Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


COMPETITIVENESS COUNCIL

Letter from Barry Gardiner MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Competitiveness, Department of Trade and Industry to the Chairman

  I am pleased to enclose a copy of my written Statement to Parliament outlining the agenda items for the forthcoming Competitiveness Council on 13 March 2006 in Brussels.

6 March 2006


Annex A

WRITTEN STATEMENT

  I will be attending the Competitiveness Council in Brussels on 13 March. Martin Bartenstein, Austrian Minister for Economics and Labour, will chair the Council in the morning and Elisabeth Gehrer, Austrian Minister for Education, Research and Culture, in the afternoon.

  The first item on the agenda will be the Lisbon Process and preparation for the Spring European Council. The Austrian Presidency have prepared a Key Issues Paper (KIP), based on the Commission's 2006 Annual Progress Report on Lisbon. The aim is to hold an exchange of views on the KIP, and adopt it as the Competitiveness Council's contribution to the Spring European Council.

  The next item on the agenda is on small and medium-sized enterprises. Council Conclusions on this item have been prepared in respect of the following:

    —  Commission Communication on "Implementing the Community Lisbon Programme—Modern SME Policy for Growth and Employment".

    —  Commission Communication on "Implementing the Community Lisbon Programme—Fostering entrepreneurial mindsets through education and learning".

  There will be an exchange of views based on questions set by the Presidency, and adoption of the Council Conclusions.

  A debate on the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme (CIP) will then follow, with the aim of agreeing a partial general approach. As there has been broad agreement in working group, the Presidency believes that the Council will be able to reach a partial general approach.

  The next item on the agenda is the Services Directive. This item will also be discussed over dinner the night before the Council on Sunday 12 March. The Presidency want to have an exchange of views in the light of the recent vote in the European Parliament. The Presidency is likely to provide a summary of the discussion to the Council the next day.

  The final item to be taken before lunch will be the Regulation laying down the Community Customs Code (Modernized Customs Code). The Commission will give a presentation on this item, but a discussion is not expected.

  After lunch the Council will discuss the Specific Programmes implementing the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) on Research and Development. The Presidency will provide a progress report on the work done in working group. There will then be an exchange of views relating to the "Cooperation", "Ideas", "JRC" and "Euratom" sections of FP7. The Presidency has indicated that they want the Council to focus on two issues: governance of the Programme and stem cell research.

  Next, the Presidency will provide a progress report on the Regulation laying down rules for participation under the 7th Framework Programme (FP7), which will be followed by an exchange of views based on a note prepared by the Presidency.

  Finally, two items will be taken under Any Other Business. There is not likely to be any debate on these items:

    (i)  Preparation of EU and Latin America/Caribbean (LAC) Summit (Report from the Presidency).

    (ii)  Regulation on type approval of motor vehicles with respect to emissions and on access to vehicle repair information, amending Directive 72/306/EEC (Euro 5) (Requested by the German delegation).

Letter from Barry Gardiner MP to the Chairman

  I am pleased to enclose a copy of my written Statement to Parliament providing a summary of the Competitiveness Council on 13 March in Brussels.

15 March 2006

Annex A

WRITTEN STATEMENT

  I attended the Competitiveness Council in Brussels on 13 March. Martin Bartenstein, Austrian Minister for Economics and Labour, chaired the Council in the morning and Elisabeth Gehrer, Austrian Minister for Education, Research and Culture, in the afternoon.

  The Council exchanged views on the state of play on the Lisbon Strategy on the basis of the Commission's annual progress report. In relation to this, we also discussed the Key Issues Paper prepared by the Austrian Presidency, and agreed this as the Competitiveness Council's contribution to the Spring European Council. I supported the text of the Key Issues Paper.

  For the agenda item on Small and Medium Sized Enterprises, the Commission presented their Communications on "Implementing the Community Lisbon Programme—Modern SME Policy for Growth and Employment" and "Implementing the Community Lisbon Programme—Fostering entrepreneurial mindsets through education and learning". There was a discussion based on two questions set by the Presidency. These related to integrating the `Think Small First principle into European policy, and the application of the "One Stop Shop" principle to simplify administrative procedures for businesses starting up. Council Conclusions on SME Policy for Growth and Employment were also agreed. I supported the Council Conclusions, encouraging the Commission to consider adopting mandatory Small Firms Impact Tests and extending their consultation periods from 8 to 12 weeks.

