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EU Competitiveness Council

Volume 485: debated on Thursday 11 December 2008

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Science and Innovation (Lord Drayson) has made the following written statement.

“The following statement provides information on the Competitiveness Council which took place in Brussels on 1st - 2nd December. The research session of the Council was held on 2nd December and was chaired by Valerie Pecresse, Minister for Higher Education Research. The UK was represented by the Deputy Permanent Representative to the European Union.

Research Ministers agreed on a vision for the European Research Area (ERA) in 2020 aiming to help foster greater coordination of research activities across Europe, increase public and private sector investment in R&D and to facilitate the mobility of researchers in Europe. The Vision paper envisages future European research efforts being more responsive to societal challenges, the networking of education, research and innovation stakeholders and R&D underpinning European competitiveness. The UK welcomed the emphasis in the Vision on investment in research and innovation, especially in the current economic climate, as well as the emphasis on an ERA which encourages cooperation with countries outside the EU.

The Council adopted Council Conclusions on Joint Programming - a new process to help identify research fields in which national research programmes could be coordinated on a voluntary basis and reduce fragmentation of research funding in Europe. Joint programming approach will be piloted in the field of neurodegenerative diseases. Council Conclusions on International R&D Cooperation, Marine and Maritime Research and the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) initiative were also adopted.

The Council did not agree a General Approach on the Regulation for a Community Legal Framework for a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC Regulation) as a consensus on the exemption of VAT and excise duties could not be reached. The dossier has been referred to the ECOFIN Council for consideration and will be taken forward under the Czech Presidency in the first half of 2009. I am writing separately to the Chairs of the Scrutiny Committees on this issue.

The Council took note of a presentation from the Luxembourg and Portuguese Ministers on researcher careers and mobility issues including encouraging the take up of science and technology related subjects in school, work-life balance and social security and supplementary pensions. Member States are to consider these issues further in the Commission-chaired Steering Group on Human Resources and Mobility.

Over lunch, Ministers discussed the role of the European Strategic Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI). There was broad agreement that ESFRI played a useful role in allowing Member States to identify potential pan-European research infrastructures and to pull together consortia of interested parties to take these forward. There was little appetite to extend ESFRI’s role in respect to helping to prioritise funding for research infrastructures or deciding on their location. On this latter point, there was broad agreement that decisions on location should be taken by the Member States paying for the infrastructures and that these should be located where they would be most effectively used.

Under Any Other Business, the Council took note of an updates from the Commission on the implementation of the Strategic Energy Technology Plan, work to establish revised cost estimates for ITER, the planned nuclear fusion research facility in France, and from the chair of the Governing Board of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT).”