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The EU State aid and sport saga: The Showdown

It’s been a long wait, but they’re finally here! On Monday, the European Commission released its decisions regarding State aid to seven Spanish professional football clubs (Real Madrid on two occasions) and five Dutch professional football clubs. The decisions mark the end of the formal investigations, which were opened in 2013. The Commission decided as follows: no State aid to PSV Eindhoven (1); compatible aid to the Dutch clubs FC Den Bosch, MVV Maastricht, NEC Nijmegen and Willem II (2); and incompatible aid granted to the Spanish football clubs Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Valencia CF, Athletic Bilbao, Atlético Osasuna, Elche and Hércules (3). 

The recovery decisions in particular are truly historic. The rules on State aid have existed since the foundation of the European Economic Community in 1958, but it is the very first time that professional football clubs have been ordered to repay aid received from (local) public authorities.[1] In a way, these decisions complete a development set in motion with the Walrave and Koch ruling of 1974, where the CJEU held that professional sporting activity, and therefore also football, is subject to EU law. The landmark Bosman case of 1995 proved to be of great significance as regards free movement of (professional) athletes and the Meca-Medina case of 2006 settled that EU competition rules were equally applicable to the regulatory activity of sport. The fact that the first ever State aid recovery decision concerns major clubs like Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Valencia, give the decisions extra bite. Therefore, this blog post will focus primarily on the negative/recovery decisions[2], their consequences and the legal remedies available to the parties involved.[3]

The launch of the formal investigations

The three Commission decisions to launch formal State aid investigations into alleged aid granted to Spanish professional football clubs were all made public on 18 December 2013. The first investigation concerned “possible privileges regarding corporate taxation of Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao, and Atlético Osasuna. These four clubs are exempted from the general obligation for professional football clubs to convert into sport limited companies. The effect of this exemption is that these clubs enjoy a preferential corporate tax rate of 25% instead of 30% applicable to sport limited companies.” The second investigation involved Real Madrid specifically, and was opened after the Commission expressed its doubts over “a very advantageous real property swap with the City of Madrid. This swap was based on a re-evaluation of a plot of land at a value of €22.7 million, instead of its earlier supposed value in 1998 of €595 thousand”. The third investigation dealt with three clubs from the autonomous region of Valencia: Valencia CF, Elche FC and Hércules CF. In this case, the Commission decided to investigate State guarantees by the Valencia Institute of Finance for a bank loans of (1) €75 million to Valencia CF; (2) €14 million to Elche CF; and (3) €18 million to Hércules CF. The Real Madrid real property swap case and the Valencia CF case have previously been analyzed on this blog (here, here and here).[4]

Purely based on the decisions to open formal investigations, there was little doubt as to whether the criteria of Article 107(1) were fulfilled[5]: The football clubs in question received a selective economic advantage deriving from a measure taken by public authorities and which involved a transfer of State resources. This advantage has affected trade and threatens to distort the internal market. What remained unclear was whether the Member States could convince the Commission to declare the State aid compatible under Article 107(3)c) TFEU,[6] and, if not, how high the recovery would be. The complexity of the Real Madrid case in particular led to uncertainty as to whether a possible recovery decision would merely imply Real Madrid having to pay a lump sum to the city of Madrid, or whether one or more land transactions would have to be undone.[7]

Last but not least, it should be kept in mind that ordering recovery of State aid is a politically sensitive decision. Given that State aid investigations are always directed at the Member State (with limited room for interested party intervention, including the beneficiary), such proceedings are inherently political. Furthermore, from analyzing Commission speeches and policy documents, such as the recently published Report on Competition Policy 2015, one will reach the conclusion that actively enforcing EU competition law, including State aid law, in sport, is not a Commission priority. Any recovery decision in the professional sport sector, therefore, would need to serve as a blueprint for future cases: it should prevent other public authorities to grant State aid to professional sport clubs in contravention of State aid rules. 

