The European Commission approved, under EU State aid rules, a €250 million Portuguese aid measure, made available through the Recovery and Resilience Facility (‘RRF’), to further capitalise the country’s promotional institution Banco Português de Fomento (‘BPF’). The measure aims to develop the Portuguese economy by facilitating access to finance, particularly for small and medium enterprises (‘SMEs’) affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and thus boosting competitiveness and job creation in the long-term. The scheme also contributes to the EU’s strategic objectives relating to the green and digital transitions, as well as to economic cohesion, productivity and competitiveness.
Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “This share capital increase will enable Banco Português de Fomento to further promote the growth of the Portuguese economy in a sustainable way and to support the green and digital transitions. It will also contribute to economic cohesion, productivity and competitiveness. At the same time, it ensures that competition is not unduly distorted.”
The Portuguese measure
The measure notified by Portugal will be entirely funded through the RRF, following the Commission’s positive assessment of the Portuguese Recovery and Resilience Plan and its adoption by the Council. Portugal’s Recovery and Resilience Plan establishes the increase of BPF’s capital as a necessary condition for BPF to become Portugal’s national implementing partner of the InvestEU Programme.
The measure will enable BPF to increase financing – particularly for SMEs affected by the coronavirus pandemic – mostly through the granting of public guarantees in close collaboration with commercial banks active in Portugal. This will leverage investments in all four strategic areas of the InvestEU Programme, namely: (i) sustainable infrastructure; (ii) research, innovation and digitalisation; (iii) social investment and skills; and (iv) SMEs. The measure therefore also contributes to the policy objectives under the RRF, in particular the green transition, the digital transformation, social and territorial cohesion, smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
The Commission’s State aid assessment
The Commission assessed the share capital increase under EU State aid rules, in particular Article 107(3)(c) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (‘TFEU’), which allows State aid to facilitate the development of certain economic activities or of certain economic areas.
The Commission found that:
- The measure facilitates the development of certain economic activities in sectors such as (i) sustainable infrastructure, (ii) health, (iii) transport, (iv) mobility, (v) waste and other environment infrastructure, (vi) research and innovation, (vii) education, training, employment and social inclusion, and (viii) affordable and social housing.
- The measure minimises the distortions on competition and trade within the EU. In particular, the measure is necessary and appropriate to improve access to finance for sectors, projects or companies that have difficulties in obtaining sufficient finance from the market. The measure is also proportionate as BPF’s balance sheet remains relatively small compared to those of other promotional institutions in the EU.
- The measure has sufficient safeguards to avoid undue negative effects on competition and trade in the EU. In particular, BPF’s financing activities will be subject to measures ensuring that private investors are not crowded out, should they be willing to provide financing to companies.
On this basis, the Commission approved the share capital increase in favour of BPF under EU State aid rules.
All investments and reforms entailing State aid, also those included in national resilience and recovery plans presented in the context of the RRF, must be notified to the Commission for prior approval, unless covered by one of the State aid block-exemption rules.
The Commission assesses measures forming part of the national recovery plans presented in the context of the RRF as a matter of priority and has provided guidance and support to Member States in the preparatory phases of the national plans, to facilitate the rapid deployment of the RRF. At the same time, the Commission makes sure in its decision that the applicable State aid rules are complied with, in order to preserve the level playing field in the Single Market and to ensure that the RRF funds are used in a way that minimises distortions of competition and does not crowd out private investments.