€10m state aid case in court again
A marathon legal battle between Ireland the European Commission over alleged State-aid granted to the now Russian-owned Aughinish Alumina metals plant based in Co Limerick will be reignited in court this week.
In 2005, the European Commission ruled that Aughinish Alumina, a huge refinery that produces a powder that is used to make aluminium, had received €10m of illegal tax breaks between 2002 and 2004.
It was owned at the time by Swiss commodities giant Glencore, which later merged its alumina assets with Russia's Rusal.
The Commission ordered the Government to recoup the money from Aughinish Alumina. The Government had exempted the facility from paying excise duty on mineral oil it uses.
The Government appealed the Commission's €10m finding to the European General Court in Luxembourg, which in late 2007 overturned the Commission's order.
The Commission also said at the time that it would not seek to have all the state aid provided to Aughinish Alumina between 1983 and 2005 repaid. That could have totalled as much as €100m.
The European Commission then appealed the General Court's 2007 finding to the higher court, the European Court of Justice. It overturned the General Court's decision and sent the case back to be reheard by the General Court.
In 2012, the General Court again annulled the Commission decision, arguing that the EU Council of Ministers had previously made decisions permitting exemptions from excise duty, and that those decisions could not be ignored by the Commission.
But in December 2013, the European Court of Justice again found that the General Court had erred in is judgment and sent the case back to examine a number of remaining arguments.
That means that the state aid case is effectively being contested once again, ensuring that it will have dragged out for more than a decade by the time another ruling is delivered. The General Court is due to hear the case on Wednesday.
A spokesman for the European Courts of Justice said the General Court has four main issues to consider, including the contention by the Irish Government that the Commission erred in law in incorrectly classifying the aid secured by Aughinish Alumina, which is the largest alumina refinery in Europe.