Brussels, 12 June 2012
State aid: Commission opens in-depth investigation on Agrarmarkt Austria (AMA) marketing measures
The European Commission has opened an in-depth investigation to examine whether the marketing measures put into effect by Agrarmarkt Austria (AMA) between 1995 and 2008 are in line with EU state aid rules. The opening of an in-depth investigation gives interested parties the possibility to comment on the measure concerned. It does not however prejudge the outcome of the investigation.
The AMA is a public law body controlled by the Austrian State which supervises the use of quality and organic labels in Austria; it also plans and coordinates promotion measures, produces information materials on quality programmes and labels, and commissions research on quality in agricultural production. Marketing measures for activities related to AMA's quality and organic labels as well as to generic products (such as advertising, promotion of quality products, fairs, exhibition or events) implemented between 1995 and 2008 by AMA Marketing (a subsidiary of AMA) seem to have all the characteristics of state aid. Furthermore, the parafiscal financing of the measures can be regarded as state resources. Based on the limited information available, the Commission has doubts as to whether the aid and its financing would be compatible with the internal market.
The AMA case originates from two complaints lodged by under takings in 1999. Following a modification of internal directives on the AMA organic and quality labels in 2002, the Commission decided to split the case into two files. One case (NN 34A/2000) deals exclusively with the measures concerning AMA labels after that modification and the other one (NN 34/2000) deals with the earlier rules applied for AMA labels, as well as with other AMA marketing measures. The Commission found that the scheme under case NN 34A/2000 was modified substantially to comply with state aid rules and therefore took a no objection decision (http://ec.europa.eu/eu_law/state_aids/agriculture-2000/nn034a-00.pdf).
The Commission Decision in case NN 34A/2000 was challenged before the General Court by the complainants. In its judgement (Case T-375/04), the General Court concludes that the Commission should have initiated a formal investigation procedure because of the existence of a contradiction between (i) the wording of the basic AMA Act and (ii) the new internal AMA directives and the assurances provided by Austrian authorities. On this ground, the General Court annulled the Commission Decision. Austria appealed before the Court against this ruling. In its judgement of 27 October 2011 (Case C-47/10) the Court fully confirmed the findings of the General Court.
The current opening of an investigation aims therefore at complying with the findings of the Court, and at clarifying, among others, the doubts raised by the contradiction of the internal directives with the original legal text.
The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number in the State Aid Register on the DG Competition website once potential confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of state aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the State Aid Weekly e-News.
For more information
State Aid Register:
State Aids Weekly e-newsletter:
On case T-375/04
On judgement C-47/10