State aid: guidance

Guidance to help public sector bodies to understand and comply with state aid rules.

Please be aware, as of 01 January 2021, the EU State aid information on these pages is no longer applicable in the UK and should be used for reference only.

Complaints about alleged unlawful state aid

This page outlines the legal basis and the process under which the European Commission will consider complaints against alleged unlawful state aid.

The legal basis for state aid complaints is held within the Procedural Regulation (EU) No. 734/2013 and the Implementing Regulation (EU) No 372/2014.

Complaints will only be considered where it can be demonstrated that there may be state aid present.

Who can lodge a complaint

Pursuant to Article 20 of the Procedural Regulation, only interested parties may submit complaints to inform the Commission of any alleged unlawful aid or misuse of aid.

To that end, natural and legal persons submitting a complaint pursuant to Articles 10(1) and 20(2) of Regulation (EC) No 659/1999 shall demonstrate that they are interested parties within the meaning of Article 1(h) of that Regulation (see to that end also Article 11a (1) of the Implementing Regulation).

Article 1(h) of the Procedural Regulation defines interested parties as: "any Member State and any person, undertaking or association of undertakings whose interests might be affected by the granting of aid, in particular the beneficiary of the aid, competing undertakings and trade associations."

The complaint form

Article 20(2) of the Procedural Regulation has made the use of a complaints form compulsory. A new complaints form was introduced by an amendment to the Implementing Regulation.

Pursuant to article 11a (1) of the Implementing Regulation, interested parties are required to duly complete the form set out in its Annex IV and provide all the mandatory information requested therein. This new requirement entered into force on 2 May 2014. Its main purpose is to facilitate the handling of complaints by ensuring that the Commission receives all relevant information regarding alleged unlawful or misused aid.

On a reasoned request by an interested party, the Commission may dispense with the obligation to provide some of the information required by the form (Article 11a (2) of the Implementing Regulation). Complaints shall be submitted in one of the official languages of the Union (Article 11a (3) of the Implementing Regulation).

The Commission will ask complainants that have submitted incomplete information to make their views known within a set deadline. In the absence of a timely reply, the complaint will be deemed withdrawn.

Submitting a complaint

There are two ways to submit a complaint:

  1. Download the complaint form and send it in to the Commission either in print by post or by email.
  2. Fill in the online form and submit it electronically through the Commission's website.

Any complaint submitted should be non-confidential, without business secrets or other confidential information.

After a complaint is submitted

You should receive an acknowledgment of receipt of your complaint within 15 working days. The Commission will examine the information provided and inform you of the outcome as soon as possible (see section 7 on 'complaints' of the Code of Best Practice for the conduct of State aid control procedures).

Be aware that, notwithstanding what is provided in section 7.1 of the Code, Article 20(2) of the Procedural Regulation now requires interested parties to duly complete the form set out in Annex IV to the Implementing Regulation and provide all the mandatory information requested therein.

Your non-confidential version of the complaint may be submitted to the Member State for comments. You will be kept informed of the Commission investigation.

Within the Commission, state aid complaints are treated on a decentralised basis by the departments responsible. For more information, see the list of Commission contacts.

Bringing a case before a national court

The obligation of Member States to notify planned state aid to the Commission ('standstill obligation') has direct effect, which means that parties affected by state aid granted in disregard of the standstill obligation ('unlawful aid') can bring direct action before national courts.

Therefore, natural or legal persons whose interests have been adversely affected by the alleged unlawful aid can pursue the matter before the national courts, which must assess the case regardless of the existence of any parallel procedure before the Commission.

Actions before national courts can offer an important means of redress, which can bring immediate relief to the complainant affected by unlawful state aid. Remedies available before national courts include:

  • preventing the payment of unlawful aid
  • recovery of unlawful aid (regardless of compatibility)
  • recovery of illegality interest
  • damages for competitors and other third parties
  • interim measures against unlawful aid

The Commission cannot offer advice about the national procedures available in individual cases. The Commission's page on state aid provides more information on the application of state aid law by national courts.

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