Regulation (EU) No 651/2014 declaring certain categories of aid compatible with the internal market in application of Articles 107 and 108 of the Treaty
Known as the general block exemption regulation* (GBER), it seeks to enable EU governments to give higher amounts of public money to a wider range of companies without having to request prior permission from the European Commission.
As a general rule, except for very small amounts, State aid must be notified to and cleared by the Commission before it is granted. The regulation exempts EU countries from this notification obligation, as long as all the GBER criteria are fulfilled.
The exemption is designed to reduce administrative burdens on national and local authorities and to encourage EU governments to channel aid towards economic growth without giving recipients an unfair competitive advantage.
The regulation covers the following categories and types of aid measures:
aid to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs);
aid for access to finance for SMEs;
aid for research and development and innovation;
aid for disadvantaged workers and for workers with disabilities;
aid for environmental protection;
aid to make good the damage caused by certain natural disasters;
social aid for transport for residents of remote regions;
aid for broadband infrastructure;
aid for culture and heritage conservation;
aid for sport and multifunctional recreational infrastructure;
aid for local infrastructures.
The regulation outlines sectors and measures to which it does not apply, e.g.:
aid to export-related activities;
aid contingent upon the use of domestic goods over imported goods;
aid to facilitate the closure of uncompetitive coal mines;
an undertaking which is subject to an outstanding recovery order;
aid to undertakings in difficulty.
Measures adopted on the basis of the GBER do not have to be notified. However, when the amount for an individual award per undertaking or per project exceeds the notification thresholds set by the regulation, individual notification to the Commission and its detailed assessment are necessary before the measure can be granted.
Aid must be transparent — it should be possible to calculate the precise gross grant equivalent of the aid before the event without any risk assessment.
Aid must have an incentive effect — it may not be granted once work on the project or activity has started. For large enterprises, it must change their behaviour, not just subsidise activities they would have undertaken anyway. This could be done by increasing the scope of the project/activity, the total amount spent or the speed of completion, for example.
Aid intensity and eligible costs shall be calculated before any deduction of tax or other charge. The eligible costs must be supported by documentary evidence that is clear, specific and up to date.
Cumulation of aid under the GBER with any other State aid in respect of the same eligible costs is acceptable if such cumulation does not result in exceeding the highest aid intensity or amount applicable to this aid under the GBER.
EU countries must publish a summary information sheet, the full text of each State aid measure and the information on each individual aid award that exceeds €500,000.
Transparency — EU countries have to publish information on individual aid awards above €500,000 that were awarded after 1 July 2016 (see the State Aid Transparency Public Search in all languages and the national or regional transparency websites).
Monitoring — The Commission may withdraw the benefit of the block exemption if an EU country does not fulfil the common and specific rules of the regulation.
Reporting — EU countries have to submit to the Commission a summary information sheet about each aid measure exempted under the regulation within 20 working days following the entry into force of the measure. They must also submit annual reports on the application of the regulation.
Amendment of the regulation
Regulation (EU) 2017/1084:
amends Regulation (EU) No 651/2014:
extending its scope to cover aid for port and airport infrastructure;
increasing the notification thresholds for
aid for culture and heritage conservation
aid for sport and multifunctional recreational infrastructures and
regional operating aid schemes for outermost regions;
amends Regulation (EU) No 702/2014 as regards the calculation of eligible costs.
EU countries can now make public investments without prior control by the Commission:
in sea ports, of up to EUR 150 million;
in inland ports, of up to EUR 50 million;
in regional airports handling up to 3 million passengers per year; and
in small airports handling up to 200,000 passengers per year to cover operating costs.
It has applied since 1 July 2014.
The GBER is a cornerstone of the Commission’s State aid modernisation reform, which aims to promote economic growth and to concentrate EU approval procedures on large-scale aid cases that could lead to unfair competition. Under the legislation dating from 2008, which the current GBER replaces, some 40% of annual State aid did not require prior approval.
Since 2015, more than 96% of new measures, for which expenditure has been reported for the first time, fell under the GBER.
Categories of State aid exempted from notification
Regulation (EU) 2015/1588 — the application of Articles 107 and 108 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to certain types of state aid
It enables the European Commission to adopt regulations to exempt certain categories of state aid from the general obligation to first notify the Commission for its approval.
It replaces — as of 14 October 2015 — Council Regulation (EC) No 994/98 on the application of Articles 107 and 108 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) to certain categories of horizontal State aid (i.e. state aid that applies to all industries rather than to a selected one).
In general, any state aid measures granted by EU countries to companies must be notified to the Commission for prior approval.
This regulation allows the Commission to adopt regulations — known as block exemption regulations — declaring certain categories of aid to be compatible with Articles 107 and 108 of the TFEU and thus exempt from the normal requirement to notify.
The categories of exempted aid include funding provided by EU centrally managed financial instruments and projects supported by EU Territorial Cooperation programmes.
For each category of exempted aid, the regulation must include certain basic information including the purpose of the aid and the beneficiaries.
Certain types of aid may also be exempted from the usual State aid notification requirements provided the aid to the company in question over a given period of time does not exceed a specified fixed amount — the so-called de minimis rule.
EU countries have to guarantee the transparency and monitoring of the exempted aid. This includes publication on the Commission website of the aid in question and the submission by the EU country to the Commission of an annual report on the application of the aid.
The regulation allowing the exemption must apply for a specified period only. This may be amended if any of the circumstances giving rise to the exemption have changed significantly.
Before the Commission adopts a regulation granting an exemption, it must first publish a draft to allow interested parties to submit comments.
The regulation provides for the setting up of an Advisory Committee on State Aid composed of representatives from EU countries and chaired by the Commission. The Commission must consult the Committee when it publishes a draft regulation exempting any category of aid and also before final adoption of the regulation.
It has applied since 14 October 2015.