  The Council reached a unanimous agreement on the general approach text on the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme (CIP) without discussion. This is pending the opinion of the European Parliament and the final agreement on the future financial perspectives.

  The Council took note of an oral summary by the Presidency of the informal debate held by Ministers on the Services Directive over dinner on 12 March. The discussion was in the light of the recent vote in the European Parliament. The Presidency reported that there had been a constructive debate, and that the Commission is expected to produce a revised proposal in April. The Council will then re-examine the proposal with a view to reaching an agreement on a common position.

  The Council took note of the Commission's presentation on a draft Regulation aimed at modernising the Community Customs Code.

  For one of the items under Any Other Business, the Council took note of information from the German delegation on the draft Regulation on type approval of motor vehicles with respect to emissions and on access to vehicle repair information (Euro 5). There was broad support in the Council for Germany's request that the Competitiveness Council should be updated on progress on this Regulation. Ministers in the Environment Council had a policy debate on this on 9 March.

  After lunch the Council had a debate on five of the seven Specific Programmes implementing the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) on Research and Development: "Cooperation"; "Ideas"; "Euratom"; and two programmes relating to the "Joint Research Council", and on the Regulation laying down rules for participation under FP7. Relating to the Specific Programmes, the Presidency encouraged Member States to focus their interventions on governance of the Programme ("Programme Management"), and the ethical principles that apply in respect of the eligibility of projects to be funded under FP7. I contributed to the debate by highlighting that, according to the principle of subsidiarity, the UK believes that ethical issues should be legislated for at national level given the cultural and religious diversity of Europe. Therefore, the UK opposes restrictions at Community level and will enter a joint declaration to the Council minutes to this effect along with Sweden, Belgium, Czech Republic, Spain and Portugal.

  Finally, under Any Other Business the Council took note of a report by the Presidency on the preparation of the 4th EU and Latin America/Caribbean (LAC) Summit with regard to cooperation on science and technology. The Summit will take place in Vienna on 11-12 May 2006.

  The Council adopted a Council Resolution on a customs response to latest trends in counterfeiting and piracy without discussion.

Letter from the Chairman to Barry Gardiner MP

  Thank you for your letter of 15 March 2006 enclosing your Written Statement to Parliament on the Competitiveness Council on 13 March. Sub-Committee B considered this document at its meeting of 19 April 2006.

  In your Statement, you write on the Services Directive that "The Council will then re-examine the proposal with a view to reaching agreement on a common position". Following the Commission's publication of the revised draft Directive earlier this month, can you now give us an idea of the Council's timetable for the Directive? Will the common position be sought at the Competitiveness Council on 29 June 2006 or at an earlier meeting?

24 April 2006

Letter from Barry Gardiner MP to the Chairman

  I am pleased to enclose a copy of my written Statement to Parliament providing a summary of the informal meeting of the Competitiveness Council on 21-22 April in Graz.

24 April 2006

Annex A

WRITTEN STATEMENT

  I attended the informal meeting of the Competitiveness Council on Saturday 22 April, hosted by the Austrian Presidency in Graz. My Ministerial colleague, Lord Sainsbury attended the Council on Friday 21 April.

  At the morning session on 21 April, Austrian Minister for Education, Science and Culture, Elisabeth Gehrer, chaired a discussion on the breakdown for the EU's research budget for the Seventh Framework Programme 2007-2013 (FP7).

  Commissioner Potocnik presented the principles behind the Commission's revised breakdown for the budget for 2007-2013 following agreement on the overall EU budget. The budget for FP7 would see a 60 per cent increase over current levels to an average of €7.8 billion per annum as opposed to €4.8 billion per annum under the Sixth Framework Programme, but this was still a reduction on the Commission's original proposal in 2005. Ministers were unanimous in stating that the Commission's revised breakdown represented a good basis for negotiations, but all put forward suggestions for changes.

  The Presidency hoped that this discussion would allow the Competitiveness Council to agree a General Approach on FP7 on 29-30 May 2006. This would give them the basis with which to negotiate with the European Parliament, which expects to complete its first reading of FP7 in June.

  The afternoon session on 21 April was on "The Opportunities of Globalisation". There were presentations from Vice President Verheugen on Competitiveness through Innovation; Commissioner Kroes on Less and Better State Aid for Growth and Jobs; French Minister Francois Loos on Competitiveness Clusters; and Helmut List, CEO AVL List, on Centres of Competence.

