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Commission approves €146.5 million Austrian support in favour of companies joining research and innovation project in microelectronics

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The European Commission has approved, under EU state aid rules, €146.5 million in Austrian support in favour of three companies joining the existing Important Project of Common European Interest (‘IPCEI') in microelectronics approved by the Commission in 2018. The public funding is expected to unlock an additional €530m of private investments, i.e. more than three and a half times the public support.

Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “To deliver on the digital and green transition, we will need highly innovative and sustainable microchips and sensors for many products in our economy, ranging from mobile phones to aircraft. The Important Project of Common European Interest in microelectronics that we approved in 2018 has been supporting the development of important cutting-edge technologies in this field. The IPCEI's integration is very important for its success – we have approved additional support by Austria to three projects because they meet the high bar of adding significant value to the existing IPCEI, with important collaborations with the existing participants.”

In December 2018, the Commission approved, under EU state aid rules, an IPCEI to support research and innovation in the field of microelectronics (the ‘2018 IPCEI Microelectronics'). The project was jointly set-up and notified by France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. The approved public support amounted to €1.75 billion. The 2018 IPCEI Microelectronics, which aims at developing innovative microelectronics technologies and components for automotive, Internet of Things (IoT) and other key applications (such as space, avionics, and security) and their first industrial deployment, originally involved 27 companies and two research organisations.

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In December 2020, Austria notified to the Commission its plans to join the 2018 IPCEI Microelectronics, by providing €146.5m of public support to three companies (Infineon Austria, AT&S Austria and NXP Semiconductors Austria) that will carry out additional research and innovation falling within the scope and contributing to the objectives of the existing IPCEI. The companies will focus in particular on the areas of security, energy efficiency, and integration of packaging technologies for microelectronics.

The joining of an already established and ongoing IPCEI by an additional member state and projects is an exceptional circumstance. It requires a complex assessment by the Commission, to verify that the new individual projects are properly integrated in the existing roadmap and structure of the IPCEI, for example by means of establishing sufficient and valuable collaborations with the initial participants, and are genuinely adding significant value to the IPCEI in order to reach its objectives.

The Commission takes note of and welcomes the increasingly transparent, open and inclusive practice that member states have now established in designing IPCEIs to ensure that all interested member states join from the start, so that these important European projects generate even more benefits to the entire EU without unduly distorting competition.

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The Commission's assessment

The Commission assessed Austria's plans under EU state aid rules, more specifically its Communication on Important Projects of Common European Interest (IPCEI). Where private initiatives supporting breakthrough innovation fail to materialise because of the significant risks such projects entail, the IPCEI state aid Communication enables member states to jointly fill the gap to overcome these market failures, while ensuring that the EU economy at large benefits and limiting potential distortions to competition.

The projects that Infineon Austria, AT&S Austria and NXP Semiconductors Austria will carry out aim at delivering additional technological innovations in energy efficient power semiconductors, on advanced security and interconnections, as well as on organic packaging technology aspects.

In this respect, the Commission found that the projects will add significant value to the 2018 IPCEI Microelectronics and will contribute to and enhance the integration of existing IPCEI. In particular:

  • They will significantly contribute to the achievement of common objective pursued by the existing IPCEI in supporting a strategic value chain, in particular through the development innovative microelectronics, technologies and components for automotive, IoT and other key applications (such as space, avionics, and security), by aiming at technology solutions that were not (sufficiently) addressed.
  • They will add significant value to the existing IPCEI by bringing important contributions to its objectives, integration, collaborations, scope, and research and development content.
  • They are highly ambitious, aiming at developing technologies and processes that go beyond current technology.
  • The companies will establish significant and valuable additional collaborative research with the existing direct partners and support the development and objectives of the relevant technology fields.
  • The projects involve significant technological and financial risks, and public support is therefore necessary to provide incentives to companies to carry out the investment.
  • The aid to each of the three companies is limited to what is necessary, proportionate and does not unduly distort competition.
  • Additional important positive spill-over effects will be generated throughout Europe.

On this basis, the Commission concluded that the Austrian plans to join the 2018 IPCEI Microelectronics are in line with EU State aid rules.

Background

In June 2014 the Commission adopted a Communication on important projects of common European interest (IPCEI), setting out criteria under which Member States can support transnational projects of strategic significance for the EU under Article 107(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). This framework aims to encourage Member States to support projects that make a clear contribution to the EU strategic objectives.

