European Union

Brussels gives Spanish shipyards room for maneuver

Sector may have to return nearly €3bn of tax deductions

European Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia on Wednesday.
European Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia on Wednesday.OLIVIER HOSLET (EFE)

The European commissioner for competition, Joaquín Almunia, said on Wednesday that there was still a "margin" for the reconsideration of a decision to force Spain to recoup 2.8 billion euros of tax deductions from the country's ship industry. But only, he said, if the government were to present "new arguments."

At the end of June, Almunia, who is Spanish, announced that the European Commission would be taking a decision on July 17 as to whether the money will have to be recouped. Spain's private shipyards made tax deductions between 2005 and 2011 via a sophisticated system of bonuses for the construction of ships - known as the tax lease system. Brussels has since decided that the system was a covert grant that broke European competition regulations.

"Until the day that the Commission makes a decision, no decision will have been made," Almunia said on Wednesday. "That is a tautology but it must be taken into account, because this is the current situation.

"Today is July 3," he continued. "The decision is included on the agenda for July 17, and there is a margin, in that there are arguments for that margin to be utilized."

Almunia explained that he will be meeting with Spanish Industry Minister José Manuel Soria next week. Regional leaders who wish to attend the meeting can accompany him, he added.

"Over the next few days we need to analyze the situation once more, to see if there are any new arguments, and to discuss those arguments," Almunia said.

He also revealed that on Tuesday he had conversations with Soria, two regional premiers and several union leaders. Almunia's position has changed since Monday, when he said that he could not let Spain off the hook in the matter as it would mean breaking the rules laid down by the EU.

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