A first public consultation on draft provisions to extend the 2014 General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER) to ports and airports took place from March to May 2016. In light of views and comments received, the Commission has updated the proposal.
Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, stated: "We have received valuable input to design rules that ensure that public investments can go ahead as quickly as possible without distorting competition in the Single Market. This is important for ports and airports that play a central role for economic growth and regional development."
The 2014 GBER has enabled Member States to implement a wide range of State aid measures without prior Commission approval because they are unlikely to distort competition. As a result, 90% of all State aid measures (with a combined annual expenditure of over €33 billion) are implemented by Member States under this Regulation, and the total number of State aid measures notified by Member States for approval has dropped by two thirds (from 578 in 2013 to 332 in 2014 and 192 in 2015). The Commission is now proposing to further widen the scope of the GBER to facilitate unproblematic state support to ports and airports.
As a result of the first public consultation on this initiative, the Commission has included further simplifications for small investments in ports (below €5 million for seaports or below €2 million for inland ports). The revised proposal also provides for more flexibility as regards the duration of concessions in ports, allowing the time needed for the concessionaire to recoup its investments.
Furthermore, the Commission has enlarged the scope of the provisions for very small airports. These are allowed to receive investment aid based on more flexible criteria because support to those airports is less likely to distort competition. The Commission now proposes to cover airports with up to 150 000 passengers per year (as compared to 50 000 in the first draft). It also proposes to facilitate public investment in such airports by further simplifying the criteria that have to be complied with, for example as regards the maximum amount of State aid that can be granted.
The Commission also plans to address some technical issues encountered in the current GBER in order to further facilitate its uptake. In particular, the Commission wants to make it easier for public authorities to compensate companies for the additional costs they face operating in the EU's outermost regions so that support measures can take better account of the challenges and specificities of these companies. As a result of the first public consultation, the Commission has further simplified the rules to support those companies. Finally, in view of the limited negative effects on competition of aid for culture, the Commission plans to further increase the exemption thresholds for this type of aid.
The initiative aims to reduce administrative burdens for public authorities and other stakeholders in the context of the Regulatory Fitness and Performance of EU Legislation (REFIT) agenda. It forms part of the Commission's effort to focus State aid control on bigger cases that genuinely impact competition in the Single Market, to the greatest benefit of consumers. It complements several initiatives the Commission has taken over the past two years.
In addition to the revisions of the GBER, the Notion of Aid Notice adopted in May 2016 clarifies what public support measures fall outside the scope of EU State aid control, for example because they do not distort the level playing field in the Single Market. It helps Member States design public support measures that can be implemented without prior scrutiny by the Commission. For example, it confirms that public investments in roads, inland waterways, rail, and water distribution networks can typically be carried out without prior scrutiny by the Commission.
The Commission has also recently taken a series of State aid decisions (also see previous package of May 2015), which clarify what public support measures Member State authorities can implement without prior scrutiny by the Commission, because they do not affect trade between Member States.
These initiatives help to stimulate investment by reducing the administrative burden for public authorities and companies, avoiding lengthy procedures and increasing legal certainty for aid beneficiaries and competitors. They also allow Member States to take responsibility over their policy choices for local measures and the Commission to focus resources on state aid investigations into measures with the biggest impact on competition in the Single Market.
The public and stakeholders are invited to submit comments on today's consultation by 8 December 2016. The Commission aims to adopt the final Regulation in the first quarter 2017.
Further details on the objectives and the procedure of today's initiative are explained in the Roadmap available at:
The draft amending Regulation and all details about the public consultation are available at: http://ec.europa.eu/competition/consultations/2016_second_gber_review/index_en.html
The Commission intends to include exemptions for investment aid to ports and airports in the GBER. This scope extension was already announced in the currently applicable GBER and planned for as soon as the Commission built up sufficient case experience to design comprehensive exemption criteria. After more than 30 state aid decisions on ports and more than 50 state aid decisions on airports, the Commission is now ready to propose such criteria. The draft provisions in public consultation seek to ensure, for example, that aid can only be granted for transport-related investments and that the aid does not go beyond what is necessary to make the investment happen, taking into account future revenues from the investment.