Language of document :

Appeal brought on 21 December 2018 by Vereniging tot Behoud van Natuurmonumenten in Nederland and Others against the judgment of the General Court (Second Chamber) of 15 October 2018 in Case T-79/16, Vereniging Gelijkberechtiging Grondbezitters and Others v Commission

(Case C-817/18 P)

Language of the case: Dutch


Appellants: Vereniging tot Behoud van Natuurmonumenten in Nederland, Stichting Het Groninger Landschap, It Fryske Gea, Stichting Het Drentse Landschap, Stichting Het Overijssels Landschap, Stichting Het Geldersch Landschap, Stichting Flevo-Landschap, Stichting Het Utrechts Landschap, Stichting Landschap Noord-Holland, Stichting Het Zuid-Hollands Landschap, Stichting Het Zeeuwse Landschap, Stichting Het Noordbrabants Landschap, Stichting Het Limburgs Landschap (represented by: P. Kuypers, M. de Wit, advocaten)

Other parties to the proceedings: European Commission, Vereniging Gelijkberechtiging Grondbezitters, Exploitatiemaatschappij De Berghaaf BV, Stichting Het Nationale Park De Hoge Veluwe, BV Landgoed Den Alerdinck II, Landgoed Ampsen BV, Pallandt van Keppel Stichting, Landgoed Kasteel Keppel BV, Baron van Lynden, Stichting het Lijndensche Fonds voor Kerk en Zending, Landgoed Welna BV, Landgoed ‘Huis te Maarn’ BV, Vicariestichting De Vijf Capellarijen / Ambachtsheerlijkheid Kloetinge, Maatschappij tot Exploitatie van het Landgoed Tongeren onder Epe BV, Landgoed Anderstein NV, Landgoed Bekspring BV, Landgoed Nijenhuis en Westerflier BV, Landgoed Caprera BV, Landgoed Schapenduinen BV, Stichting Schapenduinen, Landgoed de Noetselenberg BV

Form of order sought

Set aside the judgment under appeal (judgment delivered in Case T-79/16);

Order the VGG to pay the costs at first instance and in the appeal;

In the alternative, should the case be referred back to the General Court, reserve the costs at first instance and in the appeal for final judgment.

Grounds of appeal and main arguments

First ground: the General Court erred in law by declaring VGG’s action admissible

The test that the VGG must satisfy in order to be deemed an interested party — that there be a competitive relationship between the VGG and the applicants; that the provided aid threatens to influence the VGG’s situation concretely and will distort the competitive relationship in question — was misapplied by the General Court.

The General Court connects the admissibility of the VGG and its members directly to the admissibility of Stichting Het Nationale Park De Hoge Veluwe, the only complainant remaining from 2008.

In doing so, however, the General Court did not state or insufficiently stated the activities in respect of which the applicants and Stichting Het Nationale Park De Hoge Veluwe compete with each other concretely. The General Court thus wrongly assumed that a competitive relationship exists between Stichting Het Nationale Park De Hoge Veluwe.

Operating on the assumption that a competitive relationship exist, the General Court then made the finding, wrongly, that the aid has had concrete consequences for the competitive position of the VGG members and has distorted it.

On the basis of the assessment of the admissibility of Stichting Het Nationale Park De Hoge Veluwe, the General Court was not entitled to arrive at the conclusion according to which the VGG is admissible in its appeal.

Second ground: the General Court wrongly accepted the existence of ‘serious difficulties’

The finding of the General Court that there has been an infringement of the procedural rights laid down in Article 108(2) TFEU is incorrect. In finding that the Commission encountered ‘serious difficulties’ in assessing the compatibility of the PNB scheme (Regeling bijdragen Particuliere Terreinbeherende Natuurbeschermingsorganisaties) with State aid law, the General Court misapplied the law.

Thus, the classification of services of general economic interest (SGEI) as ‘atypical’ and ‘global’ in the decision is not indicative of serious difficulties; the absence of separate accounting is no indication of serious difficulties; and there lacked no mechanism for avoiding overcompensation.