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Summary of the Judgment
Summary of the Judgment
Judgment of the Court of First Instance (Fifth Chamber, Extended Composition) of 12 December 1996.
Association internationale des utilisateurs de fils de filaments artificiels et synthétiques et de soie naturelle (AIUFFASS) and Apparel, Knitting & Textiles Alliance (AKT) v Commission of the European Communities.
Action for annulment - State aid - Textiles - Trade association - Admissibility - Manifest error of assessment - Excess capacity.
1 Actions for annulment - Natural or legal persons - Measures of direct and individual concern to them - Commission decision authorizing State aid - Action brought by associations representing the main international and national producers in the sector concerned, which took part in the administrative procedure for adopting the decision and played an active role vis-à-vis the Commission with regard to aid to that sector - Admissibility
(EC Treaty, Art. 93(2) and Art. 173, fourth para.)
2 State aid - Prohibition - Derogations - Authorization of the grant of regional aid to a textile undertaking - Balancing the aims of free competition and Community solidarity - Discretion of the Commission - Judicial review - Limits
(EC Treaty, Art. 92(3)(a) and (c))
3 Actions for annulment - Decision on State aid - Complaints not raised during the administrative procedure - Admissibility
(EC Treaty, Arts 93(2) and 173)
4 An action for annulment brought by an association of undertakings which is not the addressee of the contested act is admissible in two sets of circumstances. The first is where the association has a particular interest in acting, especially because its negotiating position is affected by the measure which it seeks to have annulled. The second is where the association, by bringing its action, has substituted itself for one or more of the members whom it represents, on condition that those members were themselves in a position to bring an admissible action.
Even where its addressee is the Member State concerned, a Commission decision authorizing the grant of national aid to an undertaking is of direct and individual concern, within the meaning of the fourth paragraph of Article 173 of the Treaty, to associations representing the main international and national producers in the sector concerned which have taken part in the administrative procedure culminating in the adoption of the contested decision and have been active in relation both to the general policy on State aid and to specific aid projects in the sector in the interests of their members or of members of their members, where there is no doubt that the national authorities intended to grant the proposed aid.
5 As far as regional aid is concerned, Article 92(3)(a) and (c) of the Treaty introduces two derogations from free competition, based on the aim of Community solidarity, a fundamental objective of the Treaty, as may be seen from the preamble. In exercising its discretion, the Commission has to ensure that the aims of free competition and Community solidarity are reconciled, whilst complying with the principle of proportionality. The influence of Community solidarity may vary depending on the circumstances; it has more of an influence to the detriment of competition in the crisis situations described in paragraph 3(a) than in the cases provided for in paragraph 3(c). In this context, the Commission is under a duty to evaluate the sectoral effects of the planned regional aid, even where regions likely to fall within paragraph 3(a) are concerned, in order to avoid a situation in which, as a result of an aid measure, a sectoral problem is created at Community level which is more serious than the initial regional problem.
However, so as not to deprive paragraph 3(a) of its utility, the Commission has a broader discretion in balancing those objectives in the case of an aid project intended to promote the development of a region coming under paragraph 3(a) than it has in the case of identical aid to a region covered by paragraph 3(c).
Judicial review of a decision taken in this context must be confined to verifying whether the rules governing procedure and the statement of reasons were complied with, whether the facts on which the contested finding was based have been accurately stated and whether there has been any manifest error in assessing those facts or any misuse of powers. In particular, the Court is not entitled to substitute its own economic assessment for that of the author of the decision.
However, where the undertaking for which the proposed aid is intended is part of the textile sector, the Community Court must also check that the Commission complied with the guidelines which it has laid down for itself with regard to that sector.
In order to establish in such judicial review that the Commission committed a manifest error in assessing the facts such as to justify the annulment of the contested decision, the evidence adduced by the applicants must be sufficient to make the factual assessments used in the decision implausible.
6 In the field of State aid, in the absence of a provision to such effect, there is nothing to prevent a person directly and individually concerned by a decision addressed to a third party who has brought an action for annulment against that decision from raising complaints against an assessment made known when the procedure provided for in Article 93(2) of the Treaty was opened, and repeated in the contested decision, even where that person has not raised those complaints in its observations submitted during the administrative procedure.