State aid: EU Commission finds Belgian support to three airlines incompatible with EU rules; aid already recovered

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The European Commission has concluded that public support granted by Belgium to three airlines flying from Brussels Airport (Zaventem) gave them an unfair advantage over other airlines, in breach of EU state aid rules. These airlines are Brussels Airlines, TUI Airlines Belgium and Thomas Cook Airlines Belgium, which received €16.8 million, €2.1 million and €77 000, respectively.

The distortion of competition has already been removed because Belgium in March 2017 recovered the aid from each airline (with interest), before the Commission concluded its in-depth investigation.

The scheme in question was introduced by Belgium in January 2014 and foresaw around €19 million of public funding per year to the operator of Brussels Airport, which was then required to fully pass it on to certain airlines. In particular, it was used to reduce one of the airport charges (the so-called security charge) paid by airlines that had carried more than 400 000 passengers from Brussels Airport in 2012.

Only Brussels Airlines, TUI Airlines Belgium and Thomas Cook Airlines Belgium met that condition. An initial payment was made to the three airlines in September 2014 but payments were suspended after the Commission opened its investigation in October 2014. This investigation confirmed that the scheme amounted to a selective advantage to the three airlines over their competitors.

Belgian authorities have actively cooperated with the Commission in this case and in March 2017 abolished the scheme and the three airlines have already reimbursed the money received with interest.

More information on today’s decision will be available on the Commission’s competition website, in the public case register under the case number SA.38105 once confidentiality issues have been resolved. The State Aid Weekly e-News lists new publications of state aid decisions on the internet and in the EU Official Journal. (For more information: Ricardo Cardoso – Tel.: +32 229 80100; Yizhou Ren – Tel.: +32 229 94889)

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