The Relationship Between State Aid and Nuclear Energy and A Legal Analysis of Nuclear Energy State Aid Cases in Terms of European Union State Aid RulesAhmet Sefa Dinleyici
State aid to the nuclear energy sector has increased significantly within the last decade and in parallel to this increase, controversy about giving state aid to nuclear energy has soared. In addition to this controversy, the existence of a special treaty for nuclear energy, called the Euratom Treaty, exclusion of nuclear energy from the ‘Guidelines on State aid for environmental protection and energy 2014-2020’ and very intrinsic risks and market failuresrelated to the nuclear energy sector distinguish nuclear state aid cases from other energy state aid cases. Considering the scarcity of research dealing with increasing nuclear state aid cases in detail, this research intended to focus on the relationship between state aid and nuclear energy and analyse prominent nuclear state aid cases. During the research, prominent nuclear state aid cases which have shaped the case law and related legislations were analysed. It could be briefly concluded that nuclear state aid cases will likely continue to increase as energy markets become more competitive. But it is very clear that intrinsic risks of nuclear energy and related market failures stemming from imperfect market conditions are keenly appreciated by the European Commission and the European Courts, and nuclear cases are treated more leniently in line with these conditions. This sends a very clear message that the lenient approach of the Commission and the Courts toward the nuclear state aid cases will remain as long as market failures and the Euratom Treaty exist and in this regard, the absence of guidelines for nuclear energy, while it seems like a disadvantage, will ensure the needed flexibility of the Commission when making its state aid assessment in nuclear state aid cases.
Devlet Yardımları ve Nükleer Enerji İlişkisi ve Avrupa Birliği Devlet Yardımı Kuralları Bakımından Nükleer Enerji Devlet Yardımı Davalarının Hukuksal İncelemesiAhmet Sefa Dinleyici
Avrupa Birliği rekabet hukuku, diğer fonksiyonlarının yanında, “Ortak Pazar” oluşturmayı hedefler ve bu pazarda özel teşebbüsler yahut üye devletler eliyle oluşabilecek saptırmaları engellemeye çalışır. Devletlerin yapabileceği saptırmalar ise “Devlet Yardımı Kuralları” marifetiyle kontrol altına alınmaya çalışılır. Bu bakımdan Avrupa Birliği içerisinde geliştirilen devlet yardımları kontrol sistemi benzeri neredeyse olmayan ve gelişmiş bir sistemdir. Avrupa Komisyonu tarafından yayınlanan son devlet yardımı tablosuna göre üye devletlerin devlet yardımı harcamaları 2013 yılından bu yana artmaktadır. Devlet yardımı harcamaları arasında ise enerji sektörü en fazla yardım alanlar sektör konumundadır. Ancak devlet yardımı kuralları açısından nükleer enerjiye yapılan devlet yardımları diğer enerji kaynaklarına yapılan devlet yardımlarından farklılık arz etmekte ve çeşitli sebeplerden dolayı hususi inceleme gerektirmektedir. Literatürde bugüne değin bazı önemli nükleer enerji devlet yardımları tek tek ele alınmış yahut nükleer enerji konusu devlet yardımını konu alan önemli akademik çalışmalarda yeterince detaya inilmeden yalnızca bir alt bölüm olarak zikredilmiştir. Bu durum dikkate alınarak çalışmamızda nükleer enerjisektörü ve devlet yardımı ilişkisi ele alınarak ve nükleer enerji devlet yardımlarının içtihad hukukunda nasıl değerlendirildiği ve içtihad hukukunun müdahil taraflara berrak bir manzara arz edip etmediği incelenmiştir. Yapılan tüm incelemeler ışığında nükleer enerji sektörüne uygulanacak devlet yardımı kuralları konusunun büyük ölçüde yerleştiği görülmektedir. Bu kapsamda enerji piyasaları daha fazla rekabetçi hale geldikçe nükleer enerji devlet yardımı davalarının da artış gösterebileceği beklenebilir. Ancak Avrupa Komisyonu ve Mahkemeler, nükleer enerji özelinde oluşan riskleri ve buna bağlı olarak gelişen piyasa aksaklıklarını dikkate alarak nükleer devlet yardımı davalarını daha esnek olarak ele almaktadır. Nükleer enerjiye özgü riskler, piyasa aksaklıkları ve en temelde Euratom Anlaşması yürürlükte olduğu müddetçe bu esnek yaklaşımın devam edeceği açıkça görülmektedir. Bu konuda bir kılavuzun olmayışı ilk bakışta bir dezavantaj olarak görülse de, bu durum Avrupa Komisyonu’na gelecekte nükleer enerjiye yapılacak devlet yardımlarını incelerken gerekli esnekliği sağlamada en önemli faktör olmaya devam edecektir.
