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Brussels, 2 nd December 2009

State aid: Commission welcomes Court ruling on excise duty exemptions for Alumina production

The European Commission welcomes the judgment by the European Court of Justice (Case C 89/08) setting aside the judgment of the General Court (Joined Cases T-50/06, T-60/06, T-62/06 and T-69/06) in the "Alumina" case. The General Court had annulled a Commission's decision of December 2005 (see IP/05/1542 ) declaring exemptions from the excise duty on mineral oils used as fuel for alumina production in France, Ireland and Italy incompatible with EU state aid rules and ordering their recovery. The General Court had raised on its own initiative the plea that the Commission decision was insufficiently motivated as regards the classification of the measure as new and not as existing aid, and had given judgment without discussing the matter with the parties. The Court of Justice referred the case back to the General Court for examination of the pleas put forward by the three Member States and the two companies seeking annulment of the Commission decision.

Following the Commission's appeal against this judgment, the Court of Justice held that the contested decision was not rendered invalid by insufficient motivation. The Court further ruled that the General Court was entitled to raise the issue of insufficient motivation on its own initiative, but that it should have obtained the parties' observations before coming to a conclusion.

Today's judgment is important because it confirms the fundamental principle that the parties should be heard in any proceedings which may result in a decision of an EU institution affecting their interests, and also because it clarifies the powers of the EU Courts to raise pleas of their own motion.

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