On 17 May 2017 the European Commission approved new rules, part of a wider reform, which allows Member States to contribute more easily to the development of small and minor infrastructure projects thanks to a widening in the scope of the General Block Exemption Regulation of 2014. The goal is to facilitate public investment in order to create jobs and promote growth while protecting competition.
Member States will be able to make public investments in regional airports that handle up to 3 million passengers a year (more than 420 airports which manage about 13% of air traffic) with full legal certainty and without the Commission’s prior control. Governments will also be able to cover the operating expenses of small airports that handle up to 200,000 passengers a year. These smaller airports can make an important contribution to the connectivity of a region, but they only manage 0.75% of air traffic in the EU; therefore, they are hardly likely to distort competition in the Single Market.
With regard to ports, Member States can now make public investments up to 150 million euro in seaports and up to 50 million euro in inland ports without the Commission’s prior control. The Regulation authorizes the public authorities to cover the costs of dredging of ports and their access routes.
Margrethe Vestager, Commissioner for competition, 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“.