The decison, which is open to appeal, is a blow for SES, who complained about the subsidies that the Spanish state was handing out to broadcasters in order to facilitate analogue switchover of the terrestrial network. The Court said that the Commission’s decision is not supported by an adequate statement of reasons.
Between 2005 and 2009, the Spanish authorities adopted a series of measures aimed at facilitating the transition from analogue to digital television. The national broadcasters were required to cover 96% of the population in the case of the private sector and 98% of the population in the case of the public sector in their respective territories.
In order to manage the digitisation, the Spanish authorities divided Spanish territory into three distinct Areas. The objective was to reach 98% coverage of the Spanish population by the digital terrestrial television service, which equates to the percentage covered by analogue television in 2007. Since the coverage obligations set for DTT risked not reaching this level in Area II it was necessary to ensure television coverage in that Area.
In June 2013 the Commission, following a complaint from SES Astra, adopted a decision by which it declared the aid granted to the operators of the terrestrial television platform for the deployment, maintenance and operation of the digital terrestrial television network in Area II to be unlawful and incompatible with the internal market in the whole of Spain, with the exception of the Autonomous Community of Castille-La Mancha. In the same decision the Commission ordered the recovery of the aid from the recipients.
Spain, the Autonomous Communities and the broadcasters brought appeals before the Court of Justice seeking to have the judgments of the General Court set aside.
The announcment by the European Court of Justice can be diownloaded here.