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EU Competitiveness Council

Volume 489: debated on Tuesday 17 March 2009

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 that took place in Brussels on 5 and 6 March. The research session of the Council was held on 6 March and was chaired by Ondrej Liska, Czech Minister of Education, Youth and Sports. The UK was represented by the Deputy Permanent Representative to the European Union.

Research Ministers agreed the importance of maintaining the drive to increase investment in R&D during the current economic crisis. The UK argued that R&D investment needed to contribute to creating the low carbon, highly skilled, and digital economy Europe needed. The Council agreed that there was a need to strengthen the “knowledge triangle”—the links between education, research and innovation—to ensure investments in R&D made the maximum contribution possible to economic recovery.

The Council discussed large-scale research facilities and their role in facilitating economic development. Council conclusions are expected on this at the May Competitiveness Council. During the debate on the location of research facilities, the UK argued that decisions should be made on the basis of science—where the facility would best contribute to excellent research, and that these infrastructures were important in promoting the mobility of researchers across Europe. The Council also took note of a presentation from the chair of the European Strategic Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) on ESFRI’s 2009 priority list of large-scale research facilities in Europe.

Over lunch, Ministers discussed the Commission’s proposal for a new legal status for European research infrastructures providing VAT and excise duty exemptions. On the basis of my letter to the Czech presidency, the Commission has been tasked with bringing the issue to the VAT Committee quickly for a decision on the proposed VAT exemptions. The Committee’s decision would need to be agreed by ECOFIN Ministers. The UK noted that whilst its initial view was that these research infrastructures did meet the criteria in the VAT directive to be exempt from VAT, an acceptable solution on this could only be found in the VAT legislation or its implementing guidelines. The UK also stressed that it could not agree to substantive VAT wording in the research infrastructure regulation itself. Ministers also discussed how to facilitate a decision on the location of the European Spallation Source (ESS). Member states with an interest in ESS would discuss this further with the view for a decision to be taken before summer 2009.

Under any other business, the Council took note of an update from the Commission on the request from Russia to sign an association agreement by paying to allow its researchers to compete for funds under the EC seventh framework programme. Member states had flagged up a number of questions on this issue which the Commission was currently considering. The Council also took note of the progress made on negotiating a draft decision of the European Parliament and of the Council on a European Metrology Research Programme (EMRP) article 169 initiative; first reading agreement with the European Parliament is expected to be reached within the current legislative term. The Commission also introduced a new communication setting out the value of ICT facilities for science. The presidency informed the Council that conclusions on the evaluation of R&D activities including a recent evaluation of the sixth Framework Programme were being developed. A progress report on the seventh framework programme is also expected”.