Brussels, 29th April 2009
The European Commission has adopted a Simplification Package for state aid with a Best Practice Code and a Simplified Procedure Notice. Both aim at improving the effectiveness, transparency and predictability of state aid procedures at each step of an investigation, thereby fostering voluntary co-operation between the Commission and Member States. In particular, both texts propose that Member States increase their contacts prior to notification of aid measures, so as to eliminate potential difficulties early in the process, and include a set of improved planning tools to tackle both difficult and straightforward cases. Adoption of the Simplification Package constitutes an important step of the reform programme announced by the Commission in its 2005 State Aid Action Plan (see IP/05/680).
Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes commented: "The state aid Simplification Package will benefit business by facilitating faster state aid decisions notably through earlier and better cooperation between Member States and the Commission. In adopting the Best Practices Code and Simplified Procedure Notice, the Commission has delivered on its promise to modernise and simplify state aid procedures, as set out in the State Aid Action Plan."
The Simplification Package intends to facilitate and thereby accelerate the treatment of the different types of state aid procedures: straightforward measures notified to the Commission, complex cases raising novel issues, complaints. This is in line with the objective announced in the State Aid Action Plan from 2005 (IP/05/680), which called for more effective, simple and predictable procedures in the field of state aid. The Package has been discussed extensively with Member States and outside stakeholders (see IP/08/1950) and generated a largely positive response.
The Best Practices Code details how state aids procedures should be carried out in practice, in particular as regards their duration, transparency and predictability. The Code includes a certain number of voluntary arrangements between the Commission and Member States to achieve more streamlined and predictable procedures, at each step of a state aid investigation. It will apply to all cases not covered by the General Block Exemption Regulation (see IP/08/1110) nor subject to the Notice on the Simplified Procedure.
The Best Practices Code is based on a joint commitment of the Commission and the Member States. On the one hand, the Commission will offer pre-notification contacts on a more regular basis, to enhance the quality and completeness of notifications. A mutually agreed planning will frame the conduct of particularly novel, complex or urgent cases. The Commission will also endeavour to group its requests for information.
On the other hand, Member States are invited to answer more swiftly and completely case-related requests made by the Commission. To this effect, the Code also proposes a rigorous enforcement of existing procedural means to encourage Member States to react promptly and keep the procedures moving. The Best Practices Code also aims at improving the procedure for dealing with complaints, including indicative deadlines and better information of complainants.
The Simplified Procedure aims at improving the Commission's treatment of straightforward cases, like those clearly in line with existing horizontal instruments or established Commission decision-making practice. The Commission wants to ensure that clearly compatible aid gets approved within one month when Member States provide a complete notification. To this effect, the Notice also includes an illustrative list of aid measures, including certain aids for SMEs, environmental aid, innovation aid and rescue and restructuring aid, which are in principle suitable for simplified treatment.
This new procedure should not only be quicker, but also more transparent: interested stakeholders will gain a new opportunity to comment on the envisaged state aid measure, as a summary of the measures notified by the Member State under the Simplified Procedure will be published in advance on the Commission's website.
Neither of these initiatives is intended to apply to the measures notified by Member States in the context of the current financial and economic crisis, for which specific ad hoc internal procedures have been established in order to allow the Commission to treat notified measures with extreme urgency.
The Code and Notice are available in English, French and German on the Commission's website at:
Further language versions will become available shortly.
For further information, see MEMO/09/208.