In terms of its economic substance, the EU court's ruling on the German Lufthansa subsidies is likely to have only limited effects. The airline has repaid the state aid and is likely to cope with the economic consequences of a new, probably stricter Commission decision.
The court has obviously waited with its verdict until it no longer hurts the crane line. For the EU Commission, on the other hand, the ruling is a bitter slap in the face.
Once again, the judges have certified that the Brussels authority has made such serious errors in the state aid investigation that its decision is completely overturned. The accumulation of such judgments in recent months and years generally means that the competition watchdogs are making too many technical mistakes.
Great political pressure from Germany
This may partly have to do with simply being overwhelmed: Due to the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the Commission had to approve new aid from the member states on a weekly or even daily basis. As a rule, she just waved them through. It would be unfair to blame only the Commission for lax practice.
The political pressure from Germany was considerable in the Lufthansa case. In 2020, the German government and the company found it outrageous that the Commission made at least a few conditions a condition for state aid approval.
Nevertheless, the case fits perfectly into the overall picture that Ursula von der Leyen's office gives. For the Commission chief, member states – and, as far as possible, the EU authority itself – cannot spend enough money to pursue politically defined purposes, from the "green transformation" to the protection of individual companies.
Recently, an investigation came to light according to which the Commission under the German boss had initiated fewer infringement proceedings for infringements of the internal market than any of its predecessors. This fits together: A Commission that has von der Leyen's claim to political shape cannot at the same time be the guardian of the EU treaties – which would be its real task.