  Ministers showed general support for clusters as useful initiatives. Some Member States thought EU cooperation on clusters was important, and a number have drawn up a national map of clusters. There was general support for Commissioner Kroes's plans to introduce some additional flexibility to EU.

Letter from Rt Hon Ian McCartney MP, Minister for Trade, Investment and Foreign Affairs, Department of Trade and Industry/Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 24 April 2006 to Barry Gardiner concerning the expected date for political agreement on the Services Directive. I am replying as the Minister with responsibility for this dossier.

  The Austrian Presidency is pressing ahead with the aim of reaching a common position by the end of their Presidency in June. All Member States have accepted the Commission's revised proposal of 4 April (largely based on the European Parliament's text) as a basis for going forward. The Services Directive is now on the draft agenda for political agreement at the 29 May Competitiveness Council, but it is possible that due to the number of outstanding issues between all Member States this could be moved to the June Council. The UK supports an agreement during the Austrian Presidency.

  I am sure you will already be aware that the Commission's revised proposal was debated in the European Standing Committee on 16 May, and before Sub-Committee B on 17 May.

24 May 2006

Letter from Lord Sainsbury of Turville, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Science and Innovation, Department of Trade and Industry to the Chairman

  I am pleased to enclose a copy of my written Statement to Parliament providing a summary of the Competitiveness Council on 29-30 May in Brussels.

5 June 2006

Annex A

WRITTEN STATEMENT

  I attended the Competitiveness Council in Brussels on 29-30 May. The first day was chaired by Martin Bartenstein, Austrian Minister for Economics and Labour, with Ursula Haubner, Austrian Minister for Social Security and Consumer Protection chairing the consumer items.

DAY 1 MONDAY 29 MAY

  The first day was dominated by negotiations on the Services Directive, which started over lunch and continued into the evening. The other main items on Monday were discussions on Consumer Credit, Sustainable Development and Better Regulation.

Services Directive

  The Council reached a political agreement on the Draft Services Directive, with the UK voting in favour. Lithuania and Belgium abstained. The Commission's amended proposal was based largely on the European Parliament's first reading opinion, modified to take account of Member States' views, in particular on the scope of the Directive and on the strength of certain provisions. The negotiations were successful, resulting in a good outcome for the UK. Attempts to reduce the scope were largely avoided, and the agreed proposal now contains stronger screening mechanisms, which oblige Member States to review their legislation against the `better regulation' criteria in the Directive.

Better Regulation

  The Council took note of a Presidency progress report on Better Regulation. The report gave a short account of work in progress under the Austrian Presidency as regards impact assessments, simplification of legislation, screening of pending legislative proposals and assessing and reducing administrative costs. I welcomed the progress made by the Commission and the Presidency in taking forward this important agenda and I led Member State interventions by stressing the need to match rhetoric with action, in particular on special provisions for SMEs and setting targets for reducing burdens. A number of other member States also emphasised the importance of driving forward the Better Regulation Agenda.

Sustainable Development

  The Council held a policy debate on the review of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy. The strategy is being discussed in a number of formations of the Council, including the Energy and Environment Councils, with a view to reaching agreement at the European Council meeting on 15 and 16 June. The Presidency had circulated a set of questions in advance of the Council to which Member States responded in writing. The Presidency provided a summary of these responses in the Council meeting.

Consumer Credit

  The Council held a policy debate on a draft Directive on Consumer Credit. Again, the Presidency had circulated a number of questions in advance of the Council to which Member States responded in writing. The questions were on harmonisation, early repayment and cross-border comparability of consumer credit agreements. The discussion in the Council focused primarily on the central question of maximum harmonisation and mutual recognition within the directive. I welcomed the objective of opening up the single market in consumer credit, but emphasised that any Directive would have to maintain levels of consumer protection, and should be based on a rigorous analysis of costs and benefits.

AOB agenda items:

  The Council took note of information from the Polish delegation on EU import duties on primary aluminium; requesting the Commission to suspend import duties on raw aluminium. I supported this request along with a number of other Member States.

  On Euro V, the Council took note of information from the French delegation concerning the proposal for a Regulation aimed at limiting emissions from light vehicles. Several delegations intervened in support of the French delegation.

  On Public Procurement, the Council took note of the information provided by Germany (along with France and Austria) asking the Commission to withdraw its draft interpretative communication on regimes for below-threshold procurements. I supported this request, along with a number of other Member States.

