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EU Informal Competitiveness Council

Volume 492: debated on Tuesday 12 May 2009

The following statement provides information on the EU Informal Competitiveness Council which took place in Prague on 5 May 2009, at which my official Claire Durkin, director of Europe International Trade and Development at BERR, represented the UK.

The meeting started with the Commission presenting a paper on lessons learned from the 2004 EU enlargement and the future of the EU internal market. The Commission suggested that the priorities for improving the EU single market and responding to the economic crisis were services (implementation of the services directive), intellectual property (agreement on Community patent and a single patent court) and completing the interconnection of the EU’s network industries (telecommunications, postal services, energy and transport sectors).

In discussion, member states agreed with these three priorities and that the single market was essential for EU economic recovery and growth. In addition, several member states highlighted the importance of avoiding protectionism and better implementation of single market legislation. All member states agreed that EU enlargement since 2004 had brought positive benefits to the EU. Member states suggested that future EU developments should be an increased focus on skills, innovation, the low-carbon economy, promoting EU standards externally, more cross-border internet sales, boosting consumer and social benefits, or delivering concrete achievements, such as a Community patent.

The UK agreed with the forward looking suggestions by the Commission and other member states. We stressed the need for the EU to be at the high-end of the value chain, noting in particular business opportunities in low-carbon, digital and services. We also pointed out that the UK is the sixth largest manufacturing country in the world and that we wanted the single market to work equally well for the manufacturing sector. In addition, we welcomed the Larosiere report on EU financial supervision and called for an integrated approach to better regulation and enforcement of EU single market rules.

The Commission also presented a paper on the EU better regulation programme and invited member states to share best practice from national programmes. Most member states were supportive of the EU action programme on administrative burden reductions. Several member states wanted the action programme to take account of new and amending regulations. Member states also wanted better impact assessments on Commission administrative burden reduction proposals. The UK representative stressed the need for co-operation and dialogue between member states on better regulation policies and for stronger EU impact assessments. We also suggested that the EU services directive should be an exemplar for EU legislation and that its implementation by the end of 2009 was important for EU’s future competitiveness.

The UK strongly supported the Commission’s proposal to allow member states the option to exempt micro-entities (companies with ten or fewer employees and less than €1 million turnover) from the EU accounting directives, which would bring major cost savings for the EU’s smallest businesses. Germany, Denmark and Romania also stated their support for the proposal.