The Committee of the Regions offers a cautious welcome to the new Regional Aid Guidelines (RAG) for 2014-2020, which were adopted by the European Commission on Wednesday 19 June.
Reacting to the Commission's adoption of the new rules, the CoR president, Ramón Luis Valcárcel, welcomed the fact that the Commission has demonstrated its awareness of the concerns of local and regional authorities relating to the RAG and its willingness to listen. "PressSMEs and large businesses are anchored in their local communities and, in these difficult times, State aid policy must take account of the needs for competitiveness, growth and job creation in the EU's regions", he said.
Jean-Paul Denanot (PES/FR), president of the Limousin Region and the Committee's rapporteur on the subject, stated his satisfaction at the Commission's decision to increase the percentage of the population covered by European regional aid, in order to address the effects of the economic crisis. "This is a modest increase (from 46.1% to 47.2%), which represents a volte-face by the Commission, because it originally wanted to reduce this figure", he said. Nevertheless, he wonders why aid intensity rates have been lowered and why restrictions have been imposed on opportunities to assist large businesses in regions with a GDP of more than 75% of the Community average, but which are still economically weak.
The Committee of the Regions is disappointed to note the inconsistency between cohesion policy and competition policy, with different treatment being afforded to the so-called 'traditional' transition regions – these will automatically be covered by the RAG scheme - and the non-traditional transition regions, which are stagnating in the 75%-90% GDP segment and which, despite sharing similar economic problems will not receive any special treatment. Furthermore, the Committee regrets the fact that family-run and traditional businesses with just over 250 employees will no longer be eligible for support from local and regional authorities.
Lastly, the Committee of the Regions welcomes the new guidelines' inclusion of an anti-relocation clause, as it had called for in its opinion of February 2013, and the retention of the special status conferred on the outermost regions.
The review of the Regional Aid Guidelines (RAG) for 2014-2020 forms part of the process of recasting and simplifying European State aid rules. Because the RAG are designed to help struggling regions and play a part in their economic development, they are not covered by the principle of prohibiting State aid as provided for in the Treaties.