. According to the statement of the Eurozone finance ministers of 9 April 2020, Member States had provided liquidity in the form of […]

Follow Up Webinar with Phedon Nicolaides on ‚COVID-19 and State Aid Law‘ on 20 April

The European Commission is working on quickly adapting the existing State aid legal framework to address the current Covid-19 pandemic. Join us on 20th April from the comfort and safety of your (home) office to get an insider update on the Covid-19 response by State aid experts from the European Commission and national governments. ✓ Join from wherever you are – […]

Open Access Content Related to Covid-19: At a Glance

During these tough times, Lexxion Publisher wants to help to spread current news and updates on new regulations or support measures for combating the impact of the corona pandemic. Various contributions will be available as open access during the upcoming weeks. This post lists all contributions and will be updated on a rolling basis. Contributions related to State Aid & […]

EU Decisions Override National Decisions on Compensation for Public Service Obligations

The principle of res judicata cannot be used to avoid recovery of incompatible State aid.   An update on State aid measures to counter the impact of COVID-19 As of 3 April 2020, the Commission has approved 29 measures submitted by 16 Member States. Article 107(3)(b) is the legal basis for 26 of those measures, while Article 107(2)(b) is the […]

Covid-19 Support Package for Entrepreneurs: An Update from Poland

We are happy to share with you an update on the Covid-19 support package that Poland is creating to support entrepeneurs fighting the impact of the corona pandemic. Our guest auhor P. Kamil Rosiak is Attorney-at-Law & Partner Associate at KPMG D.Dobkowski LP in Warsaw.* On 28 March 2020 the lower house of Polish parliament (Sejm) passed a bill (so […]

Live Webinar: Covid-19 & State Aid Law in the UK Now

Lexxion has created another new live webinar to keep you updated on current developments of Covid-19 and State aid law in the UK after Brexit. Leading State aid experts Jonathan Branton, George Peretz QC and Alexander Rose will work through the current EU State aid rules and answer your questions.   ✓ Join from wherever you are – high-quality content at […]

How to Make Good the Damage Caused by a Natural Disaster

Compensation for costs incurred as a result of a natural disaster is State aid. The compensation must be for damage directly caused by the natural disaster. Introduction State aid to make good the damage caused by an “exceptional occurrence” such as the corona virus covid-19 is compatible with the internal market. The legal basis for exemption is Article 107(2)(b). Of […]

Join our live webinar with Phedon Nicolaides on ‚COVID-19 and State Aid Law‘ on 2 April

Due to global developments and responding to various requests, Lexxion has created a live webinar to keep you updated on the latest news regarding the corona virus and State aid law. You can join from wherever you are and receive high-quality content at your (home) office.   In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, EU Member States are urgently rolling out […]

A New Temporary State aid Framework to Fight the Effects of the Corona Virus

Member States will be allowed to provide grants, guarantees and loans to companies to alleviate the effects of the corona virus. Introduction At the end of 2009, the European Commission adopted a Temporary Framework of State aid rules to enable Member States to support companies that were harmed by the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2008. Now, the corona […]

Has an Economic Myth Become a Legal Fact? The Case of Turnover Taxes

Progressive turnover taxes are not contrary to the freedom of establishment or the right of equal treatment. Introduction Recent cases involving “turnover” taxes have sparked a debate in the literature and on the conference circuit not only because they raise novel issues but also because of their implications for other taxes which are being mooted by European governments. As Advocate-General […]

Financial Transactions between the State and Banks with No State aid

Capital injections, state guarantees and loans granted to banks can be free of State aid if they are priced at market rates which reflect the risk borne by the state. Introduction If banks can obtain capital, loans and guarantees from the state at market rates why don’t they go directly to the market? No one has yet given a satisfactory […]

Public Funding of Infrastructure without State Aid

The existence of State aid must be checked at the level of both the direct and indirect beneficiaries who are the owners and users of infrastructure, respectively. If payments to private land owners are to be free of State aid, they must be calculated on the basis of an objective formula that takes into account the size and value of […]

Environmental Remediation and State Liability

Liability assumed by the state for the actions of an undertaking constitutes a selective advantage that may result in potential transfer of state resources in the future. Introduction On 16 January 2020 the General Court delivered its judgment in case T‑257/18, Iberpotash v European Commission.[1] Iberpotash, a Spanish company, appealed against Commission decision 2018/118. Iberpotash owns and operates potash mines […]

