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The Interplay between the European Commission, National Authorities and National Courts in State Aid Law: journal article

An Attempt to Cut the Gordian Knot

Ranjana Andrea Achleitner

European State Aid Law Quarterly, Volume 21 (2022), Issue 2, Page 173 - 180

The interplay between the Commission, national courts and national authorities in the system of State aid enforcement poses a number of challenges and potential conflicts, which, in the end – as undoubtedly showcased by the Eesti Pagar judgment– also put the aid beneficiaries under great pressure in the context of the General Block Exemption Regulation. This article attempts to identify the most important problems and challenges related to the division of roles between the institutions in State aid law, with the intention of proposing solutions that provide legal certainty for relevant undertakings, the national authorities and national courts. The article also discusses the fact that despite the growing number of private enforcement litigation, the national courts have rarely concluded that unlawful aid was granted and rarely awarded remedies. The purpose of this paper is to provide proposals for more effective private enforcement. Finally, the article pays particular attention to the limited use of cooperation tools and suggests an update of these mechanisms. Keywords: private enforcement; eState-Wiki; GBER; standstill obligation; unlawful aid



2ND ESTAL PHD AWARD NOMINATIONS ∙ Soft Law and Their Symbiotic Relationship with the Block Exemptions? journal article

A Nordic Perspective

Katrine Lillerud

European State Aid Law Quarterly, Volume 20 (2021), Issue 3, Page 337 - 358

This article provides an overview of the position of quasi-legislative measures also referred to as ‘soft law’ before and after the State aid Modernisation (SAM). The main intention of the article is to illustrate the symbiotic relationship between the revised horizontal and sectorial guidelines with the general block exemption regulation (GBER) after SAM. It demonstrates how a selected handful of horizontal and sectorial guidelines have been transformed to facilitate better use of the block exemption to enhance the Commission’s own policy objectives, in a nice hand in glove fit with the GBER to nudge States into block exempted expenditure. The empirical study compares Norway, Sweden and Finland’s use of the GBER and guidelines. It shows that the framework is now more than ever nudging aid expenditure. The micro study reveals a drastic change in use before and after SAM in the three Nordic countries – underling the nudging power of the reform. Keywords: EStAL PhD Award; soft law; guidelines; GBER; horizontal; SAM; nudging; Nordics.


2ND ESTAL PHD AWARD NOMINATIONS ∙ Minimisation of the Expected Cost of Error in EU State Aid Enforcement journal article

Anna Nowak-Salles

European State Aid Law Quarterly, Volume 20 (2021), Issue 3, Page 359 - 369

This article, based on a thesis defended at the European University Institute in October 2020, pursues a twofold aim: first, to apply the error framework, which is an economic analysis tool used in competition law, to State aid, and to discover what determines the expected cost of error in this area. Second, to reflect on whether this expected cost might be reduced and to provide ideas where improvements might be sought. For this purpose, it verifies whether errors in State aid assessment at the Commission and the national level are rare, cheap and effectively corrected. On the basis of this analysis, which constitutes an original assessment of the reform of Procedural Regulation and of the GBER, it draws useful conclusions and formulates some recommendations as to how to increase accuracy at a reasonable cost. Keywords: State aid procedure; error in assessment; notification procedure; GBER.


Eesti Pagar: A Formalistic Approach to Incentive Effect and Recovery Procedures journal article

Caroline Buts, Péter Staviczky

European State Aid Law Quarterly, Volume 20 (2021), Issue 4, Page 546 - 559

Eesti Pagar constitutes a milestone in State aid law. This article provides an overview of the judgment and discusses, in chronological order, the topics of the five questions dealt with by the Court. First, we review the importance of the criterium incentive effect and more specifically the timing of the aid application in relation to the start of the project. Second, we analyse the obligation of a national authority to recover unlawful aid, also in the absence of a Commission decision. Third, we investigate whether actions by national authorities (in breach of EU law) can cause legitimate expectations for an aid beneficiary. Fourth, regarding recovery procedures without a Commission decision, we reflect on the pertinent limitation period. Finally, we examine the applicable recovery interest rate. Keywords: incentive effect; complaints; recovery; (recovery) interest rate/reference rate; limitation period, GBER, illegal aid, obligation of national granting entities Milestones Preview: this article is based on a chapter of the upcoming second edition of the book 'Milestones in State Aid Case Law' (Lexxion 2022).


