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Must the Commission Prohibit State Aid That Harms the Environment? journal article

Phedon Nicolaides

European State Aid Law Quarterly, Volume 22 (2023), Issue 1, Page 17 - 28

This article investigates the compatibility with the internal market of State aid that may directly or indirectly harm the environment and climate. It examines the case law on State aid and compliance with Article 107(3) TFEU and concludes that the Court of Justice has not laid down any general obligation for the European Commission to prohibit any State aid measure that may have a harmful effect. The European Commission is only required to prohibit aid whose objective is inextricably linked to a contravention of EU environmental law. Keywords: environmental protection; green transition; Article 107(3)(c); inextricable contravention of EU law


Incentive Effect of State Aid: journal article

Necessity and Counterfactual

Phedon Nicolaides

European State Aid Law Quarterly, Volume 22 (2023), Issue 2, Page 132 - 149

A fundamental criterion of the compatibility of State aid with the internal market is the presence of incentive effect. State aid must be able to change the behaviour of the recipient undertakings. The purpose of this article is threefold. First, it reviews recent case law and Commission decisions on the presence or absence of incentive effect. Second, it argues that this simple, yet fundamental criterion of compatibility suffers from a serious weakness. Third, it proposes an alternative method for establishing the existence of an incentive effect. Even when the aid is granted before the start of work, it does not necessarily follow that it induces the recipient to do something extra. A savvy company that knows how State aid rules work can adjust its investment plans in such a way as to qualify for aid, even when it does not really need it. Therefore, the new approach proposed in this article goes beyond the current test of the existence of incentive effect, asking not just whether a specific investment or project would not be carried out without the aid, but also whether the project is ‘discretionary’, in the sense that it is not indispensable for the continued operation of the recipient company. Keywords: incentive effect; necessity of State aid; indispensable expenditure; discretionary expenditure



The Court of Justice Allows Member States to Compensate the Undertaking of their Choice: a Critique journal article

Phedon Nicolaides

European State Aid Law Quarterly, Volume 22 (2023), Issue 4, Page 371 - 380

State aid that compensates for damage caused by natural disasters or exceptional occurrences can run into many millions. It has the potential to cause a serious distortion to competition in the internal EU market. Yet, Article 107(2)(b) declares that aid compatible with the internal market without any prior assessment of its positive and negative effects by the Commission. This immediately raises the question - why is that aid considered by the TFEU to be compatible with the internal market? A corollary question is whether compensatory aid can be granted only to some of the undertakings harmed by a natural disaster or exceptional occurrence. The Court of Justice has recently answered the latter question by ruling that compensatory aid for a limited number of beneficiaries is not excluded by Article 107(2)(b). This paper argues that the latter question cannot be answered without deriving a plausible answer to the former question. Given the structure and overall objective of Article 107, a plausible answer is that compensatory aid tends to restore rather than distort competition. Therefore, compensatory aid that is granted to a limited number of beneficiaries is likely to be discriminatory beyond the extent that is inherent in any State aid measure and to cause excessive distortion of competition. Keywords: Article 107(2)(b) TFEU, compensation for damage, selectivity, discrimination.


The Evolving Interpretation of Article 107(3)(b) TFEU journal article

Phedon Nicolaides

European State Aid Law Quarterly, Volume 21 (2022), Issue 1, Page 31 - 42

This article reviews the evolving case law on Article 107(3)(b) TFEU. It is now established that State aid must be appropriate, necessary and proportional. However, this article finds that it is still not clear in the case law how they are to be applied in conjunction with each other. Several judgments of the General Court delivered in 2021 also indicate that the principle of proportionality can refer to both the amount of aid as well as to the scope of the aid measure. The 2021 judgments of the General Court represent a departure from previous case law in so far as they dispense with any assessment of the impact of State aid on trade and competition. Since aid on the basis of Article 107(3)(b) aims to remedy a serious economic disturbance, it is also presumed to be in the interest of all Member States. Pending cases before the Court of Justice may still reverse this new interpretation of the application of Article 107(3)(b). Keywords: Article 107(3)(b); appropriateness; necessity; proportionality; common European interest


Shedding Light into the ‘Black Box’ of State Aid: journal article

The Impact of Hinkley Point C on the Assessment of the Compatibility of State Aid

Phedon Nicolaides

European State Aid Law Quarterly, Volume 20 (2021), Issue 1, Page 4 - 14

The article argues that the judgment of the Court of Justice in case C-594/18 P Austria v Commission, which appeared to limit the criteria that the Commission uses to determine the compatibility of State aid, may have a positive impact on State aid control if it makes the assessment of the Commission more transparent. There is a need for greater transparency in the ‘weighing’ of the positive and negative effects of State aid and the ‘balancing’ of those effects. The weighing and balancing of the effects of State aid are not easy tasks. But it will be necessary for the Commission to be more explicit about the model it relies on to conclude that aid is compatible or not. Keywords: Article 107(3)(c) TFEU; compatibility with internal market; common interest; affectation of trade; distortion of competition; Hinkley Point C