From Waste to Energy

State aid to incentivise the use of waste to produce energy must be individually notified. Introduction Waste management is an increasingly important aspect of policies aiming to prevent environmental degradation and slow down climate change. As the market for recycling expands and waste management becomes more profitable, there is also a higher risk of harm to competition by State aid. […]

An Important (and so far, Unique) Project of Common European Interest

State aid for important R&D projects of common European interest can cover different costs than the RDI Framework and at different rates of intensity. Introduction Several Member States have demanded a more active industrial policy to counteract perceived unfair foreign competition. The Commission’s response has partly been that current rules do allow cross-border cooperation for the development of innovative products. […]

How to Compensate for the Extra Cost of Public Service Obligations: Step-by-Step Guidance on a Complex Calculation

The “net avoided cost methodology” takes into account only incremental costs. Introduction The two most difficult issues in the design of State aid measures to support services of general economic interest [SGEI] are the proper definition of the public service obligation [PSO] and the identification of the “counterfactual” on the basis of which the public service compensation [PSC] is calculated. […]

State Aid Rules in the UK after Brexit: Alignment or Divergence?

The current rules will apply at least until 31 December 2020. Introduction On Saturday, 1 February 2020, the United Kingdom will no longer be a Member of the European Union. Will it then have to abide by EU State aid rules? According to the Agreement on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU, the whole of the UK will […]

Public Subsidies to Households Can Be State aid

Support for individual borrowers can be indirect State aid to banks.   Introduction The fact that a public measure has social objectives and aims to help poor households or disadvantaged persons instead of undertakings does not necessarily remove it from the reach of State aid rules. During the past decade, in response to the economic crisis, a number of Member […]

Exclusive Rights and Legal Monopolies

State aid rules can apply to sectors which are legal monopolies. Introduction The fact that a company enjoys exclusive rights and operates in a sector covered by a legal monopoly does not necessarily insulate it from State aid rules. This has been confirmed by the Court of Justice in its judgment of 19 December 2019, in case C-385/18, Arriva Italia […]

Bail-in Is the Responsibility of Member States

Commission approval of State aid to bail-out a bank does not give rise to right for compensation for creditors who are bailed-in. Introduction Investors in banks who lost their money have sought compensation both at EU and national level. So far, claims for damages at EU level have been unsuccessful. In some instances, the cases before EU and national courts […]

5 Most Read Articles on StateAidUncovered in 2019

Groundbreaking judgments like “Eesti Pagar”, applications of the private investor principle in air transport or questions of interpretation of the GBER besides many more, have moved and shaped this year’s judgments on State aid. Also Brexit and its meaning for State aid control in the UK has still been on everyone’s mind. See which articles by Prof. Phedon Nicolaides were […]

A Preferential Electricity Tariff Is Selective, Confers an Advantage and Distorts Competition

A judicial decision on interim measures is a selective measure. The private investor test does not apply to judicial decisions on interim measures. Introduction On 11 December 2019, in case C‑332/18 P, Mytilinaios Anonymos Etairia — Omilos Epicheiriseon v European Commission, the Court of Justice probably wrote the last chapter in a long-running case concerning privileges that had been granted […]

Can a Tax (rather than a Tax Exemption) Confer a Selective Advantage?

A tax that is levied at one level of government and does not apply to products and activities at a different level of government need not be selective. Introduction A tax exemption normally confers a selective advantage, unless it is justified by the logic of the tax. Counterintuitively, a tax itself can be selectively advantageous if its scope is too […]

Retroactive Application of the GBER

When an aid scheme is adjusted by limiting the eligible beneficiaries, it becomes “new” aid and must be notified to the Commission. The GBER can be applied retroactively to aid that was granted before it came into force.   Introduction In July 2016, Dilly’s Wellnesshotel wrote legal history for being the first undertaking to contest the application of the General […]

Will Brexit Usher in Protectionism?

