The Committee of the Regions (CoR) has expressed concern about the newly revised EU guidelines on state aid for airports. Catiuscia Marini (IT/PES), President of the Umbria Region, said: "Regional airports are vital for regaining competitiveness and ensuring territorial cohesion". Whilst appreciating the latest round of changes introduced by the European Commission, the CoR considers the revised guidelines as lacking any legal certainty needed to plan long term development strategies. "Regions and cities need the ability to mobilise adequate public funding. The global challenges we are facing require more attention especially for smaller realities".
In an opinion adopted last November, the Committee of the Regions made it clear that public support for infrastructure construction and development should not be considered as state aid since it is a legitimate economic policy measure. The same principles should apply to public financing of airport intermodality which is a top EU priority. The Commission guidelines ignore these needs. "There is a clear contradiction between the pressure to meet the Europe 2020 objectives and the current EU approach on state aid" President Marini argued.
The CoR regrets that the ten year transitional period leading to full financial autonomy has been kept for all categories of airports. This could end up penalising smaller airports, especially those that receive less than 300,000 passengers each year. These airports may struggle to cover their operating costs, the CoR argues, whilst supporting them could not be considered as a threat to the single market. In this respect the CoR welcomes the Commission's decision to adopt a more flexible approach on public support for functioning costs, as called for within President Marini's opinion, even though this is limited to airport with less than 700,000 passengers per year.
Nonetheless, the Commission has taken on board the CoRs' request to introduce more flexibility for outermost regions' airports though this approach has not been extended to all small airports, especially in relation to supporting the starting-up of new connections. "Given the need to set priorities, we would have considered it more appropriate if the Commission had paid more attention to smaller airports with less than 300,000 passengers per year, before making more the rules on aid more flexible for airports with more than 5 million passengers per year" concluded President Marini.
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