EU state aid rules prevent national governments from handing firms unfair advantages through large scale public investments or takeovers. However, Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission’s competitions boss, has been accused of re-badging “tax cuts as state aid”. Experts claim the Danish politician, who a front runner to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as Commission president, has been inconsistent in her crackdown on state aid.
Ms Vestager has been accused of taking a stand on arbitrary decisions but flouting the bloc’s competition rules when monitoring “clear violations” – like bailouts or nationalisation.
This has seen EU’s competitions department’s decisions embarrassingly overturned in a series of high-profile cases after challenges in the European Court of Justice.
The Commission has lost 17 out of 41 state aid cases taken to the Luxembourg-based courts on appeal since November, according to Politico analysis.
This includes Spanish football giants Real Madrid, who the Commission had claimed to have benefited from a multi-million euro land deal.
The EU General Court found that Real Madrid did not receive over €18million in state aid from the Madrid City Council over a real estate settlement agreement.
The ECJ also overturned a Commission decision to approve the Danish government injecting €7billion into a rail and road links between Ms Vestager’s home country and Germany.
Ms Vestager requires the Danish government, whom she is not a member of, to approve her return to Brussels for the next five-year mandate.
Pieter Cleppe, of the Open Europe think-tank, said: “Quite a few of the lost cases relate to EU Competition Commissioner Vestager trying to redefine tax cuts as ‘state aid’.
“As enthusiastic as she has been when it comes to enforcing the grey areas of competition law, like this question whether a tax ruling is open to all, she has been nowhere to be seen when there were clear violations of the rules, like bailouts or nationalisation.
“She let the Italian government bail out banks – despite new EU rules aiming to hit investors instead of taxpayers first.
“Exceptions were also made for the pro-European French president, Emmanuel Macron, who was allowed to nationalise a French shipyard to prevent it from being bought by an Italian company. It is no surprise Trump dubbed her the ‘Tax Lady’.”
In response to the criticism, a Commission spokesman said: “Of those 300 decisions, about 10 percent are appealed to the General Court. And, out of the appealed decisions, the Commission’s position over the past few years has been ultimately upheld by the General Court in over 75 percent of the cases.
“In those cases in which the Commission’s position is not upheld, we study the judgments carefully and try to draw lessons from them.”