The European Commission’s Amendment of the GBER adopted in June 2017 has extended the scope of the General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER) to public investment in ports and airports, culture and the outermost regions.
Since 2014 GBER has enabled Member States to implement a range of State aid measures without prior approval from the Commission as they are unlikely to distort competition in the EU Single Market. As a result, the vast majority of State aid measures implemented by Member States are now exempted.
Since May 2017, Member States can also make public investments in regional airports handling up to 3 million passengers per year with full legal certainty and without prior scrutiny by the Commission. The Regulation also allows public authorities to cover operating costs of small airports handling up to 200 000 passengers per year, which account for almost half of all airports in the EU but only 0.75% of air traffic.
As for ports, Member States can now make public investments of up to €150 million in sea ports and up to €50 million in inland ports with high legal certainty and without prior control by the Commission. The Regulation allows public authorities to cover the costs of dredging in ports and access waterways.
In addition, the Regulation also includes simplifications in other areas: the Commission will only look at bigger State aid cases that involve a higher amount of aid for culture projects and for multi-purpose sports arenas. Compensating companies for the additional costs incurred by remoteness and dependence on a few traded products when operating in the EU’s outermost regions has also been made easier for public authorities.
The Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “We want to ensure that companies can compete on equal terms in the Single Market – and we want to do so in the most efficient way. EU state aid rules are the same for all Member States. Today’s changes will save them time and trouble when investing in ports and airports, culture and the EU’s outermost regions, whilst preserving competition. They also allow the Commission to focus attention on state aid measures that have the biggest impact on competition in the Single Market, to be “big on big things and small on small things” to the benefit of all European citizens”.
2016 Notion of Aid Notice – defines public support measures which typically fall outside the scope of EU State aid control because they do not distort competition in the Single Market (e.g. public investment in roads, inland waterways, rail and water distribution networks)