08 / 12 / 2021

EARTO Response to the EC Consultation on the Revised General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER)

To answer the European Commission’s public consultation on the review of the General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER), EARTO has analysed the draft revised GBER Regulation (consultation document) and provided key comments and text changes recommendations in the EARTO Paper attached, which focuses on the following points:   1. EARTO welcomes the proposed continuity with the current GBER Regulation. As already stated in EARTO’s response to the EC Consultation on the revised Framework for State Aid RD&I: the rules to distinguish economic from non-economic activities are efficient. However, their national/regional interpretation needs to be improved, to ensure that they do not hamper Europe’s innovation capacity. In addition, Research and Technology Organisations (RTOs) should be considered by default as Research and Knowledge Dissemination Organisations (RKDOs), and not as “undertakings” under the RD&I Framework and GBER definitions. RTOs should be able to have their 100% full costs covered in national/regional RD&I competitive programmes funded by national public bodies, and in any case the State Aid rules cannot be used to justify lower funding rates for RTOs at national and regional level.   2. The new concept of “testing and experimentation infrastructures” (TEIs) is welcome. However:
  • TEIs need to be clearly dissociated from what is commonly called “technology infrastructures” (TIs) in the definition proposed. The EC proposed definition and concept for TEIs addresses infrastructures used predominantly for economic activities and, more specifically, for the provision of services to industry (point (2) of the GBER consultation document). However, TIs are managed and used by not-for-profit research organisations mainly in “effective collaboration” with other RKDOs and/or private companies, including SMEs (i.e. predominently non-economic activities including ancillary economic activities). In addition, including TIs in the scope of TEIs as defined in the draft GBER would create a gap between Research Infrastructures (RIs) and TIs, whereas a continuum is required.
  • The State Aid rules (GBER and RD&I Framework) should rather differentiate infrastructures as to their type of activities: predominant economic activities should be the key criteria to define TEIs, and predominant non-economic activities (including ancillary economic activities) should be the key criteria to define RIs. TIs should continue to be clearly included into the current scope of the RI definition, as it is the case in the current version of the GBER and RD&I Framework for State Aid.
  • To better align the TEI’s provision with the reality of the RD&I ecosystems and enable its sound implementation, the notification threshold should be raised to 20 million euros (as for RIs); and preferential access or more favourable access conditions should be given to all undertakings contributing to at least 5% to the TEIs’ investment costs.
  Implementing such changes would ensure a better alignment with the realities of the RD&I ecosystem, and foster a sound and non-disruptive implementation of these new state aid rules. This would also considerably limit the risk of different interpretations of those rules at national and regional levels, which would inevitably create distortions and harm the European level playing field.   3. The proposed addition of a simplified cost approach in the form of a 15% flat rate to cover the indirect project costs in RD&I projects should be removed, as this would in no case be a financially sustainable alternative for the coverage of real indirect costs in these projects. This is especially the case for RKDOs who also provide the use of their RIs during those projects, which can lead to very high indirect cost levels (see EARTO paper on Internal Invoices). RKDOs should be entitled to compensation for actual costs. If this is not the case, this could create major difficulties for RKDOs to participate in those competitively funded programmes.   EARTO remains at the disposal of the EU Institutions to further discuss these recommendations and support the EC in its work to revise the GBER.   Read the full EARTO Response to the EC Consultaton on the Revised GBER for more details on EARTO’s position on these key points, along with detailed text changes suggestions.