On 13 February 2017, the European Commission decided that the German measure to support the installation and upgrade of electric charging infrastructure for users of electric vehicles across the country is compatible with the EU State aid rules.
The measure aims to enhance the market for electric vehicles by funding user-friendly charging infrastructure. According to Germany, State aid is appropriate since it is not feasible for market operators to invest in such infrastructure on purely commercial grounds given the limited number of electric vehicles (merely 50,000 in 2016). Moreover, the Directive on the employment of alternative fuels infrastructure (the "Directive") prescribes that all Member States need to deploy an adequate charging infrastructure for electric vehicles by 2020. Therefore, the measure can be seen as an implementation of this Directive.
Germany's objective is to ensure the establishment of an area-wide charging network that meets the demands of the market and makes it possible to recharge fast and easily anywhere in Germany. For that purpose, Germany intends to launch a programme in 2017 to provide grants for the installation of new charging stations for electric vehicles and the extension of the existing infrastructure. This programme covers not only urban and suburban areas but also rural areas. The total budget of the measure is EUR 300 million. Most of the grants will be assessed on the basis of either the lowest costs/funding or the best value for money. Aid will only be granted if the electricity required for the charging process comes from renewable energy sources or renewable electricity self-generated on site.
The Commission has not investigated whether the measure constitutes State aid, which it would normally do in such cases. Instead it has stated that even if the measure constitutes State aid it is still compatible with the internal market. The Commission has performed a balancing test to assess the compatibility, weighing the positive effects in terms of a contribution to the achievement of well-defined objectives of common interest and negative effects on trade and competition in the common market. The measure is aligned with the Directive and contributes to common interests of reducing emissions and improving air quality. In its assessment, the Commission understands that the market for electric charging infrastructure needs public intervention before it can function on its own. The Commission also accepts that a direct grant is the most appropriate measure and that the measure provides safeguards to ensure that any aid is limited to the minimum necessary to achieve the objective and that it will be operated in a fair, open and transparent way. Therefore, the Commission has concluded that the measure is compatible with the internal market.
This article was published in the Competition Law Newsletter of March 2017. Other articles in this newsletter:
1. European Commission opens three investigations in the e-commerce sector
2. Implementation of Antitrust Damages Directive: Dutch legislation effective as of 10 February 2017
3. Belgian Competition Authority publishes Guidelines on how to identify and avoid bid-rigging