Services of general economic interest
Debate heats up over reform of state aid for SGEI
By Sophie Mosca | Monday 05 September 2011
In anticipation of the European Commission’s revision, in late September, of state aid rules applicable to services of general economic interest (SGEI), which expire next November, the different stakeholders are making their position known and trying to influence the debate.
The Committee of the Regions published its opinion in the
Official Journalof 2 September. It stresses “strict compliance with the principle of subsidiarity and [...] ensuring freedom of choice and of administration for local and regional authorities as regards methods of organising, funding and carrying out” SGEI. It calls for “the utmost flexibility in the application of competition rules” in this sector and is opposed to “the introduction by the Commission of any requirement to assess economic efficiency in SGEI compensation”. It also suggests that the de minimis ceiling for public service compensation should be raised to €800,000 a year to exclude local public services.
The Social Platform, an alliance of 46 European non-governmental organisations active in the social sphere, has written a letter to Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia asking for the exclusion of grants (financial contributions from the public authorities to third parties mandated by them to carry out a general interest mission) from the scope of this reform to prevent confusion with public procurement rules.
Clarification is also sought by the European Parliament’s Public Services Intergroup with a view to guaranteeing legal certainty. It should concern in particular the classification of economic and non-economic activity, with priority on key concepts not defined in the treaties affecting the economic and financial conditions of the functioning of SGEI set out in Article 14 TFEU.
The intergroup’s contribution to this reform is expected for mid-September. According to informed sources, it will probably stress the powers of Parliament (and the Council) founded on the Lisbon Treaty’s new articles on SGEI (Protocol 26 and Article 14), which can reject a Commission proposal if they find that the economic and financial conditions enabling them to carry out their tasks are not guaranteed by this reform. It may also contain a proposal to raise thresholds and de minimis rules specific to local services and social services of general interest (SSGI) having a negligible impact on trade between member states. The specific nature and mission of SSGI must be guaranteed and clearly defined in specific legislation. Union sociale pour l’habitat (social housing organisation) also defends this specific nature in its annual report 2010-2011, published on 6 September.
MEP Peter Simon (S&D, Germany) is also drafting a report for the EP’s Committee on Economic Affairs (ECON).