The European Commission has approved a Greek scheme to support the uncovered fixed costs of companies affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme was approved under the State aid Temporary Framework and has an estimated budget of up to €500 million.
Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “Many companies in Greece have seen their revenues significantly decline because of the coronavirus outbreak and of the measures necessary to limit its spread. This €500 million scheme will enable Greece to support these companies by helping them cover the fixed costs that are not covered by their revenues. We continue to work in close cooperation with Member States to find workable solutions to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak, in line with EU rules”.
The Greek support measure
Following the approval of several Greek State aid schemes to support companies facing economic difficulties due to the coronavirus outbreak, Greece notified to the Commission a scheme to further support companies under the Temporary Framework.
Under the scheme, Greece plans to provide economic assistance to certain businesses in order to bridge liquidity shortages related to the coronavirus outbreak and thereby to preserve continuity of economic activity during and after the outbreak.
The scheme will be open to all companies, irrespective of their size and of the sector where they operate (with the exception of the financial sector). Under the scheme, support will take the form of a credit to be used for the payment of tax and social security obligations that are due from 1 July 2021 to 31 December 2021. The credit (i) gives the right to the beneficiary to deduct the amount of aid from these obligations towards the State; and (ii) it can be used until 31 December 2021.
The measure will enable the Greek authorities to support companies that suffered from a monthly turnover decline between April 2020 and December 2020 of at least 30% compared to the same period in 2019, by helping them cover the losses incurred during that period. The aid will cover up to 70% (90% in case of micro and small companies) of their fixed costs that are not covered by revenues. The overall aid amount will not exceed €10 million per company.
Furthermore, companies that commenced their activities after 1 January 2019 or established new branches from 1 April 2019 to 31 December 2020, as well as companies providing bus services in Greece (so called KTEL companies), will be eligible for aid under the scheme, up to €225 000 per company active in the primary production of agricultural products, €270 000 per company active in the fishery sector and €1.8 million per company active in all other eligible sectors.
The Commission found that the Greek scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, the aid (i) will not exceed the overall amount of €10 million per company; (ii) will cover uncovered fixed costs incurred during a period comprised between April 2020 and December 2020; (iii) will be granted no later than 31 December 2021; (iv) will be granted only to companies that were not considered to be in difficulty already on 31 December 2019, with the exception of micro and small companies that are eligible even if already in difficulty. For what concerns the aid to newly established undertakings companies and KTEL companies, (i) it will not exceed the overall amount of €225 000 per company active in the primary production of agricultural products, €270 000 per company active in the fishery sector and €1.8 million per company active in all other eligible sectors; and (ii) will be granted no later than 31 December 2021. Finally, Greece will ensure that the rules for cumulation of aid provided under the Temporary Framework are respected across all measures.
The Commission concluded that the measure under the scheme is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a Member State, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework.
On this basis, the Commission approved the aid measure under EU State aid rules.
The Commission has adopted a 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. The Temporary Framework, as amended on 3 April, 8 May, 29 June, 13 October 2020 and 28 January 2021, provides for the following types of aid, which can be granted by Member States:
(i) Direct grants, equity injections, selective tax advantages and advance payments of up to €225,000 to a company active in the primary agricultural sector, €270,000 to a company active in the fishery and aquaculture sector and €1.8 million to a company active in all other sectors to address its urgent liquidity needs. Member States can also give, up to the nominal value of €1.8 million per company zero-interest loans or guarantees on loans covering 100% of the risk, except in the primary agriculture sector and in the fishery and aquaculture sector, where the limits of €225,000 and €270,000 per company respectively, apply.
(ii) State guarantees for loans taken by companies to ensure banks keep providing loans to the customers who need them. These state guarantees can cover up to 90% of risk on loans to help businesses cover immediate working capital and investment needs.
(iii) Subsidised public loans to companies (senior and subordinated debt) with favourable interest rates to companies. These loans can help businesses cover immediate working capital and investment needs.
(iv) Safeguards for banks that channel State aid to the real economy that such aid is considered as direct aid to the banks’ customers, not to the banks themselves, and gives guidance on how to ensure minimal distortion of competition between banks.
(v) Public short-term export credit insurance for all countries, without the need for the Member State in question to demonstrate that the respective country is temporarily “non-marketable”.
(vi) Support for coronavirus related research and development (R&D) to address the current health crisis in the form of direct grants, repayable advances or tax advantages. A bonus may be granted for cross-border cooperation projects between Member States.
(vii) Support for the construction and upscaling of testing facilities to develop and test products (including vaccines, ventilators and protective clothing) useful to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, up to first industrial deployment. This can take the form of direct grants, tax advantages, repayable advances and no-loss guarantees. Companies may benefit from a bonus when their investment is supported by more than one Member State and when the investment is concluded within two months after the granting of the aid.
(viii) Support for the production of products relevant to tackle the coronavirus outbreak in the form of direct grants, tax advantages, repayable advances and no-loss guarantees. Companies may benefit from a bonus when their investment is supported by more than one Member State and when the investment is concluded within two months after the granting of the aid.
(ix) Targeted support in the form of deferral of tax payments and/or suspensions of social security contributions for those sectors, regions or for types of companies that are hit the hardest by the outbreak.
(x) Targeted support in the form of wage subsidies for employees for those companies in sectors or regions that have suffered most from the coronavirus outbreak, and would otherwise have had to lay off personnel.
(xi) Targeted recapitalisation aid to non-financial companies, if no other appropriate solution is available. Safeguards are in place to avoid undue distortions of competition in the Single Market: conditions on the necessity, appropriateness and size of intervention; conditions on the State’s entry in the capital of companies and remuneration; conditions regarding the exit of the State from the capital of the companies concerned; conditions regarding governance including dividend ban and remuneration caps for senior management; prohibition of cross-subsidisation and acquisition ban and additional measures to limit competition distortions; transparency and reporting requirements.
(xii) Support for uncovered fixed costs for companies facing a decline in turnover during the eligible period of at least 30% compared to the same period of 2019 in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The support will contribute to a part of the beneficiaries’ fixed costs that are not covered by their revenues, up to a maximum amount of €10 million per undertaking.
The Temporary Framework enables Member States to combine all support measures with each other, except for loans and guarantees for the same loan and exceeding the thresholds foreseen by the Temporary Framework. It also enables Member States to combine all support measures granted under the Temporary Framework with existing possibilities to grant de minimis to a company of up to €25,000 over three fiscal years for companies active in the primary agricultural sector, €30,000 over three fiscal years for companies active in the fishery and aquaculture sector and €200,000 over three fiscal years for companies active in all other sectors. At the same time, Member States have to commit to avoid undue cumulation of support measures for the same companies to limit support to meet their actual needs.
Furthermore, the Temporary Framework complements the many other possibilities already available to Member States to mitigate the socio-economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak, in line with EU State aid rules. On 13 March 2020, the Commission adopted a Communication on a Coordinated economic response to the COVID-19 outbreak setting out these possibilities. For example, Member States can make generally applicable changes in favour of businesses (e.g. deferring taxes, or subsidising short-time work across all sectors), which fall outside State Aid rules. They can also grant compensation to companies for damage suffered due to and directly caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
The Temporary Framework will be in place until the end of December 2021. With a view to ensuring legal certainty, the Commission will assess before this date if it needs to be extended.
The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.61574 in the State aid register on the Commission’s competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of State aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the Competition Weekly e-News.
More information on the Temporary Framework and other action the Commission has taken to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here.