Cooperation with national courts (State aid)
Application of State aid law by national courts
The Commission Notice on the enforcement of State aid law by national courts, adopted in April 2009, underlines the key role of national courts in the enforcement of European State aid law. They may be called upon to apply State aid law in a variety of scenarios:
- Article 108(3) of the Treaty
of the Functioning of the European Union
provides that Member States may not implement new State aid measures before they have been approved by the Commission ('standstill obligation'). This provision has direct effect in Member States' judicial systems, therefore parties affected by unlawful State aid can bring direct action before national courts for damages, recovery and/or injunctive measures. Also tax payers may seek relief from the allegedly discriminatory imposition of a (tax) burden in so far as it forms an integral part of an unlawful State aid measure. The Commission Notice on the enforcement of State aid law by national courts gives further guidance on possible remedies against violations of the standstill obligation, such as the repayment of unlawful aid, damages claims, interim measures or interest payments.
- National courts also play an important role in the enforcement of recovery decisions adopted by the Commission under Article 14(1) of Council Regulation (EC) No 659/1999. The involvement of national courts in such cases usually arises from actions brought by beneficiaries to review the legality of the repayment request issued by national authorities. However, depending on national procedural law, other types of legal action may be possible, such as actions by Member State authorities against the beneficiary aimed at the full implementation of a Commission recovery decision, or claims from third parties for compensation for damages from national authorities for failure to implement a Commission recovery decision. The Notice of the Commission on the implementation of recovery decisions provides for further information on the role of national courts in this respect.
- The General Block Exemption Regulation, which entered into force in August 2008 and has direct effect in the Member States' legal systems, could also give rise to disputes before national courts. In this context national courts may have to assess whether a certain aid measure meets a certain requirement of the Regulation or not, so that no individual notification is necessary and the standstill obligation under Article 108(3) of the Treaty does not apply. Other types of legal action may also arise as practice evolves.
When called upon to apply State aid rules to a case pending before it, a national court must respect any relevant EU rules in the area of State aid and the existing case law of the EU courts. In addition, a national court may seek guidance in the Commission's decision-making practice and in the notices and guidelines concerning the application of the State aid rules issued by the Commission.
Handbook on Enforcement of EU State aid law by national courts
More information on the State aid rules in force can be found in the Legislation section. For basic summary information about the different rules, see the Vademecum on State Aid.
Judgments of the European Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance on the application of the EU State aid rules can be consulted here.
Cooperation with the Commission
Given the key role which national courts play in the enforcement of the State aid rules, the Commission is committed to support national courts where they need assistance in reaching a decision on a pending case. Commission support to national courts can take two different forms:
- A national court may ask the Commission to transmit to it relevant information in its possession.
- A national court may ask the Commission for an opinion concerning the application of the State aid rules.
Further details of this cooperation are available on this page and in the Commission Notice on the enforcement of State aid law by national courts.