Brussels, 20 March 2013
State aid: Commission orders partial recovery of state aid granted to short-term export-credit insurance companies Ducroire of Belgium and SACE BT of Italy
The European Commission has concluded two separate in-depth investigations into support measures granted to Ducroire of Belgium and to SACE BT of Italy by their respective state-owned parent entities, Office National du Ducroire (ONDD) and SACE. In the case of SACE BT, the Commission found part of the aid to be in line with EU state aid rules, because it was granted on market terms. For Ducroire, the Commission found that part of the measure supported activities that were not open to competition and therefore did not constitute state aid. However, in both cases part of the state support was granted in breach of EU state aid rules because it subsidised insurance products that were readily available from private operators on the market. This procured an undue economic advantage to the beneficiaries, which they now have to pay back to the Italian and Belgian States.
“Short-term export credit insurance is a market in which private and state-controlled operators compete alongside each other. Using state aid to artificially create a new player or keep alive a less efficient player leads to crowding out viable competitors that have to operate without state subsidies. This is eventually detrimental to the level of price, quality and service offered by the sector" said Joaquín Almunia Commission Vice-President in charge of competition policy.
The Commission found an initial capital allocation of €105.8 million granted to SACE BT in 2004 to be in line with EU state aid rules, because the capital was injected into a newly created subsidiary with the objective of offering short-term export-credit insurance on market terms as well as other commercial activities. However, for additional capital injections in 2009 to cover losses and a reinsurance cover in favour of SACE BT, totalling €70.2 million, the state-owned parent entity did not take into consideration the risk profile of the investment and therefore did not behave as a market economy investor would have, giving SACE BT an undue economic advantage.
The Commission cleared €113.4 million of an initial capital injection totalling €150 million which was granted to Ducroire in 2004. This is because it benefitted products that were not offered – or offered in limited quantity - by private operators. However, for the remaining €36.6 million which supported activities that were open to competition, the Commission's investigation found that the expected profitability of the investment was not sufficient. The state-owned parent entity did not behave as a market economy investor would have and therefore gave Ducroire an undue economic advantage.
Ducroire and SACE BT provide insurance for short-term export-credit risks to businesses in Belgium and Italy. Following a complaint from a competitor, the Commission opened in-depth investigations in February 2011 (see IP/11/213).
Under EU state aid rules, interventions by State entities in companies carrying out economic activities can be considered to be free of aid if they are made on terms that a private agent operating under market conditions would have accepted (the so-called "market economy investor principle" or MEIP). If the MEIP is not respected, the state intervention involves state aid in the meaning of the EU rules, because it gave the beneficiary an undue economic advantage that its competitors did not receive. The Commission will then verify whether such aid can be found compatible with common EU rules that allow certain categories of aid.
The insurance of short-term export-credit has developed into a competitive market since the late 90s, when the Commission adopted a Communication aimed at removing distortions of competition brought about by the granting of state support to the sector (see IP/97/538). This does not prevent Member States from granting aid, for example, in the form of guarantees when insurance cover for export credit risks becomes temporarily unavailable on the market, as was the case during the financial crisis (see IP/10/1636) or in respect of buyers established in non-OECD countries.
The non-confidential versions of the decisions will be made available under the case numbers SA.23420 and SA.23425 and 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.