The EU antitrust rules on State aid aim to prevent Member States from distorting competition by giving companies receiving State assistance a “leg up” on their competitors. The concept of State “aid” is broad, and the circumstances under which it may unlawfully distort competition are not always obvious. In addition, the Treaty provisions and secondary legislation governing its lawfulness are complex. At the same time, the quantity of aid packages on offer is never short of considerable, and in principle new aid schemes have to be notified to the European Commission for approval. The Commission has sought to simplify things through a General Block Exemption Regulation (“GBER”) granting automatic approval to measures meeting the regulation’s requirements. The Commission estimates that the GBER exempts around 75% of all State aid measures. However, some forms of State aid fall outside the GBER’s scope and may give rise to Commission investigations. The recent and ongoing controversy around the Commission’s high profile investigations of Member State tax rulings accentuates this fact.
This article was originally published on Kluwer Competition Law Blog.