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EU Informal Competitiveness Council

Volume 540: debated on Thursday 9 February 2012

My noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, (Baroness Wilcox) has today made the following statement:

The Informal EU Competitiveness Council took place in Copenhagen on 2-3 February 2012. I represented the UK on both days of the Council. A summary of those discussions follows.

The research session of the Council on 2 February was preceded by a conference on 1 February, attended by BIS officials, discussing informally the structure of the Horizon 2020 programme. This included three plenary sessions on “Excellent Science”, “Industrial Leadership” and “Societal Challenges”.

The research Council then began on the 2 February, hosted by Danish Minister for Research, Innovation and Higher Education, Morten Østergaard. There were presentations from EU Commissioners Geoghegan-Quinn and Hahn on Commission proposals on Horizon 2020, followed by three plenary sessions centring on three of the key challenges Horizon 2020 must address. These are: improving complementariness with other EU programmes (principally structural and cohesion funds); simplifying rules of participation; and bridging the “valley of death” between basic science and commercialisation.

I attended the third session regarding the gap between basic science and commercialisation. I intervened to press for a stronger focus on the successful exploitation of research, and for support for innovation to be embedded throughout Horizon 2020. I also pressed the Commission to come forward with more detailed proposals for pan-European venture capital support and a version of the small business research initiative. Among the other workshops, member states pressed for more clarity on the link between Horizon 2020 and structural and cohesion funds, and for more ambitious plans for simplification.

The Industry and Internal Market Council followed on 3 February. This was hosted by the Danish Minister for Business and Growth, Ole Sohn and was focused on the digital single market. Minister Sohn opened the Council with a speech setting out six current and upcoming dossiers which should help the digital single market reach its full potential; e-payments, e-invoicing, e-procurement, common IT standards, the e-signatures package and the alternative dispute resolution. This was followed by speeches from Michel Barnier and Neelie Kroes, acting in their capacities as Commissioners for Internal Market and Services, and the Digital Agenda respectively.

Two workshops were then held focusing on both supply and demand in the digital single market. The main conclusion from the supply workshop was that it is imperative to boost the trust of consumers when ordering online. From the demand workshop, it emerged that the mutual recognition of e-signatures is crucial to improving e-invoicing, and that e-billing systems should be accessible across EU borders.