France at competitive rates by certain member banks, thereby keeping the price of payment cards artificially high and thus favouring the major French banks.
On 19 December the Commission adopted a Decision prohibiting MasterCard’s multilateral interchange fees (MIFs) for cross-border card payments with MasterCard and Maestro consumer credit and debit cards between Member States of the European Economic Area (intra-EEA MIFs)52.
On 25 September the Commission adopted the Final Report on the business insurance sector inquiry53, which was released together with a comprehensive working document of the Commission’s services containing the full findings. In the State aid area the Commission cleared the two remaining recapitalisation cases in the German Landesbank sector (WestLB and Nord/LB) on 18 July as complying with the private market economy investor test54. During the summer the US subprime crisis began to impact seriously on several European banks, requiring considerable public support measures to keep the banks afloat. The Commission launched investigations into two cases concerning the German banks IKB and Sachsen LB. For the UK bank Northern Rock a Decision was taken on 5 December declaring rescue aid to be compatible with State aid rules55. Subsequent additional measures in support of Northern Rock are also under assessment.
On 9 October the Ecofin Council adopted Conclusions suggesting a series of actions to enhance the arrangements for financial stability which inter alia invited the Commission and Member States to work together towards clarifying when a banking crisis could be considered by the Commission to be “a serious disturbance of the economy” under the Treaty and State aid rules. It also invited the Commission to consider streamlining procedures focusing on how State aid enquiries under critical circumstances can be treated rapidly.
As far as fiscal aid is concerned, the Commission opened the formal investigation procedure on 7 February against the ‘group interest box’ (Groepsrentebox) notified by the Dutch authorities56. On 21 March the Commission also opened proceedings against a similar scheme which was already in force in Hungary57. Both schemes reduce the tax burdens on companies in respect of the net balance of interest received from and paid to affiliated companies. The Commission assessed and authorised a number of concentrations in the financial services sector. In the ABN AMRO cases58, the Commission analysed the proposed acquisition of the Dutch bank ABN AMRO by a consortium formed by RBS, Fortis and Santander.
52 53 54
55 56 57 58
IP/07/1959, 19.12.2007 and MEMO/07/590, 19.12.2007. IP/07/1390, 25.9.2007. OJ C 4, 9.1.2008, p. 1. This test assesses whether, in similar circumstances, a private investor operating in normal conditions of a market economy would have entered into the transaction in question (e.g. providing loans or funds to the bank) and whether it would have done so on similar terms. IP/07/1859, 5.12.2007. IP/07/154, 7.2.2007. IP/07/375, 21.3.2007. Case COMP/M.4843, RBS/ABN AMRO assets, Commission Decision, 19.9.2007; Case COMP/M.4845, Santander/ABN AMRO assets, Commission Decision, 19.9.2007 and Case COMP/M.4844, Fortis/ABN AMRO assets, Commission Decision, 3.10.2007.