The European Commission has found a €8 billion Austrian scheme to compensate companies for damages related to the coronavirus outbreak to be in line with EU State aid rules.
Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “This €8 billion scheme enables Austria to compensate businesses of all sectors at least in part for the damages suffered due to the coronavirus outbreak. We are working closely with Member States to find workable solutions to support companies in these difficult times, in line with EU rules.”
Under the scheme, undertakings will be entitled to compensation for certain damages suffered as result of the coronavirus outbreak. As notified by Austria, the compensation, in the form of direct grants, can cover a maximum of 75% of fixed costs incurred during a limited period of three months, with a maximum amount of €90 million per group.
The Commission assessed the measure under Article 107(2)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), which enables the Commission to approve State aid measures granted by Member States to compensate specific companies or sectors for damage directly caused by exceptional occurrences.
The Commission considers that the coronavirus outbreak qualifies as such an exceptional occurrence, as it is an extraordinary, unforeseeable event having a significant economic impact. As a result, exceptional interventions by the Member States to compensate for the damages linked to the outbreak are justified.
The Commission found that the Austrian aid scheme will compensate damages that are directly linked to the coronavirus outbreak. It also found that the measure is proportionate, as the envisaged compensation does not exceed what is necessary to make good the damage.
The Commission therefore concluded that the scheme is in line with EU State aid rules.
Financial support from EU or national funds granted to health services or other public services to tackle the coronavirus situation falls outside the scope of State aid control. The same applies to any public financial support given directly to citizens. Similarly, public support measures that are available to all companies such as for example wage subsidies and suspension of payments of corporate and value added taxes or social contributions do not fall under State aid control and do not require the Commission’s approval under EU State aid rules. In all these cases, Member States can act immediately.
When State aid rules are applicable, Member States can design ample aid measures to support specific companies or sectors suffering from the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak in line with the existing EU State aid framework. On 13 March 2020, the Commission adopted a Communication on a Coordinated economic response to the COVID-19 outbreak setting out these possibilities.
In this respect, for example:
Member States can compensate specific companies or specific sectors (in the form of schemes) for the damage suffered due and directly caused by exceptional occurrences, such as those caused by the coronavirus outbreak. This is foreseen by Article 107(2)(b)TFEU. State aid rules based on Article 107(3)(c) TFEU enable Member States to help companies cope with liquidity shortages and needing urgent rescue aid. This can be complemented by a variety of additional measures, such as under the de minimis Regulation and the General Block Exemption Regulation, which can also be put in place by Member States immediately, without involvement of the Commission.
In addition to the existing possibilities already foreseen by existing EU State aid rules, on 19 March 2020, the Commission adopted a State aid Temporary Framework to enable Member States to use the full flexibility foreseen under State aid rules to support the economy in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. It was amended on 3 April and 8 May 2020.
The Temporary Framework, based on Article 107(3)(b) TFEU, recognises that the entire EU economy is experiencing a serious disturbance. To remedy that, the Temporary Framework provides for the following types of aid: (i) Direct grants, selective tax advantages and advance payments; (ii) State guarantees for loans taken by companies from banks; (iii) Subsidised public loans to companies (senior and subordinated debt); (iv) Safeguards for banks that channel State aid to the real economy; (v) Public short-term export credit insurance; (vi) Support for coronavirus related research and development (R&D); (vii) Support for the construction and upscaling of testing facilities; (viii) Support for the production of products relevant to tackle the coronavirus outbreak; (ix) Targeted support in the form of deferral of tax payments and/or suspensions of social security contributions; (x) Targeted support in the form of wage subsidies for employees; (xi) Targeted recapitalisation aid to non-financial companies, if no other appropriate solution is available..
The Temporary Framework will be in place until the end of December 2020. As solvency issues may materialise only at a later stage as this crisis evolves, for recapitalisation measures only the Commission has extended this period until the end of June 2021. With a view to ensuring legal certainty, the Commission will assess before that date if it needs to be extended.