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State Aid: Guidelines
The Commission has drafted new Guidelines for the examination of State aid to fisheries and aquaculture. The purpose of adopting these Guidelines is to bring the rules governing State aid in this area into compliance with Regulation (EC) No 1198/2006 on the European Fisheries Fund (EFF), which provides a new framework on structural assistance in the fisheries sector for 2007-2013. The new Guidelines will apply as from 1 April 2008.
Guidelines for the examination of State aid to fisheries and aquaculture [Official Journal C 84, 3.4.2008].
State aid is in principle prohibited by the Treaty establishing the European Community because it is likely to result in unfair competition in the internal market. Nevertheless, derogations may be granted. For the purpose of these Guidelines on fisheries and aquaculture, the derogations are administered by the Commission.
These Guidelines apply to the fisheries sector and to the activities linked to harvesting aquatic resources and aquaculture, as well as to the production, processing and marketing methods used for the resulting products.
These Guidelines cover all measures which constitute aid within the meaning of Article 87 (1) of the EC Treaty, whatever their form and whether they are directly or indirectly financed by public funds.
To benefit fisheries and aquaculture, the rules on State aid set out in Articles 87 to 89 of the EC Treaty do not apply to financial contributions made by Member States to operations co-financed by the European Fisheries Fund (EFF) and provided for as part of an operational programme.
The Member States are obliged to notify the Commission of any State aid they plan to grant so that the Commission can ensure that the proposed aid is compatible with Community rules. Government aid must be in accordance with the objectives of the Competition Policy and those of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The aid may not be protective in nature and it may not be granted for activities that the beneficiary has already begun.
Aid that meets the criteria set by the exemption Regulation which is due to be adopted in the near future (to replace Regulation No 1595/2004 which expired on 31.12.2006), as well as aid for training, research or employment, may be exempted from the notification obligation.
The Member State must supply information on the amount and intensity of the aid. Aid schemes must be limited in duration to a maximum of 10 years. Two months before this expiry date, an application may be made to extend the scheme. In this case, the Member State must give reasons and must re-notify the scheme. If it becomes apparent that the beneficiary of the aid scheme is not complying with the rules of the CFP, the grant must be reimbursed in proportion to the gravity of the infringement.
The Commission states that State aid for the export of or trade in fishery products within the Community, as well as operating aid, is in principle incompatible with the internal market.
The Guidelines on regional aid do not apply to fisheries and aquaculture.
The following are compatible with the common market:
- Aid for measures covered by an exemption Regulation;
- Aid falling within the scope of certain horizontal guidelines (rescue and restructuring of firms in difficulty);
- Aid for the equipment and modernisation of fishing vessels is incompatible with the common market unless it is granted to boats that are five years old or older and is intended to improve on-board safety, working conditions, hygiene, product quality, energy efficiency or selectivity, without increasing the fishing vessel’s catch potential. It must not exceed the overall rate set by Annex II of Regulation (EC) No 1198/2006;
- Aid to repair damage caused by natural disasters or other exceptional occurrences;
- Tax relief and labour-related costs for fishing vessels fishing for tuna or tuna-like species which operate outside Community waters;
- Aid financed through parafiscal charges;
- Special aid for the outermost regions;
- Aid that makes it possible to take other measures which clearly contribute to achieving the goals of the Common Fisheries Policy.
These Guidelines will apply as from 1 April 2008 to any State aid notified after this date.