One of the very last decisions the Serbian Commission for the Control of State Aid rendered in 2017 was a finding that the aid which the national gas company Srbijagas awarded to the production of a popular TV series in Serbia was not State aid. The Commission’s conclusion was that Srbijagas is not a State aid grantor within the meaning of Serbian State aid legislation.
What was this about?
The TV series in question is called Shadows over the Balkans (in Serbian: Senke nad Balkanom). It focuses on various gangs operating in Belgrade in the period between the two world wars. Due to its theme and style, it has been dubbed by many as “the Serbian Peaky Blinders”.
Back in 2016, Srbijagas donated RSD 2 million (approx. EUR 17,000) for the production of the TV series. Eventually, the Commission learned of this and opened an ex post proceeding for the control of State aid. And one of the threshold issues in the proceeding was whether the Law on the Control of State Aid actually applies to aid awarded by Srbijagas.
How is a State aid grantor defined in Serbian legislation?
The definition of a State aid grantor is provided in the Law on the Control of State Aid. In the relevant part, it provides for a fairly wide definition of a State aid grantor, noting that:
“…State aid grantor is the Republic of Serbia, the autonomous province and local self-government unit, through their competent bodies, and any legal person managing and/or having disposal over public funds and allocating the State aid in any form whatsoever…”
According to the view of the Commission, the company Srbijagas, which is a “public enterprise” within the meaning of Serbian legislation and is 100% owned by the Serbian state, does not fit into this definition – at least with respect to the aid at issue. While the amount of the awarded aid is fairly small, the Commission’s finding may be of great importance for similar aid awards in the future.
About State aid rules in Serbia
Since 2010, Serbia has had a State aid regime which to a large extent follows the EU model, with a specialized body (the Commission for the Control of State Aid) in charge of overlooking the implementation of State aid rules.
Apart from de minimis aid, all State support (be it in the form of state aid schemes or individual aid) must be notified to the Commission and the Commission must clear it before the aid is awarded. If aid is awarded unlawfully, the Commission can order that such aid be reimbursed within ten years from the award.
Also, based on the EU-Serbia Stabilization and Association Agreement, in case the award of aid may affect trade between Serbia and the EU, the Commission must assess the aid based on the competition rules applicable in the EU.