October 25
2020
Anjum Shabbir
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17th September 2020
Institutional law

Court of Justice strikes out Commission Decision on State aid and reduction in employees’ contributions: Compagnie des pêches de Saint-Malo

The Court of Justice has delivered this morning its judgment in Case C-212/19, Ministre de l’Agriculture et de l’Alimentation v Compagnie des pêches de Saint-Malo, a case concerning the decision of the French authorities in 2000, following the wreck of the Erika tanker, of a 50% reduction to all fisheries undertakings in social security contributions for the period between 15 April and 15 October 2000. The reduction concerned both employers’ and employees’ contributions and applied to all fishermen in mainland France and the overseas departments.

Following several procedures, including an infringement action against France (Commission v France, C-549/09), the Commission classified the measures as incompatible State aid and requested France recover the aid concerned.

Neither France nor the beneficiaries of the measures challenged the legality of the Commission’s Decision through an action of annulment pursuant to Article 263 TFEU.

In today’s ruling, the Court of Justice has pointed out:

  1. The applicants in the main proceedings did not have a clear interest to bring an action at the time in which the Decision was enacted. Therefore, the TWD case law did not apply to the case at hand and the referring court had jurisdiction to make a preliminary reference of validity. The Court of Justice raised this matter on its own motion, because the questions for reference were formally raised in terms of interpretation of the Commission’s Decision and not its validity.
  2. The Commission erred in law by considering that the reductions of contributions benefitted the undertakings. The Court considers that the contributions are neutral in relation to the undertakings, since they act as mere intermediaries between the employees and the social security bodies. Therefore, the Commission was wrong in considering that the undertakings benefitted from an advantage.

Read the full judgment here (in French).

The Court’s press release is available here.

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