The Commission’s press release ordering the State aid recovery

Though the press release does not provide all the facts, it includes many interesting elements. First of all, the privileges regarding corporate taxation of Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao, and Atlético Osasuna were found to be incompatible State aid, and each club has to repay between €0 and €5 million depending on what the Spanish authorities determine in the recovery process. The press release further states that Spain adjusted its legislation on corporate taxation to end this discriminatory treatment. This last point is especially important, because it demonstrates that the “bite” of State aid could exceed a mere recovery order. Simply opening a formal investigation into this issue has made the Spanish authorities reconsider its corporate taxation and adjust it accordingly to prevent future State aid being granted. Moreover, tackling unfair corporate tax advantages has been a priority for the Commission for the last few years.[8]

As regards Real Madrid’s advantageous real property swap with the City of Madrid, the Commission concluded that the football club was only entitled to a compensation of €4.3 million, so that Real Madrid obtained an advantage of €18.4 million. In other words, the city of Madrid needs to recover €18.4 million from Real Madrid. Although this calculation seems rather straightforward, it should be noted that the press release only refers to the re-valuation of one of the lands transferred. This means that only one land transaction was found to be incompatible with EU State aid rules, while all the land transactions remain valid.

In the third and final decision the Commission determined that Valencia, Hércules and Elche will need to repay €20.4 million, €6.1 million and €3.7 million respectively. The Commission acknowledged that the three clubs were in financial difficulties when the public institution Valencia Institute of Finance, placed a public guarantee on bank loans provided to the football clubs, but did not find this difficulties sufficiently severe to declare the aid compatible with the internal market.[9] The fact that the clubs paid no adequate remuneration for the guarantees, and that the State financing was not linked to any restructuring plan, made the Commission decide to order the recovery of that aid. The arguments brought forward by the Spanish authorities defending the State aid measure will not be known until the non-confidential version of the decision is published in a few months. What we do know is that at the time the formal investigation was launched in December 2013, the Spanish authorities had not communicated any restructuring or liquidation plan to the Commission, nor were any of the conditions met for authorizing restructuring aid under the Community Guidelines on State aid for rescuing and restructuring firms in difficulty, even though the three clubs were in severe financial difficulties.[10]  

The consequences of the negative and recovery decisions

It is important to make a distinction between negative decisions and recovery decisions.[11] They are, in fact, two separate decisions. As can be read in Articles 9(5) and 16(1) of the State Aid Procedural Regulations 2015/1589, the negative decision precedes the recovery decision. Under a negative decision, the Commission decides that the aid shall not be put into effect for not being compatible with the internal market. Any plans to grant future State aid under that measure will automatically be halted. The recovery decision can only be granted if the aid, or part of the aid, has been granted in the past, such as in the cases at hand.[12] The decision orders the Member State concerned to take all necessary measures to recover the aid from the beneficiary.[13] As can be read in the Commission’s Recovery Notice, the main objective of the recovery order is to re-establish the situation existing before the aid was unlawfully granted.[14] The recovery, which is subject to a limitation period of 10 years[15], “shall be effected without delay and in accordance with the procedures under the national law of the Member State concerned”.[16]  This means that it is up to Spain to decide on the procedure of how and when it recovers the aid, in accordance with its own national law.

Since the negative and recovery decisions are addressed to Spain, it may institute proceedings against the negative decision and/or the recovery decision, pursuant to Article 263 TFEU. The Spanish central government has not yet announced its position regarding the decisions or whether it plans to launch an appeal. The city of Madrid and the autonomous region of Valencia on the other hand, have both declared that they wish to recuperate the State aid granted to the respective football clubs.[17] Article 263 TFEU also allows any natural or legal person to challenge a Commission decision that is of direct and individual concern to them. In other words, now that for example Real Madrid is ordered to repay €18.4 million to Spain, it is directly affected by the recovery decision and has already publicly stated that it will initiate proceedings against the Commission.

The General Court shall have jurisdiction to hear and determine at first instance actions referred to in Article 263 TFEU. A decision by the General Court may be subject to a right of appeal to the Court of Justice.[18] Contrary to the General Court, the Court of Justice could decide, under Article 278 TFEU, that the recovery order should be suspended.   