  The Presidency gave short reports about conferences on REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals), Consumer Protection and Tourism. It also noted presentations by the Presidency on Clusters, and by Commission Vice President Günter Verheugen on the communication "A new tourism policy: towards a stronger partnership for European tourism".

DAY 2 TUESDAY 30 MAY

  The second day was devoted to Research and Space business. Elisabeth Gehrer, Austrian Minister for Education, Research and Culture chaired the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) items. Hubert Gorbach, Austrian Vice Chancellor and Federal Minister for Transport, Innovation and Technology chaired the Space item.

  A General Approach was agreed on the draft Regulation laying down the Rules of Participation for the FP7. The UK voted in favour.

  The Council also reached agreement on a general approach on the FP7 for research and technology development. The UK voted in favour. The Council also considered the Euratom framework programme, but did not reach agreement.

Lunch and other AOB items

  The Council took note of information from the Commission on its recent communication on modernising universities and on ITER but there was no discussion.

  On Space Policy, the Council took note of information by the Presidency on the main results of a conference on GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security System) which was held in Graz on 19-20 April, as an input for the future elaboration of the European Space Programme. The Council also took note of information by the Commission on the state of play concerning developments towards European space policy and the roadmap foreseen for future developments in this area.

Letter from Lord Sainsbury of Turville to the Chairman

  I am pleased to enclose a copy of my written Statement to Parliament providing a summary of the informal meeting of the Competitiveness Council on 10-11 July in Jyva­skyla­.

18 July 2006

Annex A

WRITTEN STATEMENT

  I attended the informal meeting of the Competitiveness Council on 10-11 July, hosted by the Finnish Presidency in Jyva­skyla­. The meeting focused on innovation policy, with discussion of the Seventh Framework Programme for research and development over lunch on the first day.

  On the morning of 10 July, a number of speakers gave presentations on their views of the challenges for European Innovation policy. Presentations were given by:

    —  Jorma Ollila—Chairman of the Board of Nokia;

    —  Michael Worley—President of the GEEF, a group representing family-run businesses in Europe;

    —  Juliana Garaizar—Managing Director of IFEX;

    —  Gordon Murray—Professor at the School of Business and Economics, University of Exeter; and

    —  Esko Aho—former Finnish Prime Minister and President of the Finnish National Fund for Research and Development.

  Commissioners McCreevy and Verheugen both welcomed the Presidency's focus on innovation policy, and stressed the importance of better regulation, an effective intellectual property regime, public procurement, R&D, structural funds, cluster policy, dialogue with industry, and modern financing instruments in promoting innovation.

  Over lunch, Commissioner Potocnic updated Ministers on the current state of play of the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Development. An additional Competitiveness Council has been called on 24 July, at which it is hoped that political agreement on a common position can be reached.

  In the afternoon, Ministers split into breakout groups to discuss a number of questions about innovation policy posed by the Finnish Presidency. I chaired one of the groups. We reported back on our discussions in a plenary session on Tuesday morning.

  All Ministers supported the Presidency's paper on a broad based innovation strategy and its focus on demand-side policies. I emphasised the need for development of the intellectual property and state aid regimes, outcome-focused regulation, innovation-oriented public services and public procurement, and support for research and entrepreneurship. There was scope for EU action in some areas, but Member States must take the lead in others, with the EU ensuring that it did not discourage national or private initiatives.

  The Commission welcomed Member States' comments and the Presidency's work, and confirmed their intention to produce a communication on innovation policy in September, in advance of the Informal Summit in Lahti in October.

Letter from Lord Sainsbury of Turville to the Chairman

  I am pleased to enclose a copy of my written Statement to Parliament providing a summary of the extraordinary Competitiveness Council on 24 July in Brussels.

20 July 2006

Annex A

WRITTEN STATEMENT

  I will be attending the extraordinary Competitiveness Council on 24 July, where the Finnish Presidency aim to reach Political Agreement on the EU's 7th Framework Programme (FP7) for Research and Technological Development and Demonstration (2007-2013), and on the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) (2007-2011).

  Political Agreement on the whole FP7 package would enable a timely Second Reading deal to be achieved with the European Parliament and aid in FP7 being launched as planned on 1 January 2007.

Letter from Lord Sainsbury of Turville to the Chairman

  I am pleased to enclose a copy of my written Statement to Parliament providing a summary of the extraordinary meeting of the Competitiveness Council on 24 July.

