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EU Competitiveness Council

Volume 474: debated on Wednesday 23 April 2008

My noble Friend Baroness Vadera, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business and Competitiveness, has today made the following statement:

The following statement provides information on the Informal Competitiveness Council in Brdo, Slovenia on 16 April 2008, at which I represented the UK. The meeting was chaired by Andrej Vizjak, Slovenian Economics Minister.

The theme of the morning session was “From SME Policy to High Growth Innovative Enterprise Policy”, with a discussion on the key challenges SMEs face in their growth phase. This session provided an opportunity for competitiveness ministers to give their views on the forthcoming EU “Small Business Act” before the Commission’s proposal expected in July. The Council agreed that the growth potential and flexibility of small and medium-sized enterprises are key forces driving economic growth, productivity and improving competitiveness. There was also a large degree of consensus on the importance of tackling regulatory burdens on small business. I intervened to outline the UK response to the Commission consultation, and our priority areas:

An ambitious package of better regulation measures to bring about a step change in how the EU develops policy and legislation to better address the needs of SMEs, including through specific measures such as exemptions or simplifications in the ‘think small first’ policy, and other specific measures.

Increasing access to finance for SMEs through action to address supply and demand side market failures, underpinned by commercial solutions, focusing on removing barriers to cross border investment in venture capital and developing a common EU regime for private placement of investment funds.

Action to make it easier for SMEs to trade in the Single Market and beyond.

The importance of innovation and having a single speedy and low cost EU patent system.

In the afternoon session, there was a discussion of “The Business of Climate Change”—sustainable industrial policy and the commercial opportunities of climate change mitigation. The European Commission intends to publish a Communication on this subject in May 2008, including a number of directives related to environmental performance of products. I intervened to encourage a market-based approach, emphasise the opportunities for industry of a shift to a low carbon economy, and to stress the crucial role of the emissions trading scheme in internalising the price of carbon in the market and the importance of openness to international trade.

Commission Vice-President Verheugen also briefly updated the Council on the work of the Transatlantic Economic Council.