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Spain: Special tax regime for football clubs (CJEU judgment)

Spain: Special tax regime for football clubs

The General Court of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) today released a judgment that rejected the European Commission’s decision to classify a tax regime applicable to four Spanish professional football clubs as “state aid.”

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The judgments were issued in: Athletic Club v. Commission, T-679/16, and Fútbol Club Barcelona v. Commission, T-865/16.

As noted in a related CJEU release [PDF 167 KB], all Spanish professional football clubs were required by a 1990 law to convert to sports public limited companies (SPLCs). The intention was to encourage more responsible management of the football club activities.

An exception was provided for professional sports clubs that had achieved a positive result for the tax years preceding the Spanish law. These clubs were permitted to continue to operate as sports clubs. Four Spanish professional football clubs chose that option. Accordingly, as non-profit organisations and in contrast to SPLCs, their income was taxed at a specific rate that was, until 2016, lower than the rate applicable to SPLCs.

In 2016, the European Commission declared that Spain had unlawfully implemented state aid in the form of a corporation tax privilege in favour of these four professional football clubs. According to the EC, the regime was incompatible with the internal market, and it ordered Spain to discontinue the scheme and to recover the aid granted from the recipients.

The football clubs brought an action against the EC’s decision before the General Court of the European Union. With today’s judgment, the General Court annuled the EC’s decision with respect to two of the football clubs. Another action was dismissed. 

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