Top EU court backs Italian bank bailout in setback to EU antitrust regulators

BRUSSELS, March 2 (Reuters) - Italy’s bailout of ailing bank Tercas six years ago did not involve state aid, Europe’s top court said on Tuesday, in a setback to EU competition enforcers that may pave the way for compensation for Italian savers.

The European Commission in 2015 ruled the 300-million-euro ($360 million) rescue of Tercas was illegal because it was carried out with money from Italian deposit guarantee fund FITD.

It ordered Italy to recover the money, a move which subsequently resulted in less favourable terms for bailouts of other banks, including Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena in 2017.

The Luxembourg-based General Court, Europe’s second-highest, in 2019 threw out the Commission’s decision. The EU watchdog appealed to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

CJEU judges backed the lower tribunal and dismissed the appeal.

“The General Court rightly found that those measures do not constitute state aid because they are not imputable to the Italian state,” the CJEU said.

The Italian banking association (ABI) had criticised the Commission for its interpretation of state aid rules and urged it to reimburse lenders and savers who lost money.

The judgment is the latest blow to the Commission following defeats in a tax case involving iPhone maker Apple and several high-profile merger decisions.

The case is C-425/19 P Commission v Italy, Fondo interbancario di tutela dei depositi, Banca d’Italia et Banca Popolare di Bari SCpA.

$1 = 0.8326 euros Reporting by Foo Yun Chee. Editing by Mark Potter