On 23 March 2011 the Commission published two documents relating to the reform of the EU State Aid rules on SGEI. The first is a communication to the Parliament, Council, EESC, and CoR43, the second document is a staff working document of the Commission44. Both follow the consultation of the Member States in 2008 and 2009 and the public consultation in 2010 in light of the expiration of the current SGEI Package, i.e., the SGEI Framework45 and SGEI Decision46.
The two documents begin by stressing the importance of SGEI in the EU “architecture” and emphasise their essential role and, at the same time, their diversity in the European model of society. The documents continue by explaining the history behind the current SGEI Package and summarise the rules laid down in the SGEI Package and the related case-law. Moreover, the staff working document provides a lengthy chapter on the application of the SGEI Package by the Commission and the Courts in various sectors.
The two documents conclude with the lessons that can be learned from the member states- and public consultation, and they formulate two key principles on which the Commission plans to focus its upcoming reform of the current SGEI Package. The two key principles are Clarification and a Diversified and proportionate approach.
Concerning clarification, the Commission points out that although it already tried to clarify numerous points on state aid rules and SGEI (see, e.g., FAQ in 2007 and 2010; IIS,…), a number of uncertainties and misunderstandings remain present. This may be one of the reasons why the SGEI Package is not always applied correctly by the Member States. The uncertainties and misunderstandings are not limited to SGEI topics but also deal with the key concepts of the state aid rules (and more in general competition rules), such as difference between economic and non-economic activities, affection of trade between member states, conditions under which compensation for SGEI is not state aid,…
Concerning the diversified and proportionate approach the Commission highlights two points: (i) that it plans to assess under which conditions and circumstances certain aides can be regarded as de minimis, for which types of services and under what conditions an individual state aid notification is required, and whether the thresholds which determine the application of the current SGEI Decision should be modified (this is called by the Commission ‘Simplification’); (ii) the Commission envisages to assess which measures it can introduce to ensure high quality public services and efficient allocation of state resources. In that light, the Commission wants to place more emphasis on the efficiency and quality provided by the undertakings that execute a SGEI, in order to approve the aid granted to that undertaking.