State aid: Commission orders Belgium to recover €211 million from several steel companies within the Duferco group

The Commission has concluded that €211 million funding granted by the Walloon authorities in Belgium to several steel companies within the Duferco group between 2006 and 2011 distorted competition in breach of EU state aid rules. Following an in-depth investigation, the Commission concluded that no private investor would have accepted to invest at the same terms as the Belgian Foreign Strategic Investments Holding (FSIH), a public authority controlled by the Walloon Government in Belgium. The public funding therefore provides a selective advantage to its recipients that their competitors who have to operate without such subsidised funding did not have. MargretheVestager, Commissioner in charge of competition policy, said: “Steelmakers across the EU are struggling with worldwide overcapacity and strong imports – the response to this challenge must be to improve the sector’s long-term global competitiveness. Therefore, EU state aid rules enable Member States to for example support research activities or relieve energy costs of steel companies, and the Commission tackles international trade distortions usinganti-dumping or anti-subsidy measures. It is also why EU countries and the Commission have put in place strict safeguards against state aid to rescue and restructure steel companies in difficulty. This avoids harmful subsidy races between EU countries and that uncontrolled state aid in one EU country can unfairly put at risk thousands of jobs across the EU. Despite the illegal state aid to Duferco the company has now withdrawn almost all business activities from Belgium. The case shows that state aid to artificially keep steel manufacturers afloat that are not viable seriously distorts competition and only delays their exit from the market at the cost of taxpayers.” The full press release is available online in ENFRDE and NL