The current financial crisis has prompted the European Commission to issue guidance on the measures that can be taken by EU Member States while respecting State aid rules and avoiding excessive distortions of competition. The legal basis for the Emergency Guidelines is not the existing Rescue and Restructuring Guidelines, but a little-used EC Treaty provision (Article 87(3)b) that allows for aid to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a Member State. The principles underlying the Emergency Guidelines nevertheless reflect the Rescue and Restructuring Guidelines whilst being specifically adapted for the financial sector.
There are a number of specific conditions that must be complied with in order to ensure that State support schemes clear State aid hurdles. These include non-discriminatory access to State schemes, e.g., eligibility should not be based on nationality. State supports should be limited in time, reviewed, adjusted and then terminated as soon as market conditions allow. There should also be rules to prevent abuse, such as aggressive market expansion, on the back of State supports such as guarantees. Other conditions relate to ensuring that unjustified benefits are not granted to shareholders, that the private sector pays a significant part of the cost of the support granted and that appropriate structural adjustments are made to the financial sector as a whole.
Meeting the conditions set out in the Emergency Guidelines enables Member States to access a fast track procedure that can provide clearance in as little as 24 hours. Like most high-level banking officials, Commission State aid officials have been working round the clock to deal with support measures arising out of the current crisis.