May 17, 2020 / 5:35 PM / 8 days ago

EU's Vestager: Discrepancy in state aid distorts single market, hampers recovery

FILE PHOTO: EU Commission Vice-President of the European Commission Margrethe Vestager speaks during a news conference on the strategic orientations of the European Tourism and Transport Package at European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, May 13, 2020. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

BERLIN (Reuters) - The European Union’s competition chief Margrethe Vestager has expressed concern about the “huge differences” in coronavirus state aid among member states, saying they were starting to distort the bloc’s single market.

Germany accounts for more than half of the emergency coronavirus state aid approved by the EU executive, prompting concerns that countries with the deepest pockets might be getting an unfair advantage in the bloc’s single market.

In an interview with German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Vestager said there was a risk that the different levels of state aid among member states would distort competition and slow the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

“And this has already happened to a certain extent”, Vestager said, according to a pre-released extract of the interview that the newspaper will publish in its Monday edition.

Ensuring a competitive level playing field within its cherished single market of some 450 million people is a central EU tenet and has long been a key condition for opening up to foreign players from China to, more recently, Brexit Britain.

But the executive European Commission suspended the normally-strict state aid restrictions in mid-March, allowing the 27 EU states to pump cash into their economies and companies battered by coronavirus, with more than 1.9 trillion euros worth of national schemes approved so far.

Earlier this month, Vestager said that Germany’s extensive bailouts of coronavirus-hit companies could have a ripple effect across the bloc and work as a locomotive for Europe.

Asked about an EU recovery plan expected to be announced on May 27, Vestager said there were no guarantees that it would be sufficient but said officials were trying to do their best.

“I cannot give a forecast of how member states will react to the draft,” she said, adding that she would not be surprised if the proposal sparked different opinions.

Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Gareth Jones

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