The Financial Times reported on Friday, 29 November 2019, that the Conservative party in the UK announced that it would establish a different state aid system to “protect British industry after Brexit”. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was quoted to have said at a press conference on the same date that the new state aid system would make it “faster […]

Separability of Economic from Non-economic Activities

Activities which are inseparable from the exercise of official powers are non-economic. Introduction   Pure research whose results are widely disseminated is undoubtedly a non-economic activity. Research reports are often published on the internet. But the design and management of a research organisation’s website can be an economic activity. Plenty of private companies provide these services for a fee. Does […]

How to Assess a Shareholder Loan

A shareholder loan cannot be simply compared to a bank loan because the shareholder also benefits from improvements in the future profitability of the borrower. Introduction When a public authority grants a loan to a company, the methodology in the 2008 Commission communication on reference and discount rates can be used to determine whether the loan contains State aid. However, […]

Compensation to a Toll Road Operator

Contractual obligation to provide compensation that does not exceed the loss of income is not State aid. Introduction When is a company entitled to compensation by the state? The easy answer is “when the state is liable for damage”. However, it may be possible for a company to claim compensation from the state when the state has assumed contractual obligations. […]

Risk Finance

Risk finance measures for the support for large enterprises or SMEs which operate for longer than seven years fall outside the GBER and must be notified individually to the Commission. Introduction Since the State aid modernisation and the new rules that were introduced in 2014, only a handful of risk finance measures [7-8?] have been notified to the European Commission […]

Economic Continuity in Recovery of Incompatible State aid

The new owner of a company that received incompatible State aid may be liable to pay it back. Introduction   Companies rarely escape from the obligation to repay incompatible State aid. Over the past decade or so, very few companies have successfully argued that they legitimately expected that the aid they received was compatible with the internal market. When a […]

The Operator of an Economic Infrastructure is an Undertaking

The assignment of public service tasks to an infrastructure operator is not sufficient to prevent the application of State aid rules. Introduction The characterisation of an entity as an undertaking is activity based, not status based. If it carries out activities for which there is a market, it becomes an undertaking, regardless of providing services which are in the general […]

Production of Green Electricity

Member States may reduce the amount of State aid they grant and companies may not claim they have a right to State aid. Introduction Close to 60% of all aid granted to industry and services in the EU goes to support environmental protection, energy efficiency and the generation of electricity from renewable sources of energy. However, as technology improves, the […]

Attempting to Minimise Past State aid Is of No Interest to a Private Investor

A public authority acting as a private investor ignores past State aid. Introduction It is now a settled principle that when a public authority intends or pretends to act as a private investor it must not take into account any past aid it has granted to the company in which it wants to invest. On 19 September 2019, the General Court […]

Public Service Obligations, Duration of Entrustment and Reasonable Profit

The duration of entrustment should not exceed the economic life of the investment and the rate of return should reflect the commercial risk of that investment. Introduction Is a 55-year entrustment through a direct award compatible with EU rules? And is a profit rate that exceeds the risk-free rate of return reasonable? These are some of the questions that the […]

Enforcement of State Aid Rules by National Courts

Private enforcement has increased, but damages for illegal granting of State aid have been successfully claimed in just one case. Introduction   According to the annual competition report that was published in July, Member States use the GBER to implement 96% of their new aid measures.[1] This impressive outcome should be seen in conjunction with the recent rulings of the Court […]

“Invest-NL”: A New Promotional Bank

A state-owned promotional or development bank can pursue public policy objectives and also invest on terms which are acceptable to private investors. Introduction During the past decade or so several Member States have established “promotional” or “development” banks for the purpose of investing where the market does not. Private investors may be reluctant to commit their money for a variety […]

Sale of a Bank without State aid

The sale must be open, transparent, non-discriminatory, unconditional and the winning bid must be the offer with the highest price. Introduction The German HSH Nordbank used to be the largest provider of ship finance in the world. It had commercial presence in over 20 major financial centres. Before the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2008, HSH Nordbank had a […]

Individually Notified Regional Aid

All individual awards of aid granted to the same project over a three-year period have to be counted together and remain below the maximum allowable aid intensity in relation to the sum of eligible costs. Introduction Hungary operates an aid scheme that offers tax credits to encourage regional investment. The scheme has been implemented on the basis of the GBER […]

Presumed v Actual Compatibility of State aid with the Internal Market

State aid granted on the basis of the GBER may not be considered as authorised by the Commission. The task of Member States is to ensure that all of the requirements of the GBER are fulfilled. In particular, Member States must confirm the incentive effect of aid to large enterprises. Introduction[1]   In March 2019, the Court of Justice delivered […]