The negative and recovery decisions could have consequences for the relationship between the Spanish State (particularly local governments) and professional football. The practices now condemned by the European Commission are known to have been taking place for decades. A recently published report by Transparency International, for example, discusses how Spanish football clubs, in collaboration with the local governments, would turn to urban speculation with the objective of making easy money. The report used an agreement between the city of Murcia and its local football club Real Murcia as an example. The Real Madrid case, which is also about urban speculation, is another example of this standardized practice in Spain. The fact that the Commission orders recovery of aid from the richest and most successful club in Spain, should send a message to the smaller clubs and cities that urban/ land agreements between clubs and public authorities are not unconditionally accepted.

In addition, the decisions will especially be tough for Valencia, Hércules and Elche, three clubs known to be in financial difficulties already. Valencia has already announced that it “reserves the right to appeal to the European Court of Justice”, but one wonders whether it is worth the risk, considering the legal fees attached to such an appeal. On the other hand, the public authorities will realize that granting State aid to professional football clubs can bounce back hard, if it is not granted pursuant an objective of general interest and in a transparent manner. Furthermore, rescue aid, such as in Valencia, cannot be granted without implementing a restructuring plan at the same time. A proper restructuring plan will help limit the possibility of the club returning to financial difficulties in the future. Finally, clubs too must be aware that they must live “within their own means” and that they cannot always depend on local public institutions to bail them out of there financial troubles.   

[1] For the discussion on why there was (and still is) so little State aid enforcement in the professional sport/football sector, see Ben Van Rompuy and Oskar van Maren, “EU Control of State Aid to Professional Sport: Why Now?” In: “The Legacy of Bosman. Revisiting the relationship between EU law and sport”, T.M.C. Asser Press, 2016.

[2] The distinction between a negative decision and a recovery decision will be explained further below.

[3] A specific blog post on the State aid decision concerning the Dutch football clubs will be made shortly.

[4] For an even more detailed (factual) analysis of the Real Madrid case, see: Oskar van Maren, “The Real Madrid case: A State aid case (un)like any other?” 11 Competition Law Review 1:83-108.

[5] Even though Real Madrid has always insisted the real property swap was not economically advantageous, since the value of the real property was calculated in accordance with market conditions. Supra note 4.

[6] Under this provision, State aid that facilitates the development of certain activities or of certain economic areas, where such aid does not adversely affects trading conditions to an extent contrary to the common interest, may be considered compatible with the internal market.

[7] It is a matter of discussion whether the Real Madrid case concerns only the land transaction of July 2011, or whether a second land transaction of November 2011 should be included in the same investigation. Supra, note 4.

[8] Report from the Commission COM(2016) 313 of 15 June 2016 to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions – Report on Competition Policy 2015, pages 12-13.

[9] Contrary to the State aid granted to FC Den Bosch, MVV, Willem II and NEC, where the Commission determined that the aid was granted in line with the 2004 Guidelines on State aid for rescuing and restructuring firms in difficulty.

[10] Commission decision of 18 December 2013 SA.36387 – Alleged aid in favour of three Valencia football clubs, para.44.

[11] A third option, as stipulated in Article 9(3) of the State aid Procedural Regulation, is the positive decision. This is a decision where the Commission decides that the aid is compatible with the internal market. The decision allowing the aid to the Dutch clubs is an example of a positive decision. Challenging a positive decision under Article 263 TFEU is also possible for the Member State concerned, should it wish to do so.

[12] The aid is, for example, not granted yet when the Member State simply notifies the Commission of its plan grant State aid. Should the Commission declare the plan to grant State aid incompatible with the internal market, then there will be no need to order recovery as well.

[13] The Commission, however, can decide against a recovery order if it believes that such a recovery would be contrary to a principle of Union law. This gives the Commission the possibility to declare a State aid measure incompatible with EU law on the one hand, but not order recovery of that aid on the other.

[14] Notice from the Commission (2007/C 272/05) of 15 November 2007 Towards an effective implementation of Commission decisions ordering Member States to recover unlawful and incompatible State aid, point 2.2.

[15] Council Regulation (EU) 2015/1589 of 13 July 2015 laying down detailed rules fort the application of Article 108 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Article 17(1).

[16] Ibid., Article 16(3).

[17] It is worth mentioning that at the time the State aid was granted, the Spanish Conservative Party, PP, was in power in Madrid as well as in the autonomous region of Valencia. These two local governments are nowadays formed by opposition parties. On the other hand, the PP is still the biggest political party at national level.

