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Community policy on state aid aims to prevent distortion of competition in the internal market. By means of these Guidelines, the Commission aims to administer throughout the fisheries sector derogations from the principle that state aid is incompatible with the common market, while complying with the aims of the common fisheries policy and competition policy.
Guidelines for the examination of state aid to fisheries and aquaculture [Official Journal C 229 of 14 September 2004].
Regulations (EC) Nos 2792/1999 and (EC) No 104/2000 provide for the application in the fisheries sector of the rules laid down in the Treaty on state aid, i.e. the principle that state aid is incompatible with the common market, and the requirement to notify the Commission of state aid or state aid schemes.
These rules do not apply to the obligatory financial contributions made by Member States to measures part-financed by the Community from the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG). Aid granted to sectors that fulfil the requirements laid down by the block exemption regulations, such as the exemption regulations concerning state aid for training and employment, is also exempt from the requirement to notify the Commission.
The Guidelines provide for derogations from the principle that state aid is incompatible with the common market and lay down conditions that must be fulfilled to benefit from those derogations. They apply to the entire fisheries sector and concern the exploitation of living aquatic resources and aquaculture together with the means of production, processing and marketing of the resultant products. They apply to all measures that constitute aid within the meaning of Article 87(1) of the Treaty, including any measure entailing a financial advantage where financed directly or indirectly from public resources.
The Commission assesses, on a case-by-case basis, in the light of the Treaty and the common fisheries policy, all aid for measures not covered by the Guidelines or Regulation (EC) No 1595/2004.
It is the responsibility of the Member State concerned to check that aid complies with Community rules. Aid may not be protective in its effect or granted in respect of activities that have already been undertaken by the beneficiary.
Each Member State concerned must notify the total amount of aid per measure and the aid intensity as a percentage of the total eligible cost. When assessing state aid schemes, account is taken of all factors making it possible to assess the real advantage to the recipient and therefore of the cumulative effect for the recipient of all measures involving an element of subsidy granted by the State authorities.
The Commission lays down that State aid to the export of or to trade in fishery products within the Community and operating aid are incompatible with the common market.
The Guidelines lay down the conditions on which the following aid may be declared compatible with the common market:
- aid falling within the scope of certain horizontal guidelines (aid for environmental protection and aid aimed at rescuing and restructuring firms in difficulty);
- certain aid for the withdrawal of fishing vessels through their transfer to third countries;
- aid for the temporary cessation of fishing activities under a recovery plan or a management plan or as part of an emergency measure that fulfils the conditions laid down in Regulation (EC) No 2792/1999. Accompanying social measures for crew members of affected fishing vessels may also be compatible. On the other hand, aid to restrict fishing activities introduced by a Member State for the purpose of reducing its fishing effort is not allowed;
- certain aid for investment in the fleet;
- income support to workers in the fisheries and aquaculture sector provided that it forms part of socio-economic back-up measures compensating income losses linked to measures designed to achieve an adjustment of capacity;
- aid to make good damage caused by natural disasters or exceptional occurrences;
- special aid for the outermost regions;
- aid financed through parafiscal charges.
As regards the applicable procedure, the Commission applies the provisions of Regulation (EC) No 659/1999 laying down detailed rules for the application of Article 93 (now Article 88) of the EC Treaty. Where the Commission adopts a negative decision concerning an aid of which it has not been given prior notice and which it has not approved, Member States must recover the aid plus interest from the beneficiary. In addition, Member States must send the Commission an annual report on all existing aid schemes.
These Guidelines have applied since 1 November 2004 to all state aid notified from that date.