"SGEI, SSGI, compensation, de minimis threshold": the jargon used in EU legislation on public services can be hard to understand at national level. For that reason, on 18 February, the European Commission published a new version of the guide explaining how EU state aid rules apply to services of general economic interest (SGEI). Initially published in 2010, the document of just over 100 pages has been updated in the light of the Almunia package' (named after the competition commissioner - see box), which introduces new rules for subsidies granted to SGEIs. It is meant to be a tool for better understanding and application of rules for SGEIs (rules on state aid and some respects of public procurement rules).
The guide takes the form of simple and comprehensive answers to the questions asked most frequently by public authorities, service users and providers, and other stakeholders.
The Chair of the EP Public Services Intergroup, Francoise Castex (S&D, France), applauded publication of this updated guide, "which will help clarify the applicable state aid rules. Despite the welcome revision provided by the Almunia package, state aid rules are complicated for local authorities to apply. The relevance of existing rules needs to be assessed in the light of the capacity of these authorities to implement them to ensure sustainable financing of public services. A meeting of the EP Public Services Intergroup is already scheduled for 5 June to take stock of implementation of the Almunia package with concerned stakeholders."
In the first section, the Commission provides clarifications of the concepts introduced by the SGEI legislative package, such as the concepts of SGEI and social services of general interest (SSGIs). It incorporates to a large extent the content of the communication, except that it gives concrete examples of erroneous descriptions of services as SGEIs that it has detected in its monitoring of subsidies of this type.
The second section seems more useful because it deals with the changes brought about by each of the four texts that make up the...