State aid to ports and airports: second consultation over the General Block Exemption Regulation

On 13 October 2016, the European Commission invited stakeholders to present comments on its proposal to revise the criteria for exempting investment aid for ports and airports from prior Commission scrutiny pursuant to EU state aid rules. The draft provisions to extend the 2014 General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER) to ports and airports underwent a first public consultation from March to May 2016.

The 2014 GBER has enabled Member States to implement a wide range of State aid measures without prior Commission approval: in fact, 90% of all State aid measures are implemented by Member States under this Regulation, and the number of State aid measures notified by Member States for approval has dropped by two thirds. Hence, the Commission is proposing to revise the rules in question in order to facilitate state support to ports and airports.

After the first consultation, the Commission has simplified small investments in ports. The revised criteria aim at rendering more flexible the award of ports concessions, allowing the time needed for the concessionaire to recoup its investments.

In addition, according to the new criteria, even very small airports which are not likely to distort competition will be allowed to receive investment,. The Commission, in fact, is proposing to cover airport with up to 150 000 passengers per year, instead of the 50 000 of the first draft. Moreover, it is proposing to facilitate public investment in such airports by further simplifying the criteria that have to be complied with.

Furthermore, the Commission aims to make it easier for companies to receive compensation for the additional costs they face while operating in the EU’s outermost regions and it has simplified the rules to support those companies. Moreover, it plans to increase the exemption thresholds for this kind of aid.

Besides these modifications, the State aid Notice adopted in May 2016 clarifies what public support measures fall outside the scope of EU State aid control, in order to help Member States to design public support measures which can be implemented without the interpellation of the Commission.

Moreover, the Commission has taken certain State aid decisions in order to specify which public support measures can be implemented by Member States without prior scrutiny by the Commission, because they do not affect trade between Member States.

These initiatives aim to reduce the administrative burden for public authorities and companies and help to stimulate investments. Moreover, they allow Member States to take responsibility over the policy choices for local measures.

Public and stakeholders can submit comments on this consultation by 8 December 2016. The Commission will adopt the final Regulation within the first quarter 2017.


Pietro Michea