EU double standards: Italy in dock over £350million Alitalia loan ‘Not playing by rules’

And Brexiteer MP Daniel Kawczynski highlighted the issue as a classic example of the bloc’s apparent double-standards, which proved the UK was right to quit the bloc. A statement issued by the Commission confirmed the “in-depth” investigation had been launched, while stressed it was a “standard step” which did not “prejudge” the outcome. Regulators will consider whether the loan constituted state aid or whether it complied with EU rules on helping companies in difficulty.

Italy provided the money last year in order to assist the company to streamline its operations prior to a possible sale.

A Commission statement said: “The Commission’s role under the EU Treaty is to help ensure a level playing field in the EU’s Single Market to the benefit of European consumers and businesses.”

The investigation had been triggered as a result of a number of complaints, the statement added.

Under EU State aid rules, public interventions to help companies can be considered free of State aid if they are made on terms which a private operator would have accepted under market conditions.

If not, they are regarded as “conferring an economic advantage on the beneficiary that its competitors do not have”, and as such, breach Article 107 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

The UK Government was prevented from helping British Steel last year as a result.

Mr Kawczynski told “Their accusation is always that we want to cherrypick – you hear these words a lot.

“But they are very good at cherry picking and applying rules when it suits them.

The trouble is we in this country have always played by the rules because it’s the British way

Daniel Kawczynski

“The trouble is we in this country have always played by the rules because it’s the British way.

“Our European partners have not always done so, which has put us at a disadvantage.

“This only serves the emphasise that the decision we have taken in leaving the European Union is the right one.

“Boris must not bow here and I think he is in a very strong position, both in Parliament and the country as a whole.

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“The British people want us to stand firm here.”

Mr Kawczynksi added: “What I find astounding is that some industries, such as British Steel, would benefit from Government support but currently we are not allowed to give it.

“Some industries are strategically important and in going forward, we will be able to offer this help.

“It will no longer be predicated on unelected officials sitting in some office in Brussels.

“Power now rests with Westminster and the British people – and that is how it should be.”

The Commission is also investigating a €900 million bridge loan, with the separate probe ongoing.

Steve Baker MP, former chairman of the European Research Group, speaking about State Aid last month, told “The point is, there is a place for controlled state aid.

“If you believe in a market economy, then it is very important that we don’t distort the way that that economy functions.

“And that has really important implications for trade policy – for example, one of the reasons why steel production in the UK and the USA is in trouble, is because there is vast steel production in China, and it’s heavily subsidised.”

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