The European Commission is planning to revise the criteria for exempting certain investment aid for ports and airports from prior Commission scrutiny under EU state aid rules and invites comments on its proposal. The purpose of the new legislation is to facilitate public investments that can create jobs and growth whilst preserving competition.
A first public consultation on draft provisions to extend the 2014 General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER) to ports and airports already took place from March to May 2016; in light of views and comments received, the Commission has now updated its proposal including further simplifications for small investments in ports (below €5 million for seaports or below €2 million for inland ports). The revised proposal also provides for more flexibility as regards the duration of concessions in ports, allowing the time needed for the concessionaire to recoup its investments.
The 2014 GBER enabled Member States to implement a wide range of State aid measures without prior Commission approval. As a result, 90% of all State aid measures (with a combined annual expenditure of over €33 billion) are now implemented by Member States under this Regulation, and the total number of State aid measures notified by Member States for approval has dropped by two thirds (from 578 in 2013 to 332 in 2014 and 192 in 2015).
The Commission has also enlarged the scope of the provisions for very small airports which are allowed to receive investment aid based on more flexible criteria. The new proposal covers airports with up to 150.000 passengers per year.
Moreover, the proposal would like to make it easier for public authorities to compensate companies for the additional costs they face operating in the EU’s outermost regions, so that support measures can take better account of the challenges and specificities of these companies and, in view of the limited negative effects on competition of aid for culture, to further increase the exemption thresholds for this type of aid.
The initiative aims to reduce administrative burdens for public authorities and other stakeholders in the context of the Regulatory Fitness and Performance of EU Legislation (REFIT) agenda. It forms part of the Commission’s effort to focus State aid control on bigger cases that genuinely impact competition in the Single Market, to the greatest benefit of consumers and it complements several initiatives the Commission has taken over the past two years.
In addition to the revisions of the GBER, the Notion of Aid Notice adopted in May 2016 clarifies what public support measures fall outside the scope of EU State aid control, for example because they do not distort the level playing field in the Single Market. It shall help Member States design public upport measures that can be implemented without prior scrutiny by the Commission, such as public investments in roads, inland waterways, rail, and water distribution networks.
According to DG COMP, these initiatives help to stimulate investment by reducing the administrative burden for public authorities and companies, avoiding lengthy procedures and increasing legal certainty for aid beneficiaries and competitors. They also allow Member States to take responsibility over their policy choices for local measures and the Commission to focus resources on state aid investigations into measures with the biggest impact on competition in the Single Market.
The public and stakeholders are invited to submit comments on the consultation by 8 December 2016, bearing in mind that the Commission aims to adopt the final Regulation in the first quarter 2017 including exemptions for investment aid to ports and airports in the GBER.
This scope extension was already announced in the currently applicable GBER and planned for as soon as the Commission built up sufficient case experience to design comprehensive exemption criteria.
After more than 30 state aid decisions on ports and more than 50 state aid decisions on airports, the Commission is now ready to propose such criteria. The draft provisions in public consultation seek to ensure, for example, that aid can only be granted for transport-related investments and that the aid does not go beyond what is necessary to make the investment happen, taking into account future revenues from the investment.
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