Merger, antitrust and State aid control rules should be overhauled to serve the Union's climate and digital ambitions and help achieve strategic autonomy, all of which will require massive investment. Two new EESC opinions explain how this overhaul should be done.

A debate held on 19 May at the EESC's plenary focused on two new reports addressing EU competition policy and State aid to health and social services in a changed global context.
In the report on "A competition policy fit for new challenges", the EESC urged the European Commission to go further than ever before in the revamp of EU competition policy currently underway. 

The measures taken to address COVID-19 and later the Russian aggression in Ukraine have hugely helped businesses, but the latter need to be improved. There is also a need to ensure that eligibility criteria allow all sectors to benefit and do not close the doors to the hardest hit businesses. 

As for the general framework of competition law, while it has adjusted to a number of challenges, it has not gone far enough in taking up the EU's strategic aims – i.e. the green and digital transitions but also resilience. These ambitions require huge public and private investment and should be given maximum support, stresses the EESC.

Measures to control concentrations and mergers sometimes seem to stand in the way of remaining competitive in relation to the US and China. Provisions on abuse of dominant position are not necessarily tailored to the new green and digital challenges. 

"We suggest some technical adjustments to ease access to support, but also better ways of taking into account innovation and digital developments. We've also made suggestions to allow all sectors to benefit, not just industry. I'm thinking in particular of the trade sector and SMEs," says opinion rapporteur Emilie Prouzet.

In a second opinion the EESC addressed State aid for health and social services

"The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that health and social protection systems need to be able to adjust swiftly to any changes," says rapporteur Giuseppe Guerini, "and the measures we propose would help simplify and speed up the provision of State aid."

The EESC points out that this sector does not really have much of an impact on cross-border competition. Health and social services are mostly organised locally within countries and are essentially availed of where they are provided. State aid to this sector should not be considered distortive of competition.

Another important proposal concerns the maximum amount of State aid allowed. The EESC says the ceiling for notifying aid to the Commission (currently at EUR 500 000 over three fiscal years), which triggers a lengthy and complex process, should be higher for these services than for other services of general interest (SGEI). This would be justified by their public interest role, their limited impact on cross-border trade and the return of inflation. (dm)