The Design of Enforcement Institutions: journal article

Lessons from the UK’s New State Aid Control Regime

Phedon Nicolaides

European State Aid Law Quarterly, Volume 20 (2021), Issue 3, Page 370 - 383

Now that the UK is no longer a member of the European Union it has to substitute the EU system of State aid control with its own system for the control of subsidies. Brexiters have argued that this presents a unique opportunity to the UK to design a system that is less cumbersome and more effective than that of the EU. This article examines how the draft Subsidy Control Bill intends to address the three problems of the design of institutions responsible for the control of State aid or subsidies; ie the problems of discovery, assessment and enforcement. If finds that, by comparison to the EU system, the proposed UK system seems to grant more leeway to public authorities and to impose fewer formal requirements but also to require assessment of most subsidies by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). At the same time, the greater leeway creates more uncertainty about the conformity of subsidies with the various principles laid down in the Subsidy Control Bill. The Bill also leaves several issues unclear, especially with regard to the status of subsidies which are not referred to the CMA or subsidies which are granted contrary to CMA recommendations. The powers of the CMA are certainly more limited than those of the Commission. Keywords: EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement; UK Subsidy Control Bill; State aid regime; Competition and Markets Authority; Competition Appeal Tribunal.


The Limits of ‘Proportionate’ Discrimination journal article

Phedon Nicolaides

European State Aid Law Quarterly, Volume 20 (2021), Issue 3, Page 384 - 396

Challenges by Ryanair to Commission decisions that authorised Covid-19 related State aid have brought to the fore the important issue of discrimination in both individual aid measures and aid schemes. All State aid is to a certain extent discriminatory because it selectively favours certain undertakings over others which are in comparable situations. The question is how much discrimination is allowed under Article 107(2) and (3) TFEU, especially when Member States limit the number of eligible undertakings. The General Court has ruled that Member States are not obliged to grant State aid to any or all companies. They may limit the circle of beneficiaries. However, Member States may only grant aid that is appropriate for the objective it aims to achieve, necessary and proportionate for that purpose. This article argues that limiting the aid according to the extent of the links of the beneficiaries to the local economy appears to be a good proxy for the effectiveness of the aid, but it may also be disproportionately discriminatory because such links do not necessarily ensure that the beneficiaries actually contribute more to the local economy than non-beneficiaries or that they actually need the aid more than non-beneficiaries. Appropriately designed aid measures can reduce the degree of discrimination, by applying consistently and systematically objectively justified criteria, without compromising the effectiveness of the aid or forcing Member States to grant more aid than they can afford. The recent Court cases have exposed the hitherto unidentified conflict between the discretion of Member States to grant State aid only to a single or a few undertakings and the need to avoid disproportionate discrimination. Keywords: Article 107(2)(b); Article 107(3)(b); discrimination; proportionality; establishment; links with local economy.


The Corona Virus Can Infect Banks Too journal article open-access

The Applicability of the EU Banking and State Aid Regimes

Phedon Nicolaides

European State Aid Law Quarterly, Volume 19 (2020), Issue 1, Page 29 - 38

This paper examines possible options for Member States to redress the impact of the corona virus (SARS-CoV2) on financial institutions in the context of the directive on bank recovery and resolution, the regulation on the Single Resolution Mechanism and the State aid rules on banks. The EU banking regime requires, in principle, that the granting of State aid to a bank should lead to its resolution or liquidation. The paper considers how Member States may support banks outside the scope of Article 107(1) TFEU and how State aid may be granted without triggering resolution or liquidation. The current measures which are rolled out by European governments to support the real economy will indirectly benefit banks too. The paper reviews the recently announced ‘Temporary Framework’ according to which any ‘indirect aid’ to banks will not infringe the provisions of the directive or regulation. The paper identifies gaps in the current rules concerning solvent, but not systemic banks, ambiguities in the interpretation of the concept of ‘serious disturbance’ and unclear guidance as to how indirect aid may be minimised. Keywords: Bank resolution; Liquidation; Temporary Framework; COVID-19.


Can Selectivity Result from the Application of Non-Selective Rules? journal article

The Case of Engie

Phedon Nicolaides

European State Aid Law Quarterly, Volume 18 (2019), Issue 1, Page 15 - 28

This paper identifies a significant shift in the approach for determining whether a tax measure is selective. The European Commission, in its decisions on tax rulings, has found that the selective nature of the rulings stemmed from the fact that they endorsed arrangements whose terms deviated from those that would have been agreed under normal conditions of competition. Unlike its other decisions on tax rulings, the Commission in the Engie case does not examine whether Engie benefitted from treatment that was not available to other companies. Instead, the Commission bases its finding of selectivity on the fact that Engie minimised its tax liability. This is an ‘outcome-based’ approached rather than a ‘treatment-based’ approach which requires comparison between companies in similar situations. Without a benchmark of comparison, an outcome-based approach is meaningless. In addition, the Commission breaks new ground by finding a selective advantage in favour of Engie in the non-enforcement by Luxembourg of anti-abuse rules. The Commission asserts that Luxembourg should have refused to issue the tax ruling. Keywords: Selectivity; tax rulings; anti-abuse rules.