On 4 July, the European Commission published its decisions regarding four separate in-depth investigations on State aids received by professional football clubs in the Netherlands and Spain.
It is a particularly busy period for EU State aid policy in the field of sport as these decisions on the most prominent state aid cases in European football follow the recent decisions of the European Court of Justice on Hamr-Sport (CZ) and Deutscher Alpenverein (DE. Regarding the Dutch case, the Commission opened an in-depth investigation in March 2013 to assess whether measures granted to professional football clubs by five municipalities in the Netherlands complied with EU State aid rules.
After recalling that “professional football clubs are businesses that must comply with fair competition rules”, Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, explained that the European Commission has concluded that “in the Dutch cases, support measures respected State aid rules and did not distort competition”.
To justify its decision, the European Commission stated that clubs under investigation were considered in financial difficulties and that according to the investigation, realistic restructuring plans had been implemented allowing the State aid to be in line with EU legislation while the specific measure concerning PSV Eindhoven does not involve State aid within the meaning of the EU rules.
On the other side, following three separate in-depth investigations on Spanish cases, the European Commission has concluded that public support measures granted by Spain to seven professional football clubs gave those clubs an unfair advantage over other clubs in breach of EU State aid rules. In that perspective the European Commission has decided that these Spanish professional football clubs have to pay back incompatible aid as follows:
An amount of 18.4 million € for Real Madrid as the land transfer between the City of Madrid and Real Madrid has been overvalued, giving Real Madrid an unjustified advantage over other clubs.
Amounts of 20.4 million € for Valencia, 6.1 million € for Hercules and 3.7 million € for Elche following guarantees given by the State-owned Valencia Institute of Finance allowing the clubs to obtain loans on more favourable terms without paying adequate remuneration for the guarantees.
Expected amounts between 0 and 5 million € per club (precise amounts need to be determined by the Spanish authorities) for Atlétic Bilbao and Atlético Osasuna, Real Madrid, FC Barcelona which were treated as non-profit organisations and consequently benefitted from a lower tax rate during a period of over twenty years, without an objective justification. The Spanish government ended this discriminatory treatment in January 2016.
The decisions will be made available in the upcoming months once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. All decisions and procedural conduct of the Commission in these cases can be contested in front of the General Court and ultimately by the ECJ.