On 17 May 2017, the European Commission amended the General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER) in order to enable more public investment in ports, airports, culture and the outermost regions. These amendments aim to stimulate job creation and growth while preserving competition.
Public investments qualify as State aid if state resources are used to give an undertaking or a certain group of undertakings preferential economic treatment with a result that the competition is or may be distorted and that the investment is likely to affect the trade between Member States. As a rule, Member States can only implement State aid after approval from the Commission. Therefore, Member States must notify the Commission of intended State aid. The GBER exempts certain public investments which qualify as State aid from the notification requirements.
The scope of the GBER has now been extended by the Commission regarding the following public investments. Member States can:
- invest in regional airports handling up to up to 3 million passengers per year. According to the Commission, this will facilitate public investment in more than 420 airports across the EU. These airports are responsible for 13% of air traffic. In addition, Member States can cover operating costs of small airports handling up to 200,000 passengers per year.
- make public investments of up to EUR 150 million in sea ports and up to EUR 50 million in inland ports.
- support culture projects and multi-purpose sports arenas with higher amounts of State aid. The Member States can now invest EUR 150 million in culture projects (instead of EUR 100 million) and EUR 75 million per undertaking per year (instead of EUR 50 million). They can also invest EUR 30 million or the total costs exceeding EUR 100 million per project regarding multi-purpose sports arenas (instead of EUR 15 million or the total costs exceeding EUR 50 million per project).
- compensate companies more for the additional costs they face when operating in the EU's outermost regions taking account of the specific challenges these companies are facing.
With these new changes, the Commission is taking an additional step towards reaching the goal of the Juncker Commission to apply the State aid rules in an effective and efficient way by focusing on State aid that leads to significant distortions of competition.
This article was published in the Competition Law Newsletter of June 2017. Other articles in this newsletter:
- European Commission accepts Amazon's commitments in e-book probe
- Recent enforcement action emphasizes the importance of compliance with procedural EU merger rules
- European Commission publishes final report on e-commerce sector inquiry
- District Court of Amsterdam rules on the validity of the assignments and prescription of CDC's claims for damage in sodium chlorate cartel
- Belgian Competition Authority fines undertakings for bid-rigging in railway tender