Slovenia has not withdrawn STA state aid notification

Slovenska tiskovna agencija (STA) - Slovenian Press Agency.

Brussels – The Slovenian authorities have not withdrawn notification of state aid to the STA even though the European Commission has said its clearance is not necessary. If Slovenia insists it wants a decision, the case will be processed as a matter of priority, a Commission spokeswoman said on Thursday.

The Commission reiterated its position that under state aid rules, member states may grant aid to media, including press agencies, which perform services of general economic interest.

“The choice of granting aid is always a policy decision of member states, but of course European rules cannot serve as an excuse to stop funding media or press agencies specifically,” said Arianna Podesta, the Commission’s spokeswoman for competition, told the Commission’s midday briefing.

In January two EU Commissioners said member states were entitled to grant public service aid without prior notification to the Commission, something which in the case of the STA they have been doing for almost ten years.

At the time the Commission responded to the Slovenian authorities and, according to unofficial information, asked them to withdraw the notification concerning the financing of the STA. Podesta said today that the notification had not been withdrawn.

“We remain in contact with the Slovenian authorities on this matter … If the Slovenian authorities insist on receiving a Commission decision, we will assess it as a matter of priority as soon as the Slovenian authorities send us the complete information on this measure,” she said.

The Government Communication Office (UKOM) in November suspended the financing of the STA, whereupon amendments to a stimulus act were passed mandating that it settle all overdue obligations to the agency.

Before any funds were transferred, the Finance Ministry turned to the Commission inquiring whether that may constitute illegal state aid, but following a letter by Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager in January, UKOM settled its liabilities saying that Vestager’s statement “indicates the possibility of a positive European Commission decision regarding the transfer of state aid for the STA”.