[18] Consolidated version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union C 326/47 of 26 October 2010, Article 256(1).

Comments (13) -

  • loek Jorritsma

    7/7/2016 12:16:21 PM |

    As the complainant in the Dutch cases I was in discussion with the supporters of MVV on their website. April 2013 I informed them about the restructuring aid. When Maastricht would have chosen to ask the EC permission to restructure MVV the same way Arnhem did in the Vitesse situation, there would have been no problem at all. At that occasion I advised (via the supporters) Maastricht to answer the EC in their probe to handle in that way. The EC decided in that way. Very elegant solution. I expect these criteria will apply in the future in any case with star aid support in professional sport.

    • Oskar van Maren

      7/7/2016 12:42:46 PM |

      Dear Loek,
      You're absolutely right. Proper restructuring plans that are notified in advance to the Commission would probably avoid most potential State aid problems. Let's see whether this week's decisions trigger a change in local governments and sport clubs mentality regarding public funding in the sector.

  • loek Jorritsma

    7/7/2016 4:02:03 PM |

    Forgot to tell that mr. Almunia asked me, in reply on my email of 9 May 2010 CP 63/80, to inform him about my findings concerning Real Madrid and other football clubs in Europe and illegal state aid. Which I did from that moment on. Any suggestion he was delaying this process is therefore false. I know, because he (of course by his staff) was always in contact with me and willing to come to the best decision. That takes time.

  • Eindhoven

    7/8/2016 10:30:11 PM |

    It would be interesting to know whether Mr. Jorritsma now understands that his cooperation with Mr. Almunia and the
    baseless crusade against Dutch football has costed a lot of money and resources to the EU taxpayers at a time of crisis in which those resources where needed elsewhere.

    Five cases dismissed out of five and still trying to lecture us... If he or Mr. Almunia had just read the guidelines for restructuring companies before running amok.

    If the EU was a well functioning Institution, Mr. Jorritsma should be made responsible for the costs for the EU and for the clubs & municipalities (reputation, legal, etc.) that had been falsely accused.

    Mr. Jorritsma, will you please apologise to the EU taxpayer for your reckless behaviour?

  • loek Jorritsma

    7/11/2016 10:31:18 AM |

    On the contrary. Now it is clear that state aid is only allowed under very strict circumstances. Those of restructuring aid have to be met. And that includes a whole set of obligations to ensure the European (nut just the Dutch) taxpayers are no longer the safeguards of reckless politicians and club owners still paying overprivileged players too much money. The EC was very elegant towards the Dutch clubs to define their star aid afterwards as restructuring aid. The EC ' forgot'  to ask their track record on state aid in the past. If the EC would have done so, the decision would have been negative because those conditions would not be met. The cases were not dismissed, they were saved. The Spanish cases learn the European clubs and municipalities the limits. They all have to stick to that and all the accountants concerned now have to report about those finances they are whether or not in compliance with the rules. That is profit, proud to have made that contribution to the future tax payers.

  • loek Jorritsma

    7/11/2016 10:59:17 AM |

    By the way mr. Eindhoven. Interesting to see your post is anonymus, or is your real name Eindhoven? Your suggestion I have to pay the costs is only fair. As fair it would be to gain the profits. That will make me a rich man. See the penalties for the Spanish clubs. But your suggestion as also very unfair. It will make any whistleblower to a calculated naked-short-seller. Let us leave that to the casino-players. Those people who have put the whole of Europe in crisis.

  • Eindhoven

    7/11/2016 2:10:14 PM |

    Oh dear, no apologies, no remorse and more accusations against the EC and the municipalities/clubs involved.

    The Restructuring guidelines had been published already in 2004 and you should have read them carefully before wasting EU resources. It was clear to any one, apparently other than you, that these regulations existed and that these conditions had to be met (as it was the case in the Dutch cases).

