A (in)definition of public service through the State aid rule

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 by Ana Filipa Afonseca, member of CEDU

The State often reveals itself (or is said to be) incapable of pursuing the public interest through its own resources. This is the reason why the economic operators are compensated for the public activities they provide, in the so-called Services of General Economic Interest (SGEI), according to Article 14 of TFEU.

Beyond all the political discussion about the raison d’être of the State underlying this rule, the limit between an incompatible State aid and this compensation is often too thin and unclear.

Naturally, several questions arise about the (good or bad) management of state resources – which the CJEU gradually solves. These issues already go beyond the choice of the private entity or even the overcompensation (which is politically the most contested by citizens and the Court always claims to be against EU law) but they also bring up a discussion on the definition of public service of general economic interest.

The case T-92/11 RENV, which opposed Jorgen Anderson to the European Commission, initiated in Denmark concerning public transportation. In that country there are two systems of transport services: the free traffic system, commercially exploited, and the public traffic system, negotiated with public entities through a public contract.
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Portuguese Constitutional Court’s decision n.º 591/2016, of 9 November 2016 or when the Constitutional Court looked to EU law legal aid matters: figuring out the treasure’s map…

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by Joana Covelo de Abreu, Junior Editor

The dispute in the main proceedings

On 9th November 2016, the Portuguese Constitutional Court issued decision n.º 591/2016, concerning an incidental and concrete constitutionality control presented before this court.

In the litigation, a legal person presented before the competent national administrative authority (Instituto da Segurança Social, I.P. – Centro Distrital de Braga) a request for legal aid, which was refused without further consideration since article 7(3) of the Portuguese legislation (Lei n.º 34/2004) is clear when it states that “legal persons operating for profit and individual establishments of limited liability do not have the right to legal aid”[i].

Not accepting that decision, the legal person presented an action before the national first instance court where pleaded for the unconstitutionality of the mentioned article 7(3) of Portuguese legislation (Lei n.º 34/2004) and, simultaneously, for the infringement of article 47 of the CFREU.

The court ruled against the legal person because there was a “clear impracticability” in the litigation, understanding among others that the national legislation was not unconstitutional since article 20 of the Portuguese Constitution demands concretization approaches and, for that matter, the limitation steaming from the national legislation was not compromising the Constitution’s setting since other legal mechanisms could be used by the litigator so that it could react under financial stress.

However, the national court did not mention anything concerning EU law and the interpretation national legal rules should meet under EU general principles.

Continue reading “Portuguese Constitutional Court’s decision n.º 591/2016, of 9 November 2016 or when the Constitutional Court looked to EU law legal aid matters: figuring out the treasure’s map…”

Modernisation and supermodernisation of the state aid law – silent deepening of European integration?

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by Ana Filipa Afonseca, student of the Master´s degree in EU Law of UMinho

In general, the Member States have always had a bad understanding about the importance of the prohibition of the state aid, pursuant Article 107, TFEU, in fact, in 1966 and in 1987, the Member States rejected the proposal of the Commission to assume a legal definition of aid.

Truly, in the past – not so distant – Member States escaped the application of the prohibition of the state aid in a simple way: they didn’t notify the European Commission about the aid that they had conceded to their companies.

The importance of the state aid prohibition started to become clear to the Member States when they noticed this article plays an important role on improving the growth of the internal market. And the main reason this prohibition was learned by the Member States was due to its control for a non-differentiated growth of the Member States and distortion of competition. Besides that, it ended an obscure and dubious policy practice of the destination of public funds to the eyes of the citizens… until, shall we say, the beginning of the crisis in 2008.
Continue reading “Modernisation and supermodernisation of the state aid law – silent deepening of European integration?”