Regional conference on state aid: successful first step towards a tradition

The Regional conference “State Aid and Western Balkan Economies”, which for the first time brought together   representatives of state aid control bodies from the Western Balkans, the European Commission, the Competition Council of Lithuania as well as eminent European experts, was held in Belgrade on September 26 and 27, 2019.

During the two-day gathering, around 100 participants discussed challenges for Western Balkan six partners in alignment of  state aid rules with European rules.

The conference was organised by the project “Support to the Commission for State Aid Control”, with the support of the Commission for State Aid Control of the Republic of Serbia, which is the main project’s beneficiary.

In his opening address, State Secretary of the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Serbia, Mr Gojko Stanivuković  expressed his satisfaction by attending an important gathering of state aid control bodies from across the region, in particular because of the fact that everyone in the region face similar challenges in the field of state aid and alignment of state aid rules with EU standards.

He said that the new Draft Law on State Aid would be soon presented to Serbian MPs.

„Based on all recommendations and suggestions, the Ministry of Finance has drafted the new Draft Law on state aid which was recently adopted by the Serbian Government. We expect that the draft law will soon be presented to the National Assembly,” Stanivuković said. He added that “the ultimate goal to which the Republic of Serbia is fully committed is accession to the European Union’s internal market”.

 “I hope and I believe that this format of regional conferences will become our tradition which would enable permanent exchange of good practice and strengthening the administrative capacities of institutions in the region,” Stanivuković concluded.

The Head of Operations of the Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Serbia Yngve Engstroem said that state aid is an important part of the negotiation chapter 8 (Competition policy) in the accession negotiations, but also a part where much remains to be done to achieve full compliance with obligations from the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and the acquis communautaire. “Behind these requirements, of course, is the goal of making your economies a functioning market economy, able to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the European Union,” Engstroem said. “According to experiences of countries that completed the accession process, chapter 8 is one of the most crucial and most difficult negotiation chapters. We are, of course, committed to further support you in this process and we welcome further progress in this important chapter area,” Engstroem added.

Antonijević: Challenges are the same for all in the region

President of the State Aid Control Commission Vladimir Antonijević said that competition policy meetings and cooperation are common in the region but not on state aid, although everyone in the region has the same problems and challenges in the area, which is indicated by the European Commission annual reports but also the obligations from the Stabilisation and Association Agreement.

Antonijević said that changes to the existing Law on State Aid Control were necessary in order to ensure improvements to the instruments available to the Commission, as well as to achieve the Commission’s better formation and organisational structure. This would made fulfilled the Chapter 8 opening benchmark that relates to operational independence of the Commission, he added. With the new law, the future commission will have the tools to implement monitorining, Antonijević said.

The Team Leader of the project “Support to the State Aid Control Commission” Radmila Mihić said that for the project, organisation of a regional conference at the earliest stage of work was one of top project priorities.

“The first regional conference on state aid has two goals: to encourage, support and promote state aid that develops economies, good state aids that promote growth and societal development and which use the taxpayers’ money in the best possible way. The second goal is to start creating a regional network of experts,” she said.

Mihić stressed that “alignment of state aid rules with EU rules is not an aim per se”: “In the core are benefits for citizens resulting from the alignment – less of the “crony economy”, better economic conditions and higher life standard”.

On the first day of the conference, Fedon Nicolaides, professor at the University of Maastricht, presented the state aid control system in the EU and spoke about the more economical approach to state aid control. Another European expert in the field, University of Birmingham professor Luca Rubini spoke about challenges of the EU integration in the field of state aid for accession countries. The Chairman of the Competition Council of the Republic of Lithuania, Šarunas Keserauskas, outlined the state aid challenges faced by Lithuania after its accession to the EU. “Fair competition is the basis of a market economy. Therefore, competition should be the first priority, not state aid,”Keserauskas said.

European Commission: Event of great relevance for the region

Opening the second day of the conference, European Commission (Directorate-General for Competition) representative Arianna Podesta expressed satisfaction with the fact that the regional gathering on state aid has been organised. “I would like to thank the project and Serbian state aid authority for organising this event. We believe it is of great relevance for the entire region and we have a hope it can perhaps become a tradition, in order to bring benefits,” Podesta said.

According to her, an effective system of State aid control is a key step in the path towards accession. ‘“Having such system in place is a collective excercise that involves all stakeholders. An operationally independent State aid authority is a fundamental element. However, in order to succeed, this authority needs the full support and awareness of granting authorities, other regulatory bodies and undertakings, both beneficiaries and competitors,” Podesta said.

Professor Luca Rubini spoke about fiscal measures and state aid, while Professor Phedon Nicolaides spoke about major regional issues, such is support to airports.

Representatives of the Western Balkan state aid control bodies shared their experiences during a roundtable discussion “Challenges for state aid institutions in Western Balkans 6”. First regional conference on state aid was wrapped up by the discussion among Western Balkan partners and by the comments by many participants that it would be very beneficial for the region if the gathering becomes a traditional one.

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