    The EC was not "elegant", it has simply applied the existing rules correctly (those rules that you should have read a few years ago). If you believe that further restructuring aid had already been provided to the Dutch clubs and that the EC has failed to take this into consideration, you should simply, rather than critizising the EC, go ahead and inform them. They would surely welcome your evidence, if any. Until you do that, please stop bringing the EU institutions into disrepute by suggesting that "elegant" solutions have been adopted. You are accusing the EC of "forgetting" things just like unsuccessful footballers blame the referee for their own shortcomings. Could you please at least provide any example of any previous "aid" that has been "forgotten" by the EC in its "elegant" decisions?

    Please also stop bragging and be more modest, you have not rescued a single euro for any taxpayer. Your only contribution is five dismissed cases and as a result EU resources (funded by the taxpayer) have been unnecessarily wasted. Not to mention those of the municipalities that had been falsely accused.

    You say that the cases "learn" but it seems that you have not learned anything about your failures (five out of five). The result is zero recovery and huge costs in the form of wasted resources at EU, municipality and club level. You have created your own miniature crisis. Rather than accusing the EC without providing any evidence and continuing to damage the reputations of those clubs and municipalities, you should be apologising to the taxpayer. It is never too late.

  • loek Jorritsma

    7/11/2016 3:20:11 PM |

    There was no notification and there was no plan of restructuring the organization before state aid was given. That plan did not exist. In such a plan, and I quote:
    " 36. Het herstructureringsplan moet de omstandigheden beschrijven die tot de moeilijkheden van de onderneming hebben geleid, zodat kan worden nagegaan of de voorgestelde maatregelen passend zijn. Het houdt onder meer rekening met de actuele situatie en de verwachte ontwikkeling van vraag en aanbod op de relevante productmarkt, aan de hand van best-case-, worst-case- en neutrale scenario's, alsmede de specifieke sterke en zwakke punten van de onderneming. Het stelt de onderneming in staat de overgang te maken naar een nieuwe structuur die haar uitzicht biedt op levensvatbaarheid op lange termijn en haar in staat stelt op eigen benen te staan.
    37. Het herstructureringsplan moet zorgen voor een omslag waardoor de onderneming, nadat de herstructurering is voltooid, in staat is al haar kosten te dekken, met inbegrip van afschrijvingen en financiële lasten. Het verwachte rendement op eigen vermogen dient voldoende te zijn om de geherstructureerde onderneming in staat te stellen op eigen kracht op de markt te concurreren. Wanneer de moeilijkheden van de ondernemingen aan een gebrekkige corporate governance zijn te wijten, dienen de nodige aanpassingen te worden doorgevoerd."
    When such a plan does not exist you have to decide how to continu your probe.
    From the Vitesse case every organization could have learned.
    You seem to forget I put the word ' forget'  between brackets, that is on purpose.
    You seem also to forget there was no decision from the EC in professional football clubs at all. From now on these rules must be met at the beginning of delivering state aid, not at half time. And the probe was not only in the Netherlands. In your vocabulary, which I denounce, in Spain there was a 5 out of 5 win. And a lot of money (in my opinion not enough) regained for the tas payer. How about that? And that is for the whole of Europe.

