EU clears Groningen airport in state-aid probe

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Government subsidies of €19.2 million ($26.6 million) given to Groningen airport in the Netherlands over the past 13 years did not break EU state-aid rules, the European Commission has found in the first test case under new guidelines introduced in April.

The Commission argues that fixed yearly funds provided by the Dutch government since 2001 served to improve the region’s connectivity and took pressure off congested hubs in the region, such as Amsterdam Schiphol.

It further deems the aid to have “provided an incentive to Groningen airport to adapt its business model and rationalise its operations in order to become profitable in the long term”. The regional facility was foreseen as breaking even in 2017, allowing aid to be phased out by 2016.

“The case of Groningen airport shows that operating aid granted for a transitional period can be combined with incentives for small airports to increase their efficiency, adjust their business model and to eventually become profitable,” says Joaquin Almunia, who heads competition policy at the Commission.

In separate investigations, the Commission has found that a €12.7 million subsidy given to the company managing Verona and Brescia airports – Aeroporto Valerio Catullo di Verona Villafranca – also complied with EU state-aid rules.

The authority concluded that the funds “will improve the mobility of citizens and meet transport needs in northern Italy, in line with EU transport policy objectives and without unduly distorting competition in the single market”.

In a case testing the Commission’s new guidelines on state aid to airlines, also introduced in April, it judged that a Spanish scheme to provide start-up aid to carriers launching new routes to the Canary Islands was in line with the rules and would not distort competition.