“In the field of industrial restructuring, the Commission adopted a decision requesting Romania to recover EUR 27 million unlawful aid in relation to the privatization of Automobile Craiova, which had been sold on conditions aiming at ensuring a certain level of production and employment, accepting in exchange a lower sales price”, reads the report.

“2008 was an unusual and difficult year, which confronted Europe with unprecedented economic challenges”, said the Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes.

“I believe that the Commission's actions in the field of competition were a determining factor in preserving the single market and the benefits of competition, while ensuring stability in the financial system”, the commissioner added.

Saint-Gobain fined repeatedly for cartels in the flat glass sector

The annual report on competition released by the European Commission features for the first time a chapter focusing on cartels and the way price fixing affects consumers. CE prohibits anticompetitive behavior and fines cartel members, in an effort to deter every company from continuing or engaging in anti-competitive behavior.

“The commission imposes higher fines on repeat offenders (…) and a stronger deterrent would seem to be necessary. In the Car Glass case, for example, the commission increased the fines for the company Saint-Gobain by 60% because it was a repeat offender, having previously been fined for two cartels in the flat glass sector”, reads the report.

Saint-Gobain runs operations in the flat glass industry in Romania.

The level of merger notifications continued at record levels in 2008 with a total of 347 transactions being notified to the Commission, with a total amount of 2.27 billion euros. In the “Car Glass” case the Commission imposed the highest fine for a cartel case to date, amounting to 1,383 million euros.

CE announces it recovered 91% of the illegal and incompatible aid

“The Commission also signals the progress towards recovery that was made. Of the 10.3 billion euros of illegal and incompatible aid to be recovered under decisions adopted since 2000, some EUR 9.3 billion (i.e. 90.7% of the total amount) had actually been recovered by the end of 2008”. In addition, a further 2.5 billion euros in recovery interest had been recovered.

In 2008, the Commission adopted, as announced, a General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER) giving automatic approval for a range of aid measures33 and so allowing Member States to grant such aid without first notifying the Commission.

In the context of the climate change package, the Commission adopted new guidelines on state aid for environmental protection. The Commission also prolonged the Framework on State aid rules for shipbuilding for a further three years, until 31 December 2011.

A new notice on state aid in the form of guarantees sets out clear and transparent methodologies to calculate the aid element in a guarantee and provides simplified rules for SMEs.

The EC also adopted a new temporary framework providing Member States with additional possibilities to tackle the effects of the credit squeeze on the real economy, applicable by end 2010.

The Member States may grant a lump sum of aid up to 500,000 euros per company for the next two years, to relieve the current difficulties. The states may as well grant guarantees for loans at reduced premiums, subsidized loans – in particular for the production of green products – and higher risk capital aid