  • loek Jorritsma

    7/11/2016 4:16:31 PM |

    M.i. kan het nu ook in het Nederlands.
    Wat betreft anonimiteit geen antwoord. Dan de vraag wat of er voorafgaand aan het besluit allemaal duidelijk moest zijn:
    " 72. Reddingssteun is een eenmalige operatie die in hoofdzaak is bedoeld om de exploitatie van een onderneming voort te zetten gedurende een beperkte periode waarin de toekomst van de onderneming kan worden geëvalueerd. Het dient echter niet mogelijk te zijn de herhaalde toekenning van reddingssteun maatregelen toe te staan waarmee enkel de status quo wordt bestendigd, het onvermijdelijke wordt uitgesteld en tegelijkertijd de economische en sociale problemen op andere, meer efficiënte producenten of op andere lidstaten worden afgewenteld. Daarom mag reddingssteun slechts eenmaal worden toegekend. In overeenstemming met ditzelfde beginsel mag ook herstructureringssteun slechts eenmaal worden toegekend, om te voorkomen dat ondernemingen die enkel dankzij herhaalde staatssteun kunnen overleven, ten onrechte steun ontvangen. Ten slotte mag, wanneer reddingssteun wordt toegekend aan een onderneming die al herstructureringssteun heeft ontvangen, worden aangenomen dat de moeilijkheden van de begunstigde onderneming een terugkerend probleem zijn en dat herhaalde overheidsmaatregelen aanleiding geven tot vervalsing van de mededinging waardoor het gemeenschappelijk belang wordt geschaad. Dergelijke herhaalde overheidsmaatregelen dienen niet te worden toegestaan.
    73. Wanneer een voornemen tot het verlenen van reddings- of herstructureringssteun bij de Commissie wordt aangemeld, moet de lidstaat aangeven of de betrokken onderneming in het verleden reeds reddings- of herstructureringssteun heeft ontvangen, met inbegrip van vóór de datum van toepassing van de onderhavige richtsnoeren verleende steun en van niet-aangemelde steun (1). Indien dit het geval is en wanneer minder dan tien jaar is verstreken sinds de toekenning van de reddingssteun, het aflopen van de herstructureringsperiode of de beëindiging van de tenuitvoerlegging van het herstructureringsplan (naargelang welke van deze gebeurtenissen het meest recent is), staat de Commissie geen verdere reddings- of herstructureringssteun toe, behalve in de volgende gevallen:
    a) wanneer herstructureringssteun volgt op de toekenning van reddingssteun als onderdeel van één enkele herstructureringsoperatie; of
    b) wanneer reddingssteun onder de voorwaarden van punt 3.1.1 werd toegekend en op deze steun geen door de Staat gesteunde herstructurering volgde, indien:
    i) redelijkerwijs mag worden aangenomen dat de onderneming na de toekenning van reddingssteun op de lange termijn levensvatbaar zal zijn, en
    ii) na ten minste vijf jaar nieuwe reddings- en herstructureringssteun noodzakelijk wordt wegens onvoorzienbare omstandigheden (2) die de onderneming niet zijn toe te rekenen, of
    c) in uitzonderlijke en onvoorzienbare omstandigheden die de onderneming niet zijn toe te rekenen.
    In de onder b) en c) bedoelde gevallen kan de vereenvoudigde procedure van punt 3.1.2 niet worden gebruikt."

    Vraag nu naar het track record van alle begunstigde clubs in de afgelopen 10 jaar, kijk ook naar de staatssteun die aan alle clubs is verleend in de afgelopen jaren en die kunnen worden geschaard onder deze noemer. Dan zal het duidelijk zijn dat voor alle clubs in ons land deze bepalingen vanaf nu gelden en dat de accountants die de Jaarrekeningen moeten goedkeuren hier van uit dienen te gaan.

  • Eindhoven

    7/11/2016 4:16:51 PM |

    This is incorrect since, as you know, there were plans for each of the clubs and the EC had already ruled a long time ago that professional sport clubs are undertakings for EU law purposes, including State aid whether any recovery decision had already been taken in that area or not. Please do not try to claim credit for reinventing the wheel.

    I insist that the end result of your actions is five out of five failures, huge amounts of public resources being wasted, reputational damage (with municipalities suing the EC and the EC backtracking after costly in-depth investigations), zero money recovered and a few interviews given by yourself.

    More importantly, accusing the Commission of "forgetting" (with or without brackets) relevant issues when adopting a decision is a very serious matter and you have failed to provide a single example of that previous aid. You should either provide some evidence or admit that, contrary to your accusation, the Commission did not "forget" anything.  If you can prove that the EC "forgot" any aspect (previous aid or anything else), I am of course very happy to admit that you were right but I seriously doubt it.

  • Eindhoven

    7/12/2016 5:14:27 PM |

    It seems that Mr. Jorritsma is very happy to copy and paste paragraphs of the Restructuring guidelines (if he had just read them a few years ago...) but has failed to provide a single example of the previous aid that, according to him, the EC "forgot" to consider in its Dutch decisions.