A Curious Case of Port Concessions

The obligations of a concessionaire may be made less onerous in order to enable it to remain in operation. Any adjustment of the obligations takes into account the possible legal defences of the concessionaire. Introduction The Market Economy Investor Principle [MEIP] is a powerful concept. Its many variations attest to its versatility [e.g. market economy investor, operator, vendor, creditor]. It […]

Repayable Advances for Support of Research Projects

The amount of State aid in a repayable advance to support research projects is the difference between the return a private investor would demand and the actual return for the funding authority. Introduction According to the staff working paper accompanying the 2018 annual competition report that was published on 15 July 2019, 95% of all State aid measures supporting R&D […]

Aid to Providers of Local Services through Exclusive Contracts Can still Affect Cross-border Trade

An exclusive contract can affect cross-border trade if the awarding authority has the option to use a competitive selection procedure. Aid to the operator of a legal monopoly may affect trade if the operator can cross-subsidise activities outside the area of the monopoly. Introduction A perennial question is whether aid to providers of local services can affect cross-border trade. Given […]

Transport: Airlines and Bus Operators

For investment aid to the operator of an airport to be considered as indirect aid to airlines, there must be an inseparable link between the aid and beneficiary airlines. For a competitor to claim that it is harmed by State aid, it must prove that its position in the relevant market is substantially affected. Ensuring that the costs of public […]

The Problem with Turnover Taxes

Economies of scale do not necessarily correlate with ability to pay. Introduction On Thursday, 11 July 2019, France became the first European country to adopt a tax on digital sales. At about the same time, President Donald Trump warned that the US would retaliate with punitive tariffs. The US believes that the tax is aimed at its internet giants such […]

The Rights of Unsuccessful Bidders in the Auctioning of State Assets

Competitors of aid recipients may challenge a Commission decision only if State aid causes substantial harm to them. Assets must be sold to the highest bidder who makes a credible offer. Introduction If a public authority sells a state asset at a price below its market rate it grants State aid to the buyer. The market price is the highest […]

Investor Protection and Existing Aid

Aid granted before accession to the EU may not be assessed by the Commission. Introduction It is fairly safe to say that in the sixty years of case law on State aid, the Court of Justice has ruled that there are just four instances in which payment of public money to an undertaking does not constitute State aid on the […]

1) The European Commission Does not Have to Identify Individual Beneficiaries in its Recovery Decisions 2) Revision of the GBER [InvestEU, Seal of Excellence, ETC]

This week’s article deals with two issues: possible defence against repayment of incompatible State aid and the forthcoming revision of the GBER. Introduction In 2008, the Commission ordered France to recover incompatible aid that had been granted by means of several public measures to support farmers [see Commission decision 2009/402]. What made that decision interesting was that part of the […]

Application of the MEOP to Energy Infrastructure

A public authority that acts as a private operator may charge what the market can bear. Introduction In January 2019, Germany notified to the Commission, for reasons of legal certainty, investment of the municipality of Hamburg in a district heating network. The Commission, in decision SA.52390, found that the investment in Hamburg District Heating Network conformed with the Market Economy […]

How to Value Land in Complex Land Swaps

A private investor assesses all components of a complex transaction and takes into account not just profit, but also the legal implications of the prospective transaction and possible future liability.   Introduction   When a public authority sells land, it should either auction it through a competitive and unconditional process or have it valued beforehand by an independent expert.Sometimes, public […]

Is it OK to Tax Company Size?*

Progressive tax rates that are consistent with the objective of the tax system are not necessarily selective. Introduction Member States are free to design their corporate tax systems as long as they do not grant State aid or infringe fundamental internal market freedoms. A question that arises in discussions on what Member States may or may not do when designing […]

I) Unlimited State Guarantees II) Effect on Trade

A competitor who wants to challenge a Commission decision authorising State aid without a formal investigation must, first, show that it is seriously harmed by the aid. Introduction This week’s article reviews two judgments: one on unlimited state guarantees granted by France [case T-135/17, Scor v European Commission][1] and another on aid that was found not to affect trade between Member […]

Not Every Compensation Is a Compensation in the Meaning of Altmark

Regulation and licensing do not constitute obligations for the provision of an SGEI. Compensation for changes in public policy is not compensation that complies with the Altmark conditions. Introduction The calculation of the compensation for the net extra costs of public service obligations [PSO] is a difficult task. On 15 May 2019, in case C-706/17, Achema et al v Lithuania […]

What Happens when Internal Market Rules and State Aid Rules Clash?