Legal Status and Legal Effects of the Commission’s State Aid Guidelines: journal article

The Case of the Guidelines on State Aid for Environmental Protection and Energy (EEAG) (2014-2020)

Catherine Banet

European State Aid Law Quarterly, Volume 19 (2020), Issue 2, Page 172 - 184

Looking at the practical case of the Guidelines on State aid for environmental protection and energy (EEAG) (2014-2020) and implementation of them, this article intends to re-open the debate on the legal status of soft law instruments in EU State aid policy. It analyses the recent case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union and the manner the latter distinguishes between the legal force and the legal effects of the State aid guidelines, not only on the Commission, but also on third parties like Member States. The article puts in perspective the careful approach of the Court in not recognising the possible indirect effects of the guidelines on Member States or individuals with the procedural and structural changes in the adoption of the guidelines. With the implementation of the State Aid Modernisation, a circular process in three steps has been established between the adoption of the General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER), the new State aid guidelines and the proposals for new secondary legislation. In this process, the guidelines assume the function of a bridge, building on the binding principles enshrined in the GBER and preparing the revision of sectoral EU directives and regulations. With the upcoming revision of the GBER and the EEAG which is now scheduled for adoption in 2021, the same dynamic will most probably apply. The revision of the GBER and the EEAG will need to reflect the content of the newly adopted Clean Energy Package for All Europeans, but will also play a crucial role in preparing the grounds for amending relevant secondary legislation in line with the Commission’s European Green Deal Strategy. Keywords: EEAG 2014-2020, renewable energy, support schemes, GBER, legal force, legal effects



A New Boost to National Recovery? · Case C‑349/17 Eesti Pagar · Annotation by Svein Terje Tveit journal article

Annotation on the Judgment of the Court (Grand Chamber) of 5 March 2019 in Case C‑349/17 Eesti Pagar AS v Ettevõtluse Arendamise Sihtasutus, Majandus- ja Kommunikatsiooniministeerium.

Svein Terje Tveit

European State Aid Law Quarterly, Volume 18 (2019), Issue 2, Page 186 - 191

On 5 March 2019, the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJ) issued an important ruling clarifying the scope of the national authorities’ obligation to recover unlawful State aid and the test for ‘incentive effect’ — a requirement for an aid measure to benefit from the General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER). The CJ confirms that national authorities must recover unlawful State aid also in cases where the aid is granted (wrongfully) under the GBER as regional investment aid and the Commission has not adopted any Decision. The aid beneficiary may not rely on the principle of protection of legitimate expectations even if the granting authority had recommended the aid beneficiary to apply for aid knowing that work on the project had begun before the aid application was submitted. In cases where the EU rules on limitation period and interests are not directly applicable, national rules apply, so that the national authorities must seek full recovery of the unlawful aid and thereby ensure the effectiveness of State aid rules. Keywords: GBER; Recovery; National enforcement; Unlawful aid; National legal basis.


Puzzles of the State Aid Rules on RDI journal article

Caroline Buts, Phedon Nicolaides, Hans Pirlet

European State Aid Law Quarterly, Volume 18 (2019), Issue 4, Page 489 - 509

Despite the improvement of the State aid rules on Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) during the past decade, stakeholders have claimed that the current rules are at points ambiguous, which results in a negative impact on innovation. By means of an exploratory case study and participatory action research, this article aims to identify the ambiguities in the RDI rules. While the rules are detailed and overall well explained, we detect three themes where ambiguities arise, ie non-economic activities, price calculation of goods or services provided by research organisations, and ancillary activities of research organisations together with the 20% threshold. For each of these categories, we discuss what constitutes a ‘safe’ interpretation of the concepts involved. This entails an interpretation that is in line with the case law as well as with the spirit of State aid control. Where appropriate and possible, we provide examples as well as suggestions for their practical implementation. Next to providing guidance regarding the detected ambiguities, this article aspires a contribution to the forthcoming revision of the State aid rules for RDI. Keywords: State aid policy; Research, Development and Innovation; GBER; RDI Framework.


State Aid in the Ports Sector: a Blessing or a Curse? journal article

Recent European Policy Initiatives and Measures from a Dutch Perspective.

Sarah Beeston, Pim Jansen, Kiek Brink

European State Aid Law Quarterly, Volume 17 (2018), Issue 3, Page 328 - 337

The European Commission sees the ports sector as a driving force for economic growth and regional development in Europe. It has recently developed various policy initiatives in this sector and taken measures whereby State aid control forms the key element. The Commission has opted for an approach based on two interlinked pillars. First, the Commission intends to create a (more) level playing field among European Union Member States, by using State aid rules to curb tax benefits for (public) companies in the ports sector. Second, further to the State Aid Modernisation Programme, the Commission is, to an increasing extent, pursuing an active European economic policy in the ports sector by means of exemptions from the prohibition of State aid. As a result, certain aid measures targeting market failures and objectives of a common European interest are permissible. In this article we will provide an analysis of recent developments and place them in their legal and policy-related context. We will specifically discuss the impact of these developments on seaports in the Netherlands.