Taxation/ State Aid

T-679/16 Athletic Club v Commission and T-865/16 FútbolClub Barcelona v Commission

Date of decision 26/02/2019

By a decision of 2016, the Commission declared that Spain had unlawfully implemented State aid in the form of a corporation tax privilege in favour of those four professional football clubs, namely, Fútbol Club Barcelona (Barcelona), Club Atlético Osasuna (Pamplona), Athletic Club (Bilbao) and Real Madrid Club de Fútbol (Madrid). According to the Commission, that regime was incompatible with the internal market. It therefore ordered Spain to discontinue the scheme and to recover the aid granted from the recipients immediately and effectively.

The Fútbol Club Barcelona and the Athletic Club brought an action against the Commission’s decision before the General Court of the European Union.

The Court found that the Commission erred in its assessment of the facts. It determined whether, despite that error, the Commission was entitled to rely on just the data provided by Spain in order to find that an advantage existed. The Commission was therefore, when it adopted its decision, in possession of evidence highlighting the specific nature of the sector as regards tax deductions, which should have led to its having doubts as to whether its findings — all sectors included — on the effective taxation of non-profit entities and entities subject to the general tax regime, respectively, could be applied to that sector.

The Court held that the European Commission was wrong to classify the tax regime that benefitted four Spanish football clubs as State aid.  The Commission had not shown the requisite legal standard that the measure at issue conferred an advantage on its beneficiaries. 

The Court also held that Spain gave the clubs an unfair advantage by allowing them to pay a low corporate tax rate. 

The full judgment on this case is available here

 Entitlement of family benefit – EU citizens

C-322/17  Eugen Bogatu v Minister for Social Protection

Date of decision 7/02/2019

 Under EU law it is not necessary that a person pursue an activity as an employed person in a Member State in order to be entitled to family benefits in respect of his children living in another Member State.  Further, that entitlement to family benefits is not limited to cases where the claimant was previously in receipt of a contributory benefit.

Mr Eugen Bogatu, a Romanian national living in Ireland since 2003, submitted a claim to the Irish authorities for family benefits in respect of his two children living in Romania in January 2009.  Mr Bogatu pursued an activity as an employed person in Ireland between 2003 and 2009. After losing his job in 2009, he received a contributory unemployment benefit (2009-2010), then a non-contributory unemployment benefit (April 2010-January 2013) and finally a sickness benefit (2013- 2015). The Irish authorities notified Mr Bogatu of their decision to approve his claim for family benefits except with regard to the period from April 2010 to January 2013. The refusal was based on the fact that, in their opinion, during that period the claimant did not fulfil any of the conditions needing to be satisfied in order to be entitled to family benefits for his children living in Romania, since he was neither pursuing an activity as an employed person in Ireland nor receiving a contributory benefit there.

Mr Bogatu challenged that decision, arguing that the Irish authorities had relied on a misinterpretation of EU law.

The Court held that in order to be eligible to receive family benefits in the competent Member State in respect of children living in another Member State, it is not necessary for a person either to pursue an activity as an employed person in the former Member State or to be in receipt of cash benefits from that Member State because or as a consequence of such activity.

The Press Release on this case is available here and full judgment here

 Consumer Law

 Advocate-General’s Opinion

C-649/17 Bundesverband der Verbraucherzentralen and Others v Amazon EU

Opinion date 28/02/2019

On the 28 February 2019, Advocate General (AG) Giovanni Pitruzella recommend that the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) rule that as regards to distance and off premises contracts, the list of means of communication (telephone, fax and email) in the Directive is merely illustrative.  Traders are free to choose which means to make available for contact with consumers, including means of communication not expressly mentioned in the Directive, such as online chat or an automatic call-back facility, provided that the objectives in the Directive are met, namely (i) rapid contact and efficient communication between consumers and traders; and (ii) the provision of clear and comprehensible information. 

That the Directive precludes national legislation such as the German legislation at issue which imposes an obligation on traders that is not provided for in the Directive, such as the obligation to make a contact telephone line available to consumers in all online sale of goods and services cases. 

In his opinion, AG Giovanni Pitruzella stated that the aim of the Directive is to continually increase the level of protection afforded to consumers, which guarantees, at the same time, the competitiveness of businesses. Therefore, the relevant provisions of EU law must be interpreted in such a way as to ensure the highest possible level of consumer protection without impinging on the organisational freedom of businesses, except to the extent strictly necessary for achieving that level of protection. Effective consumer protection is achieved not by imposing a particular contact method (such as by telephone), but by ensuring that consumers are able to make use of the most effective communication channels for the environment in which the transaction is carried out.

The Press Release on this case is available here and full judgment here