Brussels, 18 December 2013
State Aid: Commission adopts revised exemption for small aid amounts (de minimis Regulation)
Following three public consultations, the European Commission has adopted a revised Regulation on small aid amounts that fall outside the scope of EU state aid control because they are deemed to have no impact on competition and trade in the internal market. Measures that fulfil the criteria of the Regulation do not constitute "state aid" in the meaning of EU rules and therefore do not need to be notified to the Commission for approval before they are implemented. The reform, which simplifies and clarifies the rules, is part of the Commission's State Aid Modernisation initiative (SAM, see IP/12/458). It will significantly reduce administrative burden for companies and Member States.
The main criteria of the current regulation, which exempts aid amounts of up to €200 000 per undertaking over a three year period, remain unchanged, while the treatment of small aid measures will be further simplified. In particular, companies undergoing financial difficulties are no longer excluded from the scope of the regulation and will therefore be allowed to receive de minimis aid. Moreover, the definition of what constitutes an "undertaking" has been simplified and clarified. In addition, subsidised loans of up to €1 million may also benefit from the de minimis Regulation if certain conditions are met.
In light of the Commission’s experience and the data gathered, including through three public consultations, there is no evidence that a higher ceiling than €200 000 would be justified. The data received from Member States show that the majority of beneficiaries receive rather small amounts of aid and indicate that for the vast majority of beneficiaries this ceiling is not reached. The Commission concluded that increasing the ceiling would bear important risks for competition and trade in the Single Market, in particular because of the aggregate effects of a potentially widespread use of the exemption in the current economic and financial context where Member States' budgetary capacities also vary widely. Furthermore, Article 107(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) defines state aid as a selective advantage granted through state resources to one or more companies that distorts or threatens to distort competition and affects trade between Member States. Since de minimis measures are legally deemed not to constitute aid, the de minimis rule can only cover measures that have no potential effect on trade and competition.
Other well-designed and targeted measures with a limited potential of distorting competition in the Single Market can be exempted through the General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER) which is currently under revision (see IP/13/1281).
The monitoring system of de minimis measures, which gives Member States the choice between a declaration of the aid by beneficiaries or a central register, also remains unchanged. Although a mandatory register might be helpful to ensure better monitoring and transparency, the Commission has taken account of comments from many Member States that it would entail a significant administrative burden, in particular during the set-up phase. The Commission will therefore first study the feasibility and possible modalities of such a register in more detail.
In 2006, the Commission adopted the current de minimis Regulation for the period 2007-2013 (see IP/06/1765 and MEMO/12/936). It doubled the ceiling for exempted aid amounts, from €100 000 per company per three year period to €200 000. This increase took account not only of the evolution of inflation and gross domestic product in the EU up to 2006, but also of the likely development of these factors from 2007 to 2013. Because of the financial crisis the real inflation has been considerably lower than anticipated in 2006. A further increase of the ceiling was therefore not warranted on these grounds.
In summer 2012, the Commission launched the review process with a public consultation on the basis of a questionnaire (see IP/12/848 and consultation page), followed by a public consultation on a first draft in spring 2013 (see MEX/13/0320 and consultation page). The over 100 contributions received provided a valuable input for the second draft, on which opened a third consultation started in July 2013 (see IP/13/699 and consultation page). In light of the over 60 contributions, the Commission has now adopted a new de minimis Regulation.
The review of the de minimis Regulation is directly linked to the Commission's objective of setting enforcement priorities and is therefore an important part of the SAM initiative (see IP/12/458). In this context, state aid policy should concentrate on facilitating well-designed aid targeted at market failures and objectives of common European interest (‘good aid’). The Commission also aims to focus its enforcement on cases with the biggest impact on the internal market, and to streamline rules and speed up decision making. SAM contributes to the broader EU agenda for fostering growth while supporting Member States’ efforts towards budgetary consolidation.
As part of SAM, the Commission is currently reviewing a number of instruments, including in particular the General Block Exemption Regulation and most of its guidelines.