Magistrate Sees No Harm in German Aid Said to Prop Up Ryanair

A Lufthansa aircraft rolls to the parking position at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, on Sept. 9. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — An adviser to the EU’s top court rejected claims from the Lufthansa airline that Germany granted improper state aid by financing an airport to the tune of $59 million.

Though Lufthansa complained that the support of Frankfurt Hahn Airport unfairly benefitted low-cost competitors like Ryanair, Advocate General Maciej Szpunar recommended that the European Court of Justice toss the appeal.

“[Lufthansa] merely restates the arguments already put forward before the General Court in order to prompt the Court of Justice to re-examine them, which, again, the Court does not have jurisdiction to undertake,” the magistrate wrote.

The airline contends that the European Commission was wrong to approve the deal in 2017. It is appealing to the Court of Justice after the General Court of the European Union ruled against it last year. Both courts are located in Luxembourg.

Though opinions by advocates general are not legally binding, the court follows the legal reasoning from its advisers around 80% of the time. 

Lufthansa, Germany’s largest airline, hinges its appeal in part on the General Court’s “finding that it had not demonstrated the existence of overlaps between the air routes which it operates and those operated by Ryanair.”

Indeed, Lufthansa doesn’t operate from the Frankfurt Hahn Airport. The airline made few inroads with the magistrate in arguing that the subsidy had harmed it.

“It cannot be claimed that the General Court erred in law in considering that the appellant had brought no evidence with regard to the structure of the markets concerned and the competitors present on those markets, or established the existence of the overlaps the appellant claimed,” the opinion states. 

The Court of Justice has seen an increase in recent years in complaints over state aid cases. “The great majority of actions brought before the General Court by competitors of beneficiaries of aid seeking to challenge the merits of a Commission decision are now ruled inadmissible because the applicants have not managed to demonstrate that their position on the market has been substantially affected,” Szpunar wrote Tuesday.

In a case involving an Italian bus company earlier this year, the Luxembourg-based court found that the EU Commission, the union’s executive body, is the only body that can determine issues of state aid. “The assessment of the compatibility of aid measures or an aid scheme with the internal market falls, in fact, within the exclusive competence of the Commission,” the court wrote. 

The 27-member political and economic union has strict regulations to ensure equal market opportunities across its member states. Regulations prevent countries from unfairly supporting companies within their own borders. Under 2014 guidelines however, public funds can be used to prop up regional airports under certain conditions. 

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