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Spain: Tax treatment of finance lease agreements involving shipyards held state aid (EU General Court)

Spain: Tax treatment of finance lease agreements

The General Court of the European Union today issued a judgment concluding that the Spanish tax system applicable to certain finance lease agreements entered into by shipyards constitutes an aid scheme, and that this unlawful state aid granted under that system must be recovered from the beneficiaries.

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The judgment was issued in joined cases: RENV Espagne v. Commission (T-515/13) and Pequeños y Medianos Astilleros Sociedad de Reconversión, SA v. Commission (T-719/13) (23 September 2020)

Read a release [PDF 166 KB] from the EU General Court


Summary

The Spanish tax lease system, in financing certain lease agreements, allowed shipping companies to benefit from a 20% to 30% price reduction when purchasing ships constructed by Spanish shipyards. The European Commission found that the objective of this tax lease system was to grant tax advantages to economic interest groupings and the investors participating in them, which then passed on part of those benefits to the shipping companies that bought a new ship. The EC adopted a decision in July 2013, concluding that the system constituted state aid in the form of a selective tax advantage that was partially incompatible with the internal market and ordered the Spanish authorities to recover the aid from the investors (the economic interest groupings)

The taxpayers (applicants) in this case contested the EC’s position and brought actions to annul the EC’s decision. In December 2015, the EU General Court annulled the EC decision. The EC appealed, and Court of Justice of the European Union set aside the judgment of the General Court and referred the case back to the General Court for further development.

Today, the General Court issued its judgment dismissing the actions brought by the taxpayers. 

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