    What a complete waste of taxpayers' money and EU resources and now blaming the EC without providing a single example

    Just compare Mr. Jorritsma's five out of five DIY fiasco with the very efficient job performed by FC Bayern on the Spanish cases:

  • loek Jorritsma

    7/12/2016 5:48:30 PM |

    Dear mr. Eindhoven. I love copy paste. It will bring the audience the real texts. And I also like to do my homework. For example reading de Groene Amsterdammer about state aid in the last decade; it is huge. And I expect my opponents to do their homework to. And find out whether or not the Dutch clubs have received aid from their municipalities during the period I mentioned. And google my name and Real Madrid. See the news in Reuter form 2013. Here copy pasted.

    Life | Fri Dec 20, 2013 10:36am GMT Related: SPORT
    EU state aid probe 'not anti-Spain campaign'
    A European Commission probe into possible illegal state aid to seven Spanish football clubs including Real Madrid and Barcelona is not part of a malicious campaign against Spain, one of the complainants said on Friday.

    Loek Jorritsma, a retired senior policy adviser at the Netherlands ministry of sports, made a formal complaint in 2010 highlighting what he believed was illegal aid to clubs in his native Holland as well as to Real.

    The Commission opened an investigation into five Dutch clubs, including PSV Eindhoven, in March and launched a separate probe into Real, Barca, Athletic Bilbao, Osasuna, Valencia, Elche and Hercules on Wednesday.

    The announcement of the Spanish investigation prompted a furious response, with some claiming it was driven by envy at the world and European champions' recent successes.

    Real president Florentino Perez labelled it "a campaign against Spanish football" and said the world's richest club by income had done nothing wrong, while secretary of state for sports Miguel Cardenal complained of "damage to Spain's image".

    Jorritsma said his motivation was to identify possible instances of illegal state aid to professional clubs wherever they occurred in Europe.

    "It's a campaign on behalf of competitive balance, against foul play and for a level playing field, which is disturbed by state aid," Jorritsma told Reuters.

    "I treat the Dutch clubs and all European clubs the same way," the 70-year-old added.

    "It is state aid and they are professional organisations like banks or any other enterprise.

    "It's not culture and there is no law that gives you any freedom to jeopardise the market."

    Jorritsma is not the only complainant in the Spanish case and the EU has said a representative of "several European clubs" also filed a formal objection.

    The Commission has declined to reveal their identity, saying it was a confidential matter.


    Jorritsma is happy to go on the record, however.

    "I am a former civil servant and I don't like to do things anonymously and I take responsibility for the things I do," he said.

    Representatives of some of the Dutch clubs he denounced had even threatened him with physical violence, he added.

    "I explained my reasons to them and in the end they all thought I was very brave.

    "Because of my professional background I know how to formulate things."

    One of the areas Jorritsma highlighted is a property deal Real struck with the City of Madrid in 2011 that the Commission said appeared "very advantageous".

    The swap deal was based on a re-evaluation of a plot of land at a value of 22.7 million euros ($31 million), instead of its earlier supposed value in 1998 of 595,000 euros.

    The Spanish investigation, which could take many months to conclude, is also examining whether Real, Barca, Bilbao and Osasuna benefited from special tax treatment.

    Valencia, Elche and Hercules allegedly received illegal financial assistance from the regional government in the form of loans and bank guarantees.

    All deny wrongdoing and the Spanish government has said it would fight to prevent the clubs being forced to pay back any aid deemed to be illegal.

    (Editing by John O'Brien)

  • Eindhoven

    7/12/2016 7:17:52 PM |

    Ha ha, the article is really funny: "I was very brave", "I know how to formulate things", "I take responsibility for the things I do"... wow!

    We can either trust you or a Spanish MEP with knowledge of the matter who has disclosed that it was FC Bayern who initiated the complaints but it is of course unlikely that Rumenigge will self-glorify himself in an interview. Plus anyone following the Spanish cases knows that they were brought to the Commission in 2009. What did you exactly complain about in 2010? Please explain. Yet again claiming credit for reinventing the wheel?

    I insist that the result of your actions is five out of five failures, huge amounts of public resources being wasted, reputational damage (with municipalities suing the EC and the EC backtracking after costly in-depth investigations), zero money recovered and a few self-glorifying interviews given by yourself.

    And even worse than that, still awaiting a single example of the previous aid to the Dutch clubs that the Commission, according to your accusation, "forgot" about. A single example would be sufficient, great opportunity to take responsibility for your accusation.

Comments are closed