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AG Saugmandsgaard Øe in C-329/15: Towards a novel approach to the state resources criterion?

By Gian Marco Galletti

Introduction

In his Opinion issued in case C-329/15 ENEA SA w Poznaniu v Prezes Urzędu Regulacji Energetyki on 22 March 2017, AG Saugmandsgaard ØE held that the quota-based system designed by Poland in order to support the production of energy from cogeneration (‘Combined Heat and Power electricity’ or ‘CHP electricity’) should be sheltered from the application of State aid rules as it does not fulfil all the conditions enshrined in Article 107(1) TFEU (‘Article 107(1)’). In particular, the missing piece of the ‘aid jigsaw’ is, according to AG Saugmandsgaard ØE, that the national measure in question does not entail the use of ‘State resources’.

The interpretation of the State resources criterion is a classic battleground between the effectiveness of EU rules and the protection of national regulatory autonomy. On the one hand, a broad reading of the State resources criterion is justified by the fact that Member States may feel tempted to assume a ‘private form’ to evade the application of State aid rules; on the other hand, a narrow reading averts the risk of enabling the Commission to conduct ‘an inquiry on the basis of the Treaty alone into the entire social and economic life of Member States’, as famously summarized by AG Jacobs in Viscido. The EU case law has, after some fluctuations, opted for a broad approach leaving only limited room for a finding of no State resources and therefore no aid (PreussenElektra). This was particularly evident when the Court was called to examine energy production-supporting measures taken by the Member States: the Netherlands (Essent Netwerk), Austria (Austria v Commission), France (Association Vent de Colère) and Germany (Germany v Commission) all unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the European judges that their feed-in tariff schemes did not engage public resources.

From a policy perspective, if this Opinion were to be upheld by the Court this would be the first (post-PreussenElektra) happy ending for the Member States in their struggle to design State aid-compliant legal mechanisms for funding the switch towards environmentally friendlier energy mixes and production processes.

From a strictly legal perspective, the reasoning of the AG in the present case deserves special attention in that it appears to point to a narrower, and arguably more accurate, interpretation of both layers of the State resources criterion. Continue reading