Commission launches investigation into Flemish subsidies to nature organisations

The European Commission is investigating whether Flemish subsidies granted to three nature organisations may be in breach of EU state aid rules.

The investigation focuses on subsidies granted to three site-management organisations between 2003 and 2018. Based on its preliminary assessment, the Commission "doubts at this stage that the Flemish aid is compatible with EU state aid rules".

Natuurpunt Beheer, Limburgs Landschap and vzw Durme received subsidies to buy land, transform it into nature reserves and operate visitor centres in these reserves.

The preliminary assessment shows that the Flemish subsidies fully covered both the purchase of the land and the visitor centres. The organisations also developed a number of ancillary activities, from the sale of timber to the leasing of cafeterias in the visitor centres. 

Those ancillary activities seem to be the potential issue. While state aid rules do not apply to social environmental activities or government-controlled educational activities, certain ancillary activities can be considered economic activities subject to state aid rules. 

The rules could apply if these activities do not pursue the same interest as the organisation's main activity. The Commission has decided to open an in-depth investigation to determine whether this is the case.


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