The European Court of Justice (CJEU) has thrown out one of Ryanair’s legal complaints about State-aid given to Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) to help it stay afloat during Covid-19.
Making the ruling, which confirmed previous judgements “the Court of Justice definitively dismisses Ryanair’s actions concerning the loan guarantees put in place by Sweden and Denmark in April 2020,” CJEU judges said.
So-called “low-cost carrier” Ryanair, which is actually Europe’s largest carrier by passenger numbers, had first complained about the Swedish aid package to the European Union’s General Court.
The aid package came in the form of two April 2020 State loan guarantees, backing SAS to the tune of 1.5 billion Swedish krona (1.3 billion euros). The aim was to compensate and stabilise SAS as it faced the economic impact of Covid flight cancellations and restrictions.
In a case at the General Court, judges found against the Irish carrier and approved the Swedish aid to SAS which it said did not breach competition law. So Ryanair took the matter to Luxembourg’s CJEU.
The judgements in detail
The General Court and EU competition watchdog concurred that the aid package was lawful. The reasoning behind the approval was that Scandinavian Airlines had a much higher market share than its closest national competitors in Denmark and Sweden. As a result, the Covid-19 restrictions had a bigger impact on the carrier and therefore could not be considered “unlawful discrimination.”
The CJEU that has now upheld that view, also dismissing Ryanair’s challenge, finding the aid was compliant with EU law.
Around 3 trillion euros in state support was approved by Brussels across all sectors in the 27 member nations, under a fast-track legal system set up to deal what it termed the “unprecedented crisis” of Covid-19.
Ryanair appears to have taken a splattergun approach to its legal challenges to that aid. It 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 euros in Covid-related aid to its aviation competitors.
Some of its court battles have been won, others lost. But in perhaps a precedent-setting decision, the Court of Justice has now clearly reiterated that it was legitimate for the aid in question in Sweden to be limited to SAS, and that similar help did not have to be offered to other entities who were affected by Covid-19 restrictions.