On 7 July 2008, Commissioner Kroes announced the adoption by the Commission of the new General Block Exemption Regulation for State Aid (“GEBR”). Following the debate initiated by the 2005 State Aid Action Plan, the GEBR repeals the five previous exemption regulations dealing with aid to SMEs, Research and Development (“R&D”), employment, training and regional aid.
The text will likely induce a reduction in the State aid enforcement workload of the Commission. A whole bunch of aids that were previously subject to the notification procedure are now expressly exempted (i.e. those aids that were deemed compatible under the various Guidelines). Meanwhile, and less blatantly, the GEBR marks a subtle intrusion of the Commission in Member States’ economic policy. In much the same vein as the old-generation Article 81(3) block exemption regulations, the GEBR provides a raft of “straightjacket” safe harbors which hold the potential to standardize national intervention in a myriad of policy fields (e.g. environment, R&D, risk capital, disabled workers, or women entrepreneurs, etc.).
In addition, the “visual” effect of the GEBR is of utmost relevance. At first glance, the reader is faced with an impressive inventory of aid-related issues, all of which are cleared from Commission’s scrutiny (subject to the observance of the various substantive conditions subsequently set out by the regulation). Temptation will then be great for national policy-makers to simply pick and choose within this list and then carefully follow the “user’s manual”.
The benefits are therefore two-fold for the Commission. First, it gets rid of a considerable amount of dull administrative work. Second, it makes sure that an increasing number of national measures will follow the guidelines that it itself designed. Greater compliance coupled with less paperwork, or the epitome of enforcement efficiency.
Yet, the primary achievement of the GEBR lies elsewhere. By exempting national subsidies for the environment, SMEs, women entrepreneurs or disabled workers, the European watchdog demonstrates that it is not locked in an ivory tower, and that the daily life of European citizens is the driving force behind its policy initiatives. “State aid for the people”, in a way…
PS: For the next months, Alexis will be our co-blogger. Alexis is a French Lawyer who graduated a year ago from the College of Europe. He is a specialist of state related aspects of EC competition law. A most welcome addition to our blogging capacities!
PS2: any clue as to the gentleman on the above picture (source: wikipedia)?