(Source: European Commission)
The European Commission has approved, under EU State aid rules, a €20 million Spanish scheme made available through the Recovery and Resilience Facility (‘RRF’) supporting the deployment of intelligent systems that will provide enhanced communication and information services for motorways and tunnels of the Spanish State roads network. The measure will improve road safety in Spain and contribute to making road traffic more sustainable, through the deployment and enhancement of advanced digital technologies, in line with the EU’s strategic objectives relating to the digital transition, while limiting possible distortions of competition.
The Spanish measure
The measure, with an estimated budget of €20 million, will be entirely funded through the RRF following the Commission’s positive assessment of the Spanish recovery and resilience plan and its adoption by the Council.
The scheme will run until 31 December 2024 and the support will take the form of direct grants. It will be awarded, following a competitive selection procedure, to concessionaires and operation and maintenance (‘O&M’) companies active in the State roads network.
The measure pursues two main objectives: (i) improving traffic safety, efficiency, interoperability, energy efficiency and innovation in motorways and tunnels managed under concession regime; and (ii) improving safety in road operation and maintenance.
In this context, the intelligent systems projects that will be eligible to receive support under the scheme include, among others, automatic incident detection systems, systems for monitoring atmospheric conditions on roads, intelligent lighting control systems, cooperative systems to make the national transport network more interoperable, and systems to enable remote and automatic operation in maintenance works through drones and digitalised machinery.
The Commission’s assessment
The Commission assessed the measure under Article 107(3)(c) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (‘TFEU’), which enables Member States to grant State aid to facilitate the development of certain economic activities or of certain economic areas.
The Commission found that:
The aid will facilitate the development of an economic activity, and more specifically the digitalisation of certain economic services linked to road infrastructure through the deployment and enhancement of intelligent systems. This digitalisation will also help bridging the digital gap with road infrastructures, where the State has already carried out similar investment projects or is currently developing them.
The aid is necessary and proportionate for investors to carry out the targeted digitalisation projects. In this respect, (i) the concessionaires and O&M companies applying for support, will need to submit a cost-benefit analysis demonstrating their financing gap; and (ii) the maximum amount of support that a project can receive is based on reasonable cost estimates. Therefore, the positive effects of the measure in terms of contribution to the digitalisation of certain economic services linked to the road infrastructure outweigh any possible negative effects in terms of distortions of competition.
On this basis, the Commission concluded that the Spanish scheme is in line with EU State aid rules.
All investments and reforms entailing State aid included in the national 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 entailing State aid contained in 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 ensure that the RRF funds are used in a way that minimises competition distortions and do not crowd out private investment.