BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Germany’s exemptions for heavy industry to a green energy surcharge were legal, the European Union’s top court said on Thursday, in a ruling that overturned a 2014 decision of the EU antitrust regulator.
The European Commission, which is responsible for competition policy, had ordered Germany to recoup some of the multi-billion euro reductions on the green surcharge it granted in 2013 and 2014 to some 2,000 heavy energy users.
They include chemical giant BASF <BASFn.DE> and steelmaker ThyssenKrupp <TKAG.DE>.
The Commission’s decision was backed by the EU general court in a ruling in 2016. But the European Court of Justice on Thursday overturned that verdict, saying Brussels had not proved the exemptions offered were illegal state aid.
Seven years ago, Germany imposed levies on power bills to subsidise the development of renewable sources such as wind turbines and solar panels, but exempted from the surcharge firms that were heavy users of energy, such as aluminium or copper, to avoid affecting their competitiveness.
The EU Commission said that was illegal state aid and ordered a partial recoup of the discount granted to those firms, which in total was estimated to around 5 billion euros ($5.6 billion).
But the EU top court said the commission failed to establish that the advantages provided by the 2012 German law were illegal state aid. It also said the EU court of first instance “was wrong” when in 2016 stated that those subsidies were illegal.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Andrew Cawthorne)