In the wake of the global credit crisis, a number of EU Member States found it necessary to take certain aid measures with regard to the banking sector. These measures, some of which had to be decided on and implemented within a very short timeframe, ranged from a temporary State guarantee for some types of deposits, to the partial nationalisation of banks.

It is clear that a number of these support measures risk contravening EU rules on State aid, as the Treaty limits the possibility for such measures to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a Member State. To help Member States deal with possible issues arising from these limitations, the European Commission has published a guidance document on aid measures for banks hit by the financial crisis. (See Brussels Brief, 17 October 2008). These guidelines enumerate a number of principles to be followed by a Member State when aiding a troubled bank. The principles focus mainly on: (i) the non-discriminatory nature of support schemes; (ii) the time and scope limitations on aid measures; (iii) sufficient private sector contribution; (iv) anti-abuse measures; and (v) proper follow-up.

On 20 November 2008, in light of these principles, the Commission approved a number of measures taken by Belgium (and other countries) in support of Fortis and Dexia. These measures include a Belgian State guarantee for short and mid-term loans taken out by Fortis Bank and a more extensive State guarantee scheme by Belgium, France and Luxembourg for loans taken out by Dexia.

The Commission has yet to decide on a number of other measures taken by Belgium with regard to Fortis Bank on 6 October 2008, including capital injection and its expedited sale to BNP Paribas.