Ample attention for practical affairs during State aid meeting on 20 March
The Commission is currently in the process of revising the European State aid rules. Among other things, this revision concerns the General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER), the de minimis Regulation and the Block Exemption Regulation on State aid for SMEs in agriculture. What is the scope of these revisions and what opportunities will they provide to local and regional authorities? This was the central question of the meeting of Kenniscentrum Europa decentraal on 20 March 2014 on the new State aid rules.
Presentation by the European Commission
Fenna Pols, Director of Kenniscentrum Europa decentraal, gave an introduction to this afternoon meeting and subsequently gave the floor over to Jolande Prinssen, officer at the European Commission, DG Competition.
Pleased with early attention
Jolande Prinssen said she was pleased with the early attention paid by Europa decentraal to the new State aid rules. The revisions discussed this afternoon are part of the Commission’s State Aid Modernisation (SAM) package. The package should provide for more possibilities for local and regional authorities to grant aid, without having to notify the Commission. Further, as national State aid coordinator for the Netherlands, Jolande Prinssen indicated she wants to devote herself to an effective dialogue between the Commission and local and regional authorities. Europa decentraal could function as a key contact point in this.
Changes as a result of the SAM package
The modernisation of the European State aid rules is intended to simplify the application of these rules and to achieve an enhanced alignment with the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy. Thus, local and regional authorities can apply the GBER to a larger number of aid categories, as soon as the latter regulation has taken effect on 1 July 2014.
Extension of the scope
In addition, the scope of application of the various exemption regulations will be extended. Moreover, the simplification is achieved, among other things, by the fact that the Commission will perform more ex-post inspections, i.e. inspections afterwards. As such, the responsibility for complying with the State aid rules will increasingly lie with the local and regional authorities.
In order to avoid negative financial and administrative consequences, it is indispensible for local and regional authorities to have proper knowledge on the State aid rules. Lukas Ament, legal counsellor at Europa decentraal, provided an example of this by means of the Municipality of Leidschendam. In this case, the Commission concluded that the municipality had granted illegal State aid, which was subsequently claimed back. Proper knowledge of the European State aid rules could have prevented this situation.
The State aid legislation does not just contain all kinds of prohibitions, but also contains a great deal of opportunities. Lisanne Vis-Boer, legal counsellor at Europa decentraal, explained how projects and policies can be implemented successfully and without any complications, as long as the authorities make proper use of the possibilities and know how to make use of the various exemptions to these prohibitions.
During the second part of the meeting, a number of real-life cases from local and regional authorities were presented on the basis of the lobby activities of ‘Mr Director’. The latter is in pursuit of financial support from municipalities, provinces, district water boards and the State for his ambitious plans. These plans may vary from the construction and exploitation of a sport stadium to offering workplaces for young people.
More exempted categories
After that, legal counsellor Lukas Ament discusses aid for culture and sport. In most cases, this type of aid must be notified to the Commission. However, in the light of the revised GBER, this will no longer be necessary for a considerable number of cases. It is the Commission’s intention to add sport and culture as a separate category to the GBER. Therefore, it will suffice for local and regional authorities to send a simple notice. This will result in a reduction of red tape, as well as in a considerable saving of time.
In addition, it is the Commission’s intention to extend the possibilities that already fall within the scope of the GBER. As an example, the Commission mentions aid for the employment of disadvantaged workers. Under the current GBER, it is already possible to grant aid for this.
Still, the Commission has the intention to extend the scope of the notion of “disadvantaged worker”, meaning that a larger group of employees can benefit from the exemption. In the current situation, this only applies to the over 50s; however, under the new regulation, young people in the age between 15 and 24 years are also entitled to these positions.
Short supply chains
Another example in this category is agriculture. Legal counsellor Lisanne Boer explains that, under the new exemption, aid for advisory services may also be focussed on establishing short supply chains. This way, farmers might be supported and learn how to market their products locally.
Be informed in 10 steps
In order to provide more extended information on the application of State aid rules by local and regional authorities, Europa decentraal has published ten papers. These papers examine the most important changes in greater depth.