27 July 2006

Annex A

WRITTEN STATEMENT

  I attended the extraordinary Competitiveness Council on 24 July. The meeting had been called by the Finnish Presidency with the aim of reaching Political Agreement on the EC 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development and Demonstration (2007-13), and on the 7th Framework Programme of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) (2007-11).

  The two outstanding issues were the conditions under which the 7th Framework Programme would fund human embryonic stem cell (HESC) research and Austrian concerns over the Commission Joint Research Centre's (JRC) role in nuclear research under the Euratom Treaty.

  On HESC research a number of Member States pushed for further restrictions to be added. I argued strongly against this and stated that the position adopted during the 6th Framework Programme should be maintained. Slovenia withdrew their reservation on Article 6 in their first intervention. After some debate, Italy, Germany and Luxembourg also dropped their objections in return for a Commission Declaration clarifying that the existing informal practise of not funding the initial step of HESC research (ie the destruction of embryos) would continue under the 7 Framework Programme. The exclusion of funding of this step of research will not prevent Community funding of subsequent steps involving human embryonic stem cells. Poland, Austria, Slovakia, Lithuania and Malta voted against.

  On the Euratom Programme Austria were able to agree a compromise text on the exact nature of the Commission JRC's contribution to the work of the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) which collaborates on new nuclear reactor designs. This part of the text, which requires unanimous agreement, moved in their direction while allowing enough flexibility for the JRC to collaborate in the full range of GIF activities.

  I am pleased to have gained Political Agreement on the whole package of the 7th Framework Programme. The text we have agreed will now go to the European Parliament for consideration, and I am confidant that this will enable a timely launch of the 7th Framework Programme in January 2007.

Letter from Rt Hon Ian McCartney MP to the Chairman

  I am pleased to enclose a copy of my written Statement to Parliament outlining the agenda items for the forthcoming Competitiveness Council on 25 September 2006 in Brussels.

18 September 2006

Annex A

WRITTEN STATEMENT

  The following statement provides information on the Competitiveness Council in Brussels on 25 September 2006, at which the UK will be represented by Anne Lambert, Deputy Permanent Representative UKRep.

  The first agenda item will be a public debate on Innovation Policy and Competitiveness. The Presidency has set Member States questions in order to identify their priorities for future EU innovation policy. As a result of the discussion, the Presidency will draw up draft Conclusions on the way ahead for EU innovation policy, which will be put to the next Competitiveness Council (4-5 December) for agreement.

  The next agenda item is on nominal quantities for pre-packed products, on which there will be a public debate. The Presidency is hoping to achieve political agreement on this amending Directive, which would end most of the existing "specified quantities" on pre-packed products in EU legislation.

  Following this, there will be an orientation debate on Single Market Policy. The discussion will be structured around Presidency questions about the kind of Single Market that can best meet the challenges of the future, including enlargement, and how to improve the implementation and enforcement and efficient functioning of the Single Market. In the light of this discussion, the Presidency will draft Conclusions which they will put to the Competitiveness Council for agreement in December, and which will feed in to the Commission's Single Market review.

  The Commission will also present the results of the latest Internal Market Scoreboard, which is used to monitor the timely implementation of Internal Market Directives by Member States. The UK performed well in the last scoreboard, meeting the Commission's targets, and being ranked 6th out of 25 Member States.

  There will be a public debate on the Consumer Protection Action Programme, where the Presidency is hoping to achieve political agreement. This programme sets out the EU's objectives for consumer policy and details the actions that will require financing. The UK has no outstanding concerns with the proposal.

  In addition, there will be five further items taken under "Any Other Business":

    (a)  Progress report on the 7th research Framework programme (EC and Euratom) legislative package. Following political agreement which was reached at the Competitiveness Council in July, the Presidency hopes that the Common Position can be adopted without further discussion at this Council. The Presidency will give an oral progress report.

    (b)  Implementation report by the Commission on retaining and attracting researchers to the European Research Area (ERA). The Commission will provide updated information.

    (c)  6th Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial Conference on Industry (21/22 September 2006)—The Presidency will provide information on this conference.

    (d)  Communication on Biodiversity—The Commission will present their recent Communication.

    (e)  State of implementation of the Consumer Protection Cooperation Regulation. The Commission will provide an update.

  There will be a lunchtime discussion of state aid reform with Commissioner Kroes. Last year, the Commission undertook to revise all state aid frameworks and guidelines and made some proposals for procedural change. The lunchtime debate is likely to be wide-ranging, but given the thrust of the rest of the agenda is likely to focus on Research, Development and Innovation (RD&l).



 
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