Brussels, 6 March 2013
State aid: Commission opens in-depth investigation into public funding of five Dutch professional football clubs
The European Commission has opened an in-depth investigation to find out whether measures of five municipalities in the Netherlands in favour of local professional football clubs comply with EU State aid rules. None of those measures, taken in 2010 and 2011, was notified to the Commission, who was alerted by concerned citizens. The Commission also found that measures taken by a sixth municipality did not constitute State aid. The opening of an in-depth investigation does not prejudge its outcome. It gives the Netherlands and all interested parties the opportunity to comment on the measures in question.
Commission Vice President in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia said: "I strongly believe that professional football clubs should be well managed and not ask for help from the tax-payer when facing financial difficulties. If financial support is nevertheless given, then it should be granted under the EU State aid rules for aid to companies in difficulty. As regards these five football clubs, we have doubts that this has been the case."
The Commission will investigate five measures in favour of NEC, MVV, Willem II, PSV and FC Den Bosch ((see table below). These measures seem to constitute State aid in the meaning of Article 107(1) TFEU. They involve the use of public resources and they provide an advantage to entities carrying out economic activities. The measures are likely to distort competition and to affect trade between Member States. They are therefore in principle incompatible with the EU Single Market.
In so far as the professional football clubs in question were facing financial difficulties at the time of the measures and the municipalities acted to address those difficulties, the aid must be assessed on the basis of the EU Guidelines for rescue and restructuring aid to firms in difficulty. At this stage of the procedure, the Commission has doubts whether the measures comply with those guidelines.
The Commission has also concluded that the measures taken by the municipality of Arnhem, which consisted of accepting the non-payment of claims on Vitesse amounting to €11.7 million, do not constitute State aid in the meaning of EU rules. In this case the municipality of Arnhem acted in the context of a formal suspension of payments procedure regarding Vitesse. The Dutch authorities have demonstrated that a private market creditor would have acted in the same way.
Measures under investigation
The Commission's investigation covers the following measures:
In a joint statement on 21 March 2012, VP Almunia and President Platini of UEFA agreed that the control of State aid to professional football and UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules address identical concerns and that professional football clubs should live within their own means (IP/12/264).
The Commission is also looking at measures in other Member States, which were brought to its attention and sent a request for information to all Member States concerning professional football in October 2012.
The non-confidential version of the current decision will be made available under the case numbers SA.33584 in the State Aid Register on the DG Competition website once any 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.