The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), the equivalent of a Supreme Court for the bloc, rejected on Wednesday, 18 September, a complaint form Ryanair against the state aid given by Belgium to Brussels Airlines in 2020 in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.
With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the European Commission approved a series of state aids to business across the Member States which, under normal circumstances, would have been considered as offering an unfair advantage and fostering unfair competition. However, in light of the unprecedented circumstances, the loans were considered necessary for business to stay afloat.
In August 2020, Brussels Airlines received €290 million from the Belgian State as a loan to help it get through the pandemic. The following year, Ryanair challenged the legality of the measure, however, the CJEU’s Court of First Instance rejected the complaint on the basis that the aid had been approved by the European Commission, thus making it legal.
The Irish carrier appealed the ruling of the Court of First Instance, taking the case to the CJEU, which, on 18 September, delivered the same outcome, rejecting the complaint.
The Court has confirmed the legitimacy of the August 2020 stabilisation measures, which had also been approved by the European Commission as part of the Covid-19 crisis.Brussels Airlines
In a statement following the Court’s decision, the Belgian carrier said it was satisfied with the outcome, highlighting that, besides the aid being approved by the Commission, it has “already repaid in full the aid received from the Belgian State last year. This repayment took place four years earlier than planned.”
At the beginning of October, the CJEU rejected another similar complaint made by Ryanair against state aid received by Scandinavian Airlines (SAS). The airline currently has over twenty lawsuits in the pipeline against the European Commission which it accuses of unfairly giving the green light to at least €40 billion in Covid-related aid to its aviation competitors.
In a somewhat ironic turn of events, a recent investigation into Ryanair’s operations in Belgium has found that, over the past years, the airline has evaded more than €5 million in social security contributions to the state by using pilots under a self-employed status instead of fully hired by the company.