Brussels – State aid rules enable member states to grant state aid to press agencies as compensation for services of general economic interest, an European Commission spokesperson said on Monday. Under certain conditions, compensation may be granted without prior approval by the Commission.
“If certain conditions are met, including that the amount of aid is below a certain threshold, compensation may be granted without prior notification and approval by the Commission – it can be implemented directly,” Arianna Podesta, the Commission’s spokesperson for competition, told the daily press briefing.
The threshold is set at EUR 15 million per year, according to a Commission working paper which defines the rules for the application regulations on state aid, public procurement and internal market for services of general economic interest.
Podesta said the Commission was in contact with Slovenian authorities on this matter.
For now the Commission has not provided more specific information regarding the financing of the STA, while unofficial information indicates that the STA public service payments could be below the threshold for notification.
Christian Wigand, spokesperson for the judiciary, meanwhile said that media should be able to work freely and independently everywhere in the EU,” since this lies at the heart of media pluralism”.
“Public media play a special role in the EU and we call on all member states to refrain from attempts at putting pressure on them … We attach great importance to these fundamental values.”
He also said the decision related to the funding of the agency needed to be “scrutinised at the national level by the relevant authorities”.
The comments came in response to questions by Slovenian media after the government decided to solicit a state aid opinion from the Commission following legislative changes adopted to secure financing for the STA.
Two Slovenian MEPs from the Renew political grouping meanwhile urged the Commission’s Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager to act promptly in the case of STA funding.
Irena Joveva and Klemen Grošelj of the opposition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) warned that the government’s action posed a threat to the Slovenian media’s freedom.
In a letter to Vestager, who is in charge of competition policy, they said they would like “further damage to our credible source of news to be remedied and prevented in the shortest possible time”.