The IPCEI Communication complements other State aid rules such as the General Block Exemption Regulation and the Research, Development and Innovation Framework, which allows supporting innovative projects with generous conditions.

Since 2014, the IPCEI Communication has been applied in the field of infrastructure as well as for integrated projects in the area of research and innovation, for microelectronics (in December 2018) and for the battery value chain (in December 2019 and in January 2021).

The IPCEI Communication is currently being reviewed to ensure it fully contributes to the Commission's green and digital objectives, following an evaluation or ‘Fitness Check' completed in October 2020. On 23 February 2021, the Commission launched a public consultation inviting all interested parties to comment on the draft revised IPCEI Communication. In this context, the Commission is proposing, among others, to further enhance the open character of IPCEIs (by, for example, providing that all Member States must be given a genuine opportunity to participate in an emerging project).

Stakeholders can respond to the consultation for eight weeks, until 20 April 2021.

The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.56606 in the State Aid Register on the competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

New publications of state aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the Competition Weekly e-News.

Austria

Commission approves €1.6 million Austrian scheme to support public companies active in the pool and wellness sector in the context of the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €1.6 million Austrian scheme to support public companies active in the pool and wellness sector affected by the coronavirus outbreak and the restrictive measures that the Austrian government had to implement to limit the spread of the virus. The measure was approved under the State aid Temporary Framework. Under the scheme, the aid will take the form of direct grants up to €400,000 per beneficiary.

The measure will be open to publicly owned micro, small and medium-sized enterprises active in the Salzburg region and operating a thermal or indoor swimming pool with sauna and/or wellness area. The public support will cover part of the fixed costs incurred by these companies during periods in which they experienced business disruption due to the restrictions in place. The purpose of the measure is to mitigate the sudden liquidity shortages that these companies are facing due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Commission found that the Austrian scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, the aid (i) will not exceed €1.8m per beneficiary; and (ii) will be granted no later than 31 December 2021. The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions of the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.64490 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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NextGenerationEU: European Commission endorses Austria's recovery and resilience plan

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The European Commission has adopted a positive assessment of Austria's recovery and resilience plan. This is an important step towards the EU disbursing €3.5 billion in grants under the Recovery and Resilience Facility. This financing will support the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Austria's recovery and resilience plan. It will help Austria emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The RRF – at the heart of NextGenerationEU – will provide up to €672.5 billion (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across the EU. The Austrian plan forms part of an unprecedented coordinated EU response to the COVID-19 crisis, to address common European challenges by embracing the green and digital transitions, to strengthen economic and social resilience and the cohesion of the Single Market.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “Today, the European Commission has decided to give its green light to Austria's recovery and resilience plan. Austria is already a forerunner in the green transition. By placing a special emphasis on investments and reforms that further support our climate objectives, Austria is making a clear statement. We have endorsed your plan because we fully agree that bold action is needed to deliver the green transition.”

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The Commission assessed Austria's plan based on the criteria set out in the RRF Regulation. The Commission's analysis considered, in particular, whether the investments and reforms set out in Austria's plan support the green and digital transitions; contribute to effectively addressing challenges identified in the European Semester; and strengthen its growth potential, job creation and economic and social resilience.

Securing Austria's green and digital transition  

The Commission's assessment finds that Austria's plan devotes 59% of the plan's total allocation to measures that support climate objectives. This includes reforms to Austria's tax system that target reducing CO2 emissions through incentives for climate friendly technologies, preferential tax rates for low- or zero- emission products, and pricing of CO2 emissions. These measures are flanked by targeted tax relief for companies and households in need. Other measures invest in energy efficiency, renewables, the decarbonisation of industry, biodiversity and circular economy. These investments are accompanied by related reforms, including the overhaul of the support framework for renewables and the phase-out of oil heating systems.

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The Commission's assessment of Austria's plan finds that it devotes 53% of its total allocation to measures that support the digital transition. This includes considerable investments into connectivity, with a particular focus on the widespread deployment of Gigabit-capable networks and the establishment of new symmetrical Gigabit connections in underserved, disadvantaged and rural areas. The plan also includes significant investments in the digitalisation of education, e-government and SMEs.