A tax refund may not be granted, if it constitutes non-notified State aid.   Introduction   It is a well-established principle that restrictions on internal market rights or freedoms may not be attached to a State aid measure. Indeed, current State aid rules [e.g. GBER, guidelines] explicitly exclude from their scope any aid measure which is inseparably linked to a […]

There Is No Threshold below which Economic Activities Can Be Considered to be Non-economic

Non-economic activities have to be accounted separately from economic activities. The exercise of public tasks assigned by the state cannot protect an undertaking from State aid rules. State aid distorts competition even when it aims to remedy distortions. Introduction Ports, like other transport infrastructures, may operate under public obligations some of which may be of economic and some of non-economic […]

Competitors’ Rights

A competitor must show that it is substantially affected by State aid approved by the Commission in order to challenge the Commission’s decision. Merely being affected by the aid is not enough. To show that aid has a substantial impact, it is first necessary to define the relevant market. This is different from the “distortion of competition” in the meaning […]

Land Development: The Case of Jaguar Land Rover Slovakia

Public funding of infrastructure which is not constructed for the specific needs of a company is not State aid.   Introduction An article carried by the Financial Times on 1 May 2019 revealed that Jaguar Land Rover [JLR] decided to make again the iconic Land Rover Defender. The production of this legendary off-roader ended about 10 years ago because it […]

The Commission Must Explain its Decision

A Commission decision that affects the legal position of an undertaking is actionable before EU courts. The opening of the formal investigation procedure must lead the Member State concerned to suspend the aid measure and may result in a recovery ruling by a national court. The Commission must be consistent in its reasoning. If it cannot use certain information at […]

State Control: The Case of EEG 2012

There is crucial difference between control by the state over resources and attribution to the state of the aid granting decision.   Introduction According to the latest edition of the State aid Scoreboard, in 2017 Member States granted a total of EUR 105 billion of State aid to manufacturing and services. Of that amount, 58% or EUR 61 billion supported […]

Spanish Football Clubs Score against the Commission: a) Linked Advantages and Disadvantages Must be Assessed Together b) In Determining the Existence of an Advantage, the Commission Must Explain both what it Takes into Account and what it Ignores

State measures which are linked and produce both positive and negative effects, must be considered together to determine whether they confer a net advantage to undertakings. Counter-guarantees must be taken into account to determine the existence of advantage even if they are provisional.   Introduction Member States have in a number of cases tried to defend tax reductions or tax […]

The Boundary between State and Private Resources

Discretion in the form of intervention can remove it from the control of the state.   Introduction Suppose a thug puts a gun to your head and demands your wallet. Because you have sentimental photos in your wallet, you offer instead the keys to your car. You would rather lose the car than the wallet. Can the thug claim in […]

The Incentive Effect of Public Funding of Infrastructure in Tranches

Public funding of functionally and commercially severable parts of an infrastructure project may have incentive effect even after construction is completed on some of the parts. A subsidy for the operation of a toll motorway may not constitute State aid.   Introduction State aid granted to a project that has already started lacks incentive effects and, therefore, cannot be found […]

National Authorities Must Recover Aid they Grant Mistakenly

Assurances from granting authorities cannot guarantee the legality of State aid. Aid recipients must verify that the aid is granted correctly.   Introduction The Commission must stop its misguided policy of not making public the answers it provides to Member States on questions of interpretation of the General Block Exemption Regulation [GBER]. This is one of the consequences of a […]

Many Tax Rulings Do Not Make a Single Aid Scheme

The autonomy that Member States enjoy in the field of direct taxation must be exercised in compliance with EU State aid law. A State aid measure is considered to be a “scheme” when (a) no further implementing acts are necessary, (b) the granting authority has no discretion in how the measure is applied and (c) the measure defines the eligible […]

How Can Incompatible State Aid Be Passed-on from one Company to another to Avoid Recovery?

Introduction State aid that is incompatible with the internal market has to be paid back, unless the repayment would be contrary to a general principle of EU law. Last November the Court of Justice ruled in case C‑622/16 P, Scuola Elementare Maria Montessori v European Commission that “(79) the principle that ‘no one is obliged to do the impossible’ is among the […]