Margrethe Vestager, Commissioner responsible for competition policy, said that: ‘Given the size and importance of the restructuring of Areva, the Commission has to carefully assess that the restructuring plan is sound and that the state aid does not unduly distort competition in the Single Market. Our aim is to ensure a sustainable future for Areva without the need for further government support.’
The Areva group, controlled by the French state, is active throughout the nuclear sector. It has been experiencing financial difficulties for over five years. In April 2016 France notified the Commission of a restructuring plan to restore the group's competitiveness and improve its financial position. The plan includes state aid in the form of a public capital injection of four billion euros. It also involves a renewed focus on the nuclear fuel cycle through various divestments and withdrawal from certain activities.
State aid to assist undertakings in difficulty may be authorised under certain conditions when it contributes to an objective of common interest without unduly distorting competition. These criteria are defined in the EU Guidelines on State aid for rescuing and restructuring non-financial undertakings in difficulty. They are designed to ensure that aid is granted only to undertakings which have reasonable prospects of viability and take measures to limit the distortions of competition caused by the state aid.
At this stage, the Commission intends to check whether the assumptions underlying the restructuring plan for restoring the undertaking's long-term viability are sufficiently realistic to allow Areva to operate without constant injections of public funds. The Commission must also ensure that the group makes a sufficient, real contribution to the costs of its restructuring. Lastly, it must check that the measures proposed by France to limit distortions of competition are proportionate to the distortions created by the aid.
Opening this in-depth investigation will give interested third parties an opportunity to submit their comments and there are no foregone conclusions about its findings.
Areva is a listed group, of which the French state owns, directly and indirectly, 86.5%. The group is active in the whole range of activities which make up the nuclear fuel cycle.
The Guidelines on State aid for rescuing and restructuring non-financial undertakings in difficulty require beneficiaries to work out a sound restructuring plan that allows them to achieve long-term viability on the basis of realistic assumptions, in order to ensure that they do not continue to seek public aid instead of competing in the market place on their own account. The plan must include measures to limit distortions of competition arising from the public aid. Furthermore, the beneficiary needs to make a significant contribution of its own to the costs of restructuring. Lastly, the undertaking may receive rescue and restructuring aid only once in any ten-year period.
By checking on compliance with these conditions, the Commission is working to maintain fair competition between different undertakings and technologies in the single market, for energy and in other sectors.
More information is available on the Commission's Competition website in the public State Aid Register under the reference SA.44727.