Brussels, 23rd March 2011
State aid: Commission welcomes Court judgment in the Leipzig-Halle airport case
The European Commission welcomes today's judgement of the General Court (joined cases T-443/08 and T-455/08) on its 2008 decision on the financing of the southern runway at Leipzig-Halle airport (see IP/08/1191). The General Court confirms that the construction of airport infrastructure is part of the economic activity of operating an airport. Therefore, the ruling of the General Court is important, not only for Germany, but also for other Member States and the European airports. The ruling is consistent with the Commission's approach as laid down in the 2005 EU Guidelines on the financing of airports applied in a multitude of decisions since 2001.
The General Court ruled that the construction of airport infrastructure is an economic activity and that public funding of infrastructure necessary for the operation of the airport alleviates the costs that the airport operator would normally have to bear and therefore constitutes State aid. This confirms the Commission's longstanding approach in the issue.
The only plea upheld by the Court concerns the quantification of the aid at €350 million without deducting the costs which are of a non-economic nature (security, air traffic control, police, and customs). Therefore, the General Court partially annulled Article 1 of the decision to the extent it determined the amount of State aid. In case T-443/08, the action was dismissed as inadmissible.
On 23 July 2008, the Commission declared the capital injection of €350 million for the purpose of the construction of a new southern runway at Leipzig-Halle airport to be compatible with the internal market.
Even though the Commission declared the aid to be compatible, the airport and the German Länder Sachsen and Sachsen-Anhalt are contesting the Commission's finding that the measure constituted State aid at all. In their view, the construction of infrastructure is not economically viable and cannot therefore be regarded as an economic activity in the meaning of EU State aid rules. The applicants claim that the Commission incorrectly quantified the aid to amount to €350 million, given that the challenged decision had acknowledged that certain parts of the aid were intended to fund activities of a non-economic nature (security, air traffic control, police and customs).