On February 16, the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions, CPMR, and the European Parliament Intergroup for Seas, Rivers, Islands & Coastal Areas (SEARICA) arranged a workshop on the EU stat aid rules, which will be updated in the spring of 2021. Nils-Olov Lindfors, regional councilor Norrbotten, represented the Northern Sparsely Populated Areas, NSPA, and emphasized that a flexible implementation of the state aid rules is necessary for regions far away from the major markets, during the recovery of the Covid-19 pandemic.
On February 16, the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions, CPMR, and the European Parliament Intergroup for Seas, Rivers, Islands & Coastal Areas (SEARICA) arranged a workshop on the EU state aid rules, with a focus on the economic recovery for isolated and maritime areas, during and after the pandemic. Nils-Olov Lindfors, regional councilor from the region of Norrbotten participated on behalf of the Northern Sparsely Populated Areas, NSPA, where he was also chairman between the years of 2019-2020. The EU is conducting a general review of the state aid rules aimed at maintaining a healthy competition without distorting the state subsidies in the EU. At the same time, Covid-19 and other major investments in the green transition, place great demands on the comprehensive support measures within the EU.
New guidelines for state aid are underway during the spring of 2021
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the EU regions and various sectors in a very asymmetrical way. Maritime and isolated regions are, among others, hit the hardest due to the narrow base of their economies and their geographical location. In the summer of 2020, the European Commission, therefore, introduced temporary reliefs for the payment of state aid, which was extended to the whole of 2021. In the spring of 2021, the European Commission plans to present new state aid guidelines for the upcoming years until 2027, when the current budget and program period expires.
Representatives from SEARICA and CPMR had, prior to the workshop, stressed that it is important that the future EU state aid is designed in such a way that it maximizes, rather than hinders the effects of the future investments in the EU. They also emphasized that there is a concern that the pace of recovery in the Member States is expected to be uneven and that regional disparities are expected to increase in the future. Both the CPMR and SEARICA highlighted the situation of the islands, where the NSPA and the so-called Outhermost regions, have had general exceptions during the program period, in order to support the regional economy.
The European Commission sees the benefit to meet interests
A number of parliamentarians, who are part of SEARICA, maintained that the state aid rules for the EU recovery can to a large extent contribute to long-term positive development, but that it is necessary for the state aid rules to be more flexible to make this possible. As fishing and the tourism sector have been affected to a large extent in several EU countries, many also agreed that the EU needs to implement a flexible use of the EU recovery tools and that the view of the state aid rules needs to be diverse. This is because a diversified implementation, that is based on the regions' different conditions is required. The focus of the discussion was that support for particularly vulnerable islands with a large tourism industry has been insufficient.
Karl Soukup, Director general of the State Aid at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Competition, spoke about the measures the Commission introduced shortly after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, to make the state aid more flexible over a temporary period. To support the member states, the European Commission has extended the payments for the state aid but it has always been the national governments that have decided where the money goes in the end. In order to address the regional problems, he said that there is a need for long-term and general perspectives with opportunities within the countries to make specific trade-offs, rather than increasing the number of exceptions on an EU-level.
Northern Sweden and the Arctic takes part in the discussion
North Sweden European Office, together with the NSPA, took part in the open consultation regarding the EU state aid, announced by the European Commission in the fall of 2020. Nils-Olov Lindfors, regional councilor in Norrbotten represented the NSPA in the workshop and stressed that the European Commission should follow up on what’s happening at the national level so that the regional conditions are considered in the member states' planning of state aid. Nils-Olov also emphasized the importance of the specific support and the exceptions that the regions in the NSPA, with their extreme sparsity, need. Northern Sweden and the NSPA are playing a big role in the EU green transition but will in the future need continued specially adapted regulations. He also highlighted desirable adjustments, such as support that will need to be directed to big companies that play a crucial role for the emergence of the small companies, and the growth in northern Sweden.
/ Julia Hanson