Uncompetitive behaviours of states are controlled through state aid rules. These state aid rules essentially serve to protect internal markets by limiting states’ market distortive aid measures. According to the latest state aid scoreboard published by the European Commission, state aid spending of Member States has increased since 2013. Within state aid spending, the energy sector is one the sectors receiving most aid and is the source of serious controversies between Member States.
However, nuclear energy stands out among other types of energy sources and requires particular examination in terms of state aid rules for several reasons. First, it can easily be noticed that numbers of state aid cases to nuclear energy sector have increased significantly within the last decade and could be expected to increase more in the future. Second, the existence of the Euratom Treaty and accompanying issue of the applicability of state aid rules to nuclear energy sector place nuclear state aid cases in a very special position. In addition, nuclear energy is excluded from the 2014 Environmental Protection and Energy Guidelines though it had originally been included in its draft. Moreover, it has been seen that several state aid decisions of the Commission regarding the nuclear energy sector were challenged by other Member States, a situation which has been encountered very rarely within state aid control history. On the very contrary to these negative attitudes toward nuclear state aid, the Commission and European Courts have treated it differently and showed a very lenient approach in nuclear state aid cases.
Given the increasing importance of nuclear energy state aid cases and the growing controversy around these cases, there is an increased need to deal with nuclear state aid case law as a whole to understand accurately how the Commission and the Courts assessed the relationship between state aid and nuclear energy in those cases.
In the Germany Contingency Reserves case, the content of selectivity, one of the main requirements of establishing state aid, was clarified. It was explicitly reiterated that incidentally providing more benefits for one undertaking from the state measure which applied equally to all undertakings does not necessarily make the state measure selective. Accordingly, it was settled that the important thing which prevents state measures from being selective is to set equal criteria for undertakings to benefit from state measure instead of dealing with them as if all undertakings equally benefited from the state measure.
In British Energy decisions, the increasing necessity of state aid for nuclear power plants as energy markets become more competitive was clearly noticed. It has been understood that low prices and a lack of financial instruments, which could hedge market risks for a long time, could expose nuclear power plant operators to unbearable challenges, as was the case for British Energy. After the British Energy decisions, as expected, numbers of nuclear state aid cases have soared due to rising numbers of various risks stemming from increasingly competitive energy market conditions.
The most important advancement of state aid law was achieved thanks to long EDF cases by which the scope of private investor test was widened. After the EDF cases, it was settled that, even if state measures were regulatory measures, the Commission will have to investigate if a private investor test is applicable. In other words, the Commission will have to look at the effect of the measure, not its form of. In the same vein after the EDF cases, the Commission has taken a very important decision in Hungary Paks II as to the content of the private investor test and showed how the private investor test should be applied within nuclear energy state aid cases, taking into consideration the uncertainties of the nuclear energy sector in order to attain more accurate results.
When it comes to most controversial case of nuclear state aid history, the Hinkley case, the main discussions were around the separation of investment and operating aid. While state measures for Hinkley, such as CfD, at first glance, seemed to be operating aid, the Commission decided to look deep inside and then accepted these measures as if they were investment aid. As these state measures were accepted as investment aid, they were found compatible with state aid rules. It has to be accepted that the Commission’s effect-based stance is a very important advancement within case law, and it is likely to encourage other states to use different state aid mechanisms similar to CfD in order to minimise risks for private investors.
Considering all of the above, the issue of the application of state aid rules to nuclear energy sector is now mostly settled and, nuclear state aids will continue to be controlled under state aid rules taking into account the objectives of the Euratom Treaty. It could be expected that nuclear state aid cases will likely continue to increase as energy markets become more competitive. But it is very clear that the intrinsic risks of nuclear energy and related market failures stemming from imperfect market conditions are keenly appreciated by the Commission and the Courts, and nuclear cases are treated more leniently in line with these conditions. This sends a very clear message that the lenient approach of the Commission and the Courts toward the nuclear state aid cases will remain as long as market failures and the Euratom treaty exist and in this regard, the absence of guidelines for nuclear energy, while it seems like a disadvantage, will ensure the needed flexibility of the Commission when making its state aid assessment in nuclear state aid cases.