On 17 May 2017, the European Commission (“EC“) amended the General Block Exemption Regulation (“GBER“) in order to enable more public investment in ports, airports, culture and the outermost regions. These amendments aim to stimulate job creation and growth while preserving competition.

Public investments qualify as State aid if state resources are used to give an undertaking or a certain group of undertakings preferential economic treatment with a result that the competition is or may be distorted and that the investment is likely to affect the trade between Member States. As a rule, Member States can only implement State aid after approval from the EC. Therefore, Member States must notify the EC of intended State Aid. The GBER exempts certain public investments which qualify as State aid from the notification requirements.

The scope of the GBER has now been extended by the EC regarding the following public investments. Member States can:

  • invest in regional airports handling up to up to 3 million passengers per year. According to the EC, this will facilitate public investment in more than 420 airports across the EU. These airports are responsible for 13% of air traffic. In addition, Member States can cover operating costs of small airports handling up to 200,000 passengers per year.
  • make public investments of up to EUR150 million in sea ports and up to EUR50 million in inland ports.
  • support culture projects and multi-purpose sports arenas with higher amounts of State aid. The Member States can now invest EUR150 million in culture projects (instead of EUR100 million) and EUR75 million per undertaking per year (instead of EUR50 million). They can also invest EUR30 million or the total costs exceeding EUR100 million per project regarding multi-purpose sports arenas (instead of EUR15 million or the total costs exceeding EUR 50 million per project).
  • compensate companies more for the additional costs they face when operating in the EU’s outermost regions taking account of the specific challenges these companies are facing.

With these new changes, the EC is taking an additional step towards reaching the goal of the Juncker Commission to apply the State aid rules in an effective and efficient way by focusing on State aid that leads to significant distortions of competition.