Commission says EU rules cannot be excuse to stop press agency funding
Brussels - European rules cannot be used as an excuse to stop the funding of press agencies, an European Commission spokesperson said on Tuesday about the financing of the STA. It appears that the aid could be granted without the need for prior approval by the Commission, according to Arianna Podesta.
The statement comes after Podesta, the Commission's spokesperson for competition, said yesterday that in general state aid rules allow member states to grant state aid to press agencies as compensation for services of general economic interest.
"Let me be clear, European rules cannot be used as an excuse to stop the funding of press agencies across the EU," she added today, noting that based on the available information, "the amount of financing for the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) are within the limits laid down in EU legislation".
"Furthermore, Slovenia has not indicated that any other relevant conditions specified in the rules for state aid for compensation of services of general economic interest would not be met. Therefore, it appears that the aid could be granted without the need for prior notification to and approval by the Commission."
The last month for which the STA received compensation for the performance of its public service was September, whereupon the Government Communication Office (UKOM), which is in charge of disbursing the funds, suspended financing due to a dispute with the STA management over documents that it believes the STA should deliver.
At the end of the year, a legislative amendment was added to the 7th economic stimulus package stipulating that the STA must receive funds for all overdue claims by a deadline that expired last week.
The government argued the new provision turned the financing into a direct obligation and hence needed to be checked for compliance with EU state aid rules, a move described by the STA management and staff as an attempt to defer the funding and financially drain the agency.
Janja Sluga, the deputy group leader of the coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC), which had tabled the amendment, welcomed the Commission's prompt and clear reaction.
Now that things are clear, "I hope the government will finally start respecting legislation," she said, although admitting she was worried about potential moves to delay the implementation of the amendment.
She discussed it with the SMC ministers at today's meeting of the party's deputy group and they agreed to demand that the amendment be respected.