Greg LeRoy and I have written an article at Shelterforce explaining the basics of the European Union’s rules governing subsidies, or “state aid” in EU-speak. As the article is ungated, and regular readers will remember much of the detail, I will not quote it here. Suffice it to say that the continuing reverberations of Amazon’s HQ2 project have opened space to shine a brighter light on economic development subsidies.
In addition, Tim Bartik of the Upjohn Institute has a series of thoughtful tweets commenting on our article. His one reservation with the EU approach appears to be that even with the scaling down of the maximum subsidy allowed for large projects, the amount allowable might still be too high. If I’m not reading too much into his comments, it seems he would favor an absolute dollar cap on subsidies for the largest projects. He also admits in his counterfactual analysis of Foxconn in Wisconsin that the Racine/Kenosha area wouldn’t be eligible for the highest level of incentives under the EU rules, so his scenario of a $1.7 billion subsidy being possible isn’t fully accurate. In fact, it looks to me that Kenosha and Racine counties are just slightly below the national average for income per capita, and certainly not less than 75% of the average, the key figure that would make an EU region able to have even a 25% regional aid maximum.* The next highest aid maximum allowed in the European Union is 15%, and 34% of that (the scaling factor for investment over 100 million euros) is just 5.1%. Thus, a $10 billion Foxconn project would be eligible at most for a tad over $510 million in subsidies, not $1.7 billion.
I’d love to hear your take on our article.
* More technically, a per capita GDP below 75% of the EU average is required for designation as a “107(3)(a) area,” named for the treaty paragraph it is listed in. See Regional Aid Guidelines for 2014-2020, paragraph 150. 25% is the lowest aid maximum in a 107(3)(a) area, while 15% is the highest aid maximum in a 107(3)(c) area, available to regions between 75% and 100% of the EU average, plus a few exceptional situations such as very low population density.