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State aid: European Commission provides guidance in respect of “local” public support measures which can be granted without prior approval from the Commission

There is growing awareness of the potential relevance of State aid principles in the environmental and planning law context. In a series of decisions dated 29 April 2015 the Commission has provided additional guidance as to which cases do not require prior approval from the Commission (further to the revised General Block Exemption Regulation adopted in May 2014, which considerably extended the scope of exemptions from the Commission clearance requirement).   

In the latest series of decisions, the Commission has concluded that the measures in question do not involve “State aid” as defined by the relevant EU rules because they grant public support to purely local operations and are therefore unlikely to have a significant effect on trade between Member States. The decisions are significant given the broad manner in which the Court of Justice of the EU has to date interpreted the inter-State requirement.

Two of the seven decisions concern the UK: Glenmore Lodge (SA.37963) and Member-owned golf clubs (SA.38208). Of greatest potential relevance to the environmental law context, however, is the decision in respect of investment aid for Lauwersoog Port in the Netherlands (SA.39403). The project concerns the lengthening of a quay in the port and developments to support recreational boating and fishing. The Commission found that the investment would not lead to a significant increase in the port’s capacities and, in particular, would not increase its capacity to cater for larger ships; the investment was thus targeted at a local market, would not provide incentives to fishermen from other Member States to use the port rather than ports in other Member States and would not, therefore, have any significant effect on patterns of trade between Member States.    

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