Why the French television licence fee is compatible State aid

European Commission decision (15 pages, PDF, in French, dated 20 April 2005, published 16 September 2005) closing a 12-year investigation into State aid in connection with the television licence fee (redevance télévision) received by the French State-owned television channels France 2 and France 3.

The decision finds that the payment of the licence fee constitutes State aid under Altmark, but that it could be justified under Article 86(2) by the public service obligations placed on France 2 and France 3. It also finds that the aid was "existing aid", since the licence fee scheme was established in 1949, prior to the Treaty of Rome, and not fundamentally changed since then (even though the complainant, TF1, was excluded from the scheme when it was privatised in 1987); thus there is no question of past infringements or of repayment of aid.

In order to adjust the aid to be compatible with the common market, the Commission has agreed with the French authorities that they will enshrine in law the principle that aid must be proportionate to the net costs of the public service obligations. It remains to be seen how this proportionality principle will be implemented in practice given the very general nature of the public service obligations that justify the aid: France 2 and France 3 are national terrestrial television channels which provide generalist programming and accept commercial advertising, and the public service obligations taken into account by the Commission include such widely defined duties as "contributing to the development and spread of intellectual and artistic creation and of civic, economic, social, scientific and technical knowledge".

See also State aid law and the BBC.

For further information or advice please contact Franck Latrémolière.

Filed under DG Competition, France, Media, State aid.

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