Simplification of EU State aid rules for public investments in ports, airports, culture and outermost regions

On 17 May 2017, the European Commission approved a modification of the General Block Exemption Regulation to allow Member States to grant State aid to ports, airports, culture and the outermost regions without any prior notification to the European Commission. 

Indeed, in principle, each State aid project must be notified to the European Commission prior to its implementation. Since 2001, the Commission has adopted several exemption regulations in order to avoid time-consuming and expensive notifications.

Regarding airports, Member States will be able to grant investment aid to regional airports that have fewer than three million passengers per year if they do not have another airport within 100 kilometres or 60 minutes by car, bus or train. The aid compatibility conditions set out in the Regulation are less strict than the ones provided for in the 2014 Aviation Guidelines.

Furthermore, this new Regulation provides for lighter compatibility conditions for airports with fewer than 200,000 passengers per year even if they have another airport within their catchment area.

Those airports may benefit from:

  • investment aid (up to 100% if it corresponds to the funding gap);
  • functioning aid to cover their operational deficits.

With regard to ports, Member States may now grant aid for investments of up to €150,000,000 in sea ports and up to €50,000,000 in inland ports without prior control by the European Commission. The Regulation also covers aid for dredging in ports and access waterways. The Regulation provides for all the conditions to be applied by public authorities in order that the aid falls under the Regulation and to ensure legal certainty.

The Commission has also decided to increase the thresholds of notification of other kinds of aid for cultural projects and multi-purpose sports arenas, which means that more projects will be exempted from notification to the Commission.

Finally, the new Regulation imposes simpler rules to allow public authorities to compensate companies for their additional costs when operating in the EU’s outermost regions.

The Regulation will be published soon in the Official Journal of the EU and it will come into force 20 days later.

State aid adopted prior to its entry into force may be declared compatible if it fulfils all the conditions set out in the Regulation.

Annabelle Lepièce, Partner, annabelle.lepiece@cms-db.com