Case Law: Région Wallonne v. Commission

4 Colum. J. Eur. L. 675 (1998)

Piet Van Nuffel. Assistant, International and European Law, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.

Case C-95/97. Région wallonne v. Commission, 1997 E.C.R. 1-1787.
Case T-70/97. Région wallonne v. Commission (Ct. First Instance Sept. 29, 1997) (not yet reported).

Action for annulment; Admissibility; Right of a regional authority to bring an action

Facts and Procedure

In June 1996, the Belgian authorities notified the Commission of the intention of the Walloon Region (Région wallonne) to grant financial assistance to the steel plant Forges de Clabecq. The objective was to grant the aid through Société wallonne de sidérurgie (SWS), a company wholly owned by the Walloon Region. The assistance was planned as part of the restructuring of the undertaking and consisted chiefly of a capital injection. Pending Commission authorization, measures were taken to enable the undertaking to continue to operate. These measures included a restructuring of the undertaking’s long-term debt, a waiver of claims, and a grant of bridging loans. In its Decision of December 18, 1996, addressed to the Kingdom of Belgium, the Commission found the intended aid incompatible with the common market. As a result, Belgium was required to abolish all aid measures and demand reimbursement of aid already granted.

On February 25, 1997, the Walloon Region brought an action for annulment of the Commission’s Decision. Although the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice is limited to actions brought by a Member State or a Community institution, the Walloon Region lodged its action in the Court of Justice nonetheless. The Region based its action on the first paragraph of Article 33 of the Treaty Establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC Treaty) with reference also to the fourth paragraph of Article 173 of the Treaty Establishing the European Community (EC Treaty).

For the first time, the Court in Région wallonne v. Commission (Forges de Clabecq) was confronted with a decentralized public authority claiming to act on behalf of a Member State. Under the first paragraph of Article 33 of the ECSC Treaty and the second paragraph of Article 173 of the EC Treaty, Member States have the right to bring an action for annulment without the need to show any special interest. This differs from appeals brought by natural or legal persons, which have to fulfill the additional conditions stipulated in the second paragraph of Article 33 of the ECSC Treaty and the fourth paragraph of Article 173 of the EC Treaty.