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EU exec unveils rules to speed up state aid plans

  European Union antitrust regulators unveiled simplified rules on Wednesday aimed at speeding up the approval process for state aid schemes after several EU countries branded Brussels guilty of foot-dragging.

The new rules “will benefit business by facilitating faster state aid decisions notably through earlier and better cooperation between member states and the (European) Commission,” EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said.

The so-called Best Practices Code details how state aid procedures should be carried out, in particular regarding the duration, transparency and predictability, the EU’s executive arm said in a statement.

It currently takes about six months on average to adopt a decision based on a preliminary investigation of measures proposed by countries and 20 months should the Commission start a formal probe.

The Commission, which polices state aid in the 27-nation EU and has given fast-track approval to more than 50 rescue schemes since last October, is due to vet in the coming months restructuring plans from a number of banks.

Earlier this month, German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck charged that EU foot-dragging was undermining confidence in the financial sector, adding that competition rules should not obstruct efforts by EU countries to stabilize their banks.

Criticism has also come from the European Central Bank over the Commission’s conditions for banks’ restructuring.

Axel Weber, a member of the ECB’s Governing Council and head of the German Bundesbank, said on April 22 that the Commission’s decisions on aid for banks undermined EU integration. In February, the Commission had a tug-of-war with France over the country’s rescue package for its struggling carmakers.

There could still be a rocky road ahead between Brussels and EU states seeking to rescue their companies as the Commission said its new initiatives would not apply to measures taken by countries due to the financial and economic crisis.

It said specific ad hoc internal procedures would continue to apply for such cases. (Reuters)