February 21, 2018 / 3:33 PM / 4 months ago

UPDATE 1-EU says more details needed over Italy claim of Slovak state aid abuse

(Adds Slovak Economy Ministry reaction)

BRUSSELS, Feb 21 (Reuters) - The European Commission will look into Italian allegations that Slovakia provided illegal state aid to encourage a white goods maker to relocate, but needed further information before judging the situation, the EU’s competition chief said on Wednesday.

Embraco, a Brazil-based firm controlled by U.S. domestic appliance maker Whirlpool, has announced it will close a factory in northern Italy and relocate to Slovakia, a hot issue ahead of the Italian election on March 4.

The case has been seized on by Italian opposition parties such as the far-right League, which has long blamed the EU for Italy’s many economic woes.

Slovakia rejected the allegations of illegal state aid.

Italian Industry Minister Carlo Calenda flew to Brussels on Tuesday to lobby EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, saying the enticements Slovakia had offered Embraco amounted to illegal state aid.

Vestager told a news conference on Wednesday that state aid could not be used to shift jobs from one country to another but it was too early to say if the Embraco case involved a misuse of funds.

“Before we know the exact details of the issue, the facts on the ground, we make no judgment whatsoever,” Vestager told a news conference in Brussels.

“We are of course willing to make sure that our rules are upheld, that you do not move jobs but you create jobs.”

Slovakia’s Economy Ministry on Wednesday denied giving the company any investment aid and said it did not know about the relocation.

“We already said this to the Italian ambassador ... and we are ready to prove it to the European Commission,” the ministry said in an emailed statement.

“We see the statements by the Italian representatives as politically motivated and part of the election campaign.”

Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek Additional reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova in Bratislava,; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Alison Williams

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