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Competitiveness Council

Volume 519: debated on Friday 3 December 2010

The EU Competitiveness Council took place in Brussels on 25 and 26 November 2010. The Minister of State for Universities and Science represented the UK on research and innovation items and Andy Lebrecht, the UK’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU represented the UK on industry, internal market and space items when a Minister was not in attendance. A summary of the discussions follows.

Industrial, Internal Market and AOB Items

There was a ministerial debate on the recent Commission communication setting out its new integrated EU industrial policy ahead of the adoption of Council conclusions at the December Competitiveness Council. The document received broad support and the majority of member states, including the UK, mentioned the importance of SMEs. The UK emphasised the need for a strong single market, smart regulation, keeping open markets, ensuring sectoral initiatives focus on areas where the EU can add value and the importance of the whole supply chain.

On green vehicles, the Commission presented their report on implementation of the clean and energy efficient vehicles strategy, and the presidency introduced a joint declaration on electro mobility. Nine member state signatories felt this should be given priority in research and development. On the EU patent some member states felt the enhanced co-operation procedure under the Lisbon treaty should be pursued to make further progress as member states were unable unanimously to agree to a language regime. The presidency said the issue would be discussed again as a full agenda item at the December Competitiveness Council.

Space

A resolution was agreed setting out priorities for future European work on space policy. There was broad agreement that the space sector could offer significant economic benefits. Ministers noted the importance of the global monitoring for environment and security (GMES) initiative and Galileo as two priority European space programmes. A number of member states expressed concern with Galileo’s budgetary situation. The UK also insisted the Commission should improve its management of the Galileo programme and emphasised the importance of completing the Galileo mid-term review without delay.

The role of space in Europe and the balance of responsibilities between the EU and the European Space Agency (ESA) were discussed. ESA said that this was an issue they and the Commission were currently reflecting on. Hungary said it would discuss the EU-ESA relationship under its EU presidency in the first half of 2011.

Innovation

The Competitiveness Council agreed conclusions reacting to the Commission’s EU2020 flagship communication, Innovation Union (the Commission’s recent strategy for improving Europe’s capacity to innovate).

Ministers debated how to overcome barriers to innovation in Europe. The UK offered strong support for the Commission’s European innovation partnerships concept, but felt access to finance for innovation was a problem. It believed EU funding could be used to augment existing national pre-commercial procurement schemes. The UK also pointed to problems relating to the implementation of the EU clinical trials directive which it saw as hampering innovation in the pharmaceuticals sector.

European Research Area

The Competitiveness Council adopted conclusions on joint programming (the voluntary process of co-ordinating national research programmes in certain scientific fields). The conclusions welcomed a biennial report on joint programming and endorsed voluntary guidelines for the process. One change was made to the draft and sent to Council at the request of the presidency—a reference to the importance of work on biomarkers in the pilot joint programming initiative on neurodegenerative diseases was weakened. The presidency updated the Council on recent efforts to strengthen the European research area and on the work of the strategic forum for international science and technology co-operation.

7th Framework Programme (FP7)

Ministers discussed a presentation on the interim evaluation of the EU’s current R&D funding programme over lunch. Areas considered for improvement in the review included low female participation rates, underperformance of many newer EU member states and low business participation rates. The interim review recommended that the framework programme should: be amended to help develop Europe’s innovation capacity and the research base; enhance large-scale research facilities; maintain its current level of funding for future programmes; be radically simplified; not include any new types of funding instrument; be linked better to the structural funds; and be opened up more strategically to non-EU countries.

International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER)

The Commission set out its proposals for reforming the governance of the ITER programme, and called for voting in the governing board to be amended so that vote weights were linked directly to financial contribution. The Commission also noted the failure of the Council and European Parliament to reach an agreement on meeting the ITER funding shortfall in 2012-13. The Commissioner hoped agreement would be reached shortly. The UK argued in its intervention on Innovation Union that ITER procurement contracts needed to be more accessible for SMEs.