The EU Competitiveness Council took place in Brussels on 28-29 May 2009. The then Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs represented the UK on the morning of 28 May, covering the then BERR agenda items on EU Industry Policy and the EU Small Business Act. In the afternoon session, Andy LeBrecht of UKRep Brussels represented the UK for the BERR agenda item on EU Better Regulation and the then BERR AOB items. The following is a summary of those discussions.
For the first substantive agenda item, the Commission presented a paper on EU industry policy, which was agreed after a long, wide-ranging discussion among member states. The Commission proposed an integrated approach to a competitive and sustainable industry policy for the EU and emphasised the importance of industry and small to medium enterprises (SMEs) to the European economy. In discussion, it was agreed that the EU should avoid protectionism and promote competitiveness. The Minister supported this and also highlighted the need for the EU to move towards a low carbon economy and for the simplification of red tape for business as much as possible. In addition the Minister also called for the European Investment Bank to increase its lending to viable businesses by 50 billion Euros over the next 2 to 3 years.
The Commission also presented an update on the implementation of the EU Small Business Act (SBA) set of measures to assist SMEs which was adopted in 2008. Progress on the three priority SBA areas was reviewed (improving SME access to finance, providing a supportive regulatory environment, and enhancing market access). In discussion the Minister emphasised the need for implementation of these priority areas and endorsed the Commission’s proposal to allow member states the option to adopt less burdensome accounting requirements for micro-entities (companies with ten or fewer employees).
In the afternoon the Council presented conclusions on EU better regulation and its proposals to reduce administrative burdens on EU businesses by 30 billion Euros, which would mostly help SMEs. In the discussion there was broad agreement among member states that better regulation would help avoid unnecessary burdens on business. The UK representative supported thorough impact assessments to avoid additional costs on business from new measures and also called for action on simplification and reduced administrative burdens. The UK also again expressed our support for less burdensome accounting requirements for micro-entities.
On the Any Other Business Points, the UK representative supported full harmonisation across the EU on the proposed consumer rights directive and also for consumers to retain the right to reject faulty goods. Other AOB points were agreed without discussion on the European private company statute, Transatlantic Economic Council, the role of tourism in the economic crisis, Lisbon strategy post-2010, outcomes of the informal ministerial Council and Swedish EU presidency priorities (which will be the EU Internal Market, better regulation and financing, eco-innovation, SMEs, research and innovation and Lisbon post-2010).