In the framework of its State Aid Modernisation Plan (SAM), in July the EC launched a number of consultations on both general and sector-specific State aid rules. With the SAM, the EC aims at clarifying and streamlining current State aid rules so that public support to specific companies or sectors “become more efficient, effective and targeted at growth-promoting policies that fulfil common European objectives”. With this in mind, the EC launched the most recent wave of consultations (after consulting on rules for State aid to broadband, regional aid, environmental aid, R&D aid and procedural rules), seeking stakeholders’ views on (i) a new General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER), (ii) de minimis aid, (iii) rules on State aid to support risk finance, and (iv) rules for State aid to airports and airlines.

The current GBER allows aid to be granted for specific purposes (e.g. regional development, job creation/preservation, environmental objectives, risk capital etc.) without the need for notification to and approval by the EC. The EC is now consulting on additional categories of aid to be covered by a GBER II, such as aid for making good damage caused by natural disasters, social aid for transport for residents of remote regions, certain broadband infrastructure, innovation, culture and heritage, sports and multifunctional infrastructure. Other aid categories (e.g. aid for port infrastructure) could be included if there is specific and sufficient request from stakeholders. Interested parties can provide comments on the draft GBER II by 10 September 2013.

De minimis aid is aid of such a small amount that the EC deems it does not distort competition. Member States can currently grant a maximum of €200,000 on each three-year rolling period to companies for any project (under certain conditions). The EC proposes to maintain this ceiling. Failure to increase the de minimis threshold by the EC has been criticised by many stakeholders and no doubt we will see pressure to increase this ceiling during the consultation. Stakeholders can submit their comments up to 9 September 2013.

The risk capital measures under consultation would apply where such measures are not covered by the GBER II. Based on the results of a first consultation carried out in July 2012, the draft proposes more flexibility in defining eligible companies and forms of financing, with a view to further enhancing the ability of SMEs to access finance. The consultation will close on 17 September 2013.

Finally, the proposed rules for airports and airlines concern in particular investment in airport infrastructure, operating aid to airports and aid to airlines for the start-up of new routes. Interested parties can submit their views up to 25 September 2013.

Participating in these public consultations is a way to make one’s views and concerns known to the EC before new rules are adopted. Companies as well as public bodies should consider participating in the public consultations in order to influence the decision-making process, if they feel they can benefit from or be impacted by the proposed rules.