The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has published a preliminary draft opinion on Services of General Economic Interest (SGEI). The draft opinion was discussed with stakeholders at a public hearing on 10th May 2017 in Brussels and is expected to be adopted at the plenary session in July 2017.
This draft opinion responds to the European Commission’s communications on the subject. Since 2014, the European Commission has started a process to simplify the SGEI’s rules and to ease their implementation.
A simplified implementation and an easier access for local and regional authorities is strongly requested by the Member States, the EESC and also by the Committee of the Regions. In October, the Committee of the Regions had already adopted an opinion on this topic.
The EESC’s draft opinion recognizes that the Decision strikes the right balance between the need to foster and support SGEI and the objective of preventing potential distorsions of competition.
Therefore, the EESC is suggesting several solutions that could improve and simplify the implementation of State Aid rules.
Among the proposed solutions, five important issues should be highlighted:
- Amending the time-limit for keeping records of all the information necessary to determine the compatibility of the compensation granted;
- Setting a definition and a readily available method for calculating what is a “reasonable profit”;
- Extending the scope of the Decision exempting SGEIs from notification, coupled with enhanced legal certainty and further flexibility in implementing the rules, as long as the aid meets the conditions set by the Court of Justice in the Altmark judgment;
- Broadening the scope of the Decision in order to make eligible services related to enhance people’s knowledge and qualifications and thus improve their job opportunities;
- Adaptating State aid rules and requirements to the special needs and means available for regional and local authorities, thus ensuring fair and equal treatment in practice.
The issue is a very important one for mountain areas. SGEIs are essential in many sparsely populated areas to enable people to continue to live there.
Due to remoteness, difficult topography, high cost of maintenance, changing needs of the local population, the delivery and/or accessibility of services of general interest, including economic ones, is sometimes difficult – in particular in mountain rural areas. The maintenance of a spatially and socially equal accessibility to services of general interest is a core issue to the functionality of mountain areas and any regional development strategy both on a national and transnational level. Thus, Euromontana welcomes the wish to simplify the current complex system by both the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions.
Euromontana has also written its position and its recommendations to integrate the mountain specificities into the proposal.