Reinforcing Austria's economic and social resilience

The Commission considers that Austria's plan includes an extensive set of mutually reinforcing reforms and investments that contribute to effectively addressing a significant subset of the economic and social challenges outlined in the country-specific recommendations addressed to Austria. The full-time labour market participation of women is expected to improve due to an increased availability of quality early childcare facilities. The long-recognised challenge related to the gender pension gap is tackled through measures in the plan. The plan addresses some of the social and economic challenges that have emerged or were exacerbated during the COVID-19 crisis. Targeted compensation of educational and learning deficits due to the pandemic will combat an increase in inequalities in education outcomes. A series of active labour market policy measures are expected to address the increased need for help to the low-skilled and raise the labour market opportunities of disadvantaged groups.

The plan represents a comprehensive and adequately balanced response to Austria's economic and social situation of Austria, thereby contributing appropriately to all six pillars referred to in the RRF Regulation.

An Economy that Works for People Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis (pictured) said: “We have today endorsed Austria's recovery plan to create a more equitable, digital and sustainable economy. This plan strikes the right balance, with over half of total allocation geared towards climate objectives, such as investments to retire outdated oil and gas heating systems, support emission-free public transport and safeguard biodiversity. The plan will also drive forward digital connectivity in Austria and help foster pupils' digital skills. I especially welcome measures to lend a hand to low-skilled and disadvantaged groups thanks to targeted labour market opportunities, and to make it easier for women to work full-time.”

Supporting flagship investment and reform projects

The Austrian plan proposes projects in seven European flagship areas. These are specific investment projects which address issues that are common to all Member States in areas that create jobs and growth and are needed for the twin transition. For instance, Austria has proposed to invest €159 million to retire outdated oil and gas heating systems and €543 million on the construction of new train lines and the electrification of existing ones. 

Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “Austria's recovery and resilience plan contains a truly wide-ranging set of initiatives that will improve the lives of citizens and the competitiveness of businesses in all parts of the country. Measures include the important eco-social tax reform - an excellent example of how taxation policies can help to protect our climate in a way that is socially fair. Together with measures like the phase-out of oil heating systems and the mobility masterplan, Austria will receive a strong boost in its efforts to be climate-neutral by 2040. I also welcome reforms will support health and long-term care, childcare facilities and education.”

The assessment also finds that none of the measures included in the plan significantly harm the environment, in line with the requirements laid out in the RRF Regulation.

The control systems put in place by Austria are considered adequate to protect the financial interests of the Union. The plan provides sufficient details on how national authorities will prevent, detect and correct instances of conflict of interest, corruption and fraud relating to the use of funds.

Next steps

The Commission has today adopted a proposal for a Council Implementing Decision to provide €3.5 billion in grants to Austria under the RRF. The Council will now have, as a rule, four weeks to adopt the Commission's proposal.

The Council's approval of the plan would allow for the disbursement of €450 million to Austria in pre-financing. This represents 13% of the total allocated amount for Austria.

The Commission will authorise further disbursements based on the satisfactory fulfilment of the milestones and targets outlined in the Council Implementing Decision, reflecting progress in the implementation of the investments and reforms. 

For More Information

Questions and Answers: European Commission endorses Austria's recovery and resilience plan

Recovery and Resilience Facility: Questions and Answers

Factsheet on Austria's recovery and resilience plan

Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Austria

Annex to the Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Austria

Staff-working document accompanying the proposal for a Council Implementing Decision

Recovery and Resilience Facility

Recovery and Resilience Facility Regulation

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Austria

NextGenerationEU: President von der Leyen in Austria and Slovakia to present Commission assessment of national recovery plans

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Today (21 June), Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (pictured) will continue her NextGenerationEU tour in Austria and Slovakia, to personally hand over the result of the Commission's assessment and Recommendation to the Council on the approval of the national recovery and resilience plans in the context of NextGenerationEU. On Monday morning, she will be in Vienna for a meeting with the Chancellor of Austria, Sebastian Kurz. Later that day, the President will travel to Bratislava, where she will be received by Eduard Heger, Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic. She will also meet Zuzana Čaputová, President of the Slovak Republic, and Boris Kollár, Speaker of the National Council, together with Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič. In both countries, the President will visit projects that are or will be funded under the Recovery and Resilience Facility, focused on science and the green transition in Slovakia, and on quantum technology in Austria.

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