The Competitiveness Council took place on 30 November and 1 December in Brussels. The UK was represented by Lord Henley on the first day and by me on the second.
EU industrial strategy
Discussions focused on the recent publication of a renewed EU industrial policy strategy. Ministers agreed that European industry needed to adapt to changes in the global economy and the digital revolution. The EU should improve investment in research and development and support for SMEs, and strengthen its internal market. The UK noted that its recently-published industrial strategy identified many of the same challenges and drivers of growth, and stressed its commitment to an open, liberal market economy based around fair competition and high standards.
A number of member states cautioned against arbitrary targets for industrial output, emphasising that support to industry was one policy among others to boost Europe’s competitiveness alongside a commitment to free trade and access to global value chains. Others called for greater sectoral support and called for the Commission to propose a longer-term vision for EU industrial policy towards 2030. Ministers agreed Council conclusions.
Single digital gateway
Ministers voted to adopt the proposed general approach on the single digital gateway. Member states generally expressed support for the objectives of the proposal and agreed that easier access to good quality online information and procedures was important for the internal market. There was broad agreement that the presidency had struck a good balance between ambition and flexibility. Voting in favour of the general approach, the UK noted its strong support for e-Government initiatives and underlined the importance of maintaining a focus on user needs. The Commission welcomed the agreement but noted the extension of the implementation period to five years.
Unified Patent Court
A number of member states joined the presidency and the Commission in pressing those member states yet to complete ratification of the Unified Patent Court to finalise preparations so the court can become operational in 2018. The UK re-stated its commitment to passing the final necessary domestic legislation currently before Parliament.
European defence industrial development programme (EDIDP)
The presidency noted the EDIDP would run from 2019 to 2020, providing €500 million towards the joint development of defence prototypes and increasing European industrial competitiveness. Timelines were ambitious with a general approach anticipated at the 12 December General Affairs Council. The Commission was looking for a €1.5 billion fund after 2020, covering both defence research and prototype development.
Vice President Ansip updated the Council on the implementation of the digital single market. He described the paradigm-shifting and multi-faceted impact of digitalisation on the world. He urged Ministers to help progress initiatives rapidly and ambitiously. The presidency and Commission noted the provisional agreement on geo-blocking with the European Parliament.
Hungary introduced a paper expressing concern about the impact of the tobacco track and trace implementing legislation on SMEs. Commissioner Andriukaitis emphasised its importance for public health and tackling illicit tobacco trade and underlined that its impact had been considered carefully. The final text included a number of SME derogations.
The Commission presented its recent public procurement package, stressing that more strategic use of procurement could help deliver environmental and social objectives. Savings of €200 billion per annum were possible through increased professionalism. The Commission confirmed that all elements were voluntary.
Ministers had a lunchtime discussion on the automotive industry; the UK and others stressed the fast-changing nature of the sector. Germany and the Commission provided an update on the SME Action programme. Bulgaria presented its plans for its presidency.
Day two—Space and Research
The Formal Competitiveness Council (Space and Research) took place in Brussels on 1 December. I represented the UK in the morning and Katrina Williams represented the UK in the afternoon.
Council conclusions on the mid-term evaluation of the Copernicus programme
The Council adopted conclusions on the Commission’s recent mid-term evaluation of the Copernicus earth-observation space programme, which underline the importance of maintaining its free and open data policy.
EU space programmes
The Council then held a debate on the future direction of EU space programmes, in light of the recent mid-term evaluations. The UK outlined the links to the UK’s industrial strategy, highlighting the importance of international collaboration and the desire for the UK to discuss future cooperation with the EU on space programmes as soon as possible.
Council conclusions on Horizon 2020
Next was a discussion on the Council conclusions on Horizon 2020. Ministers agreed the conclusions in document 15320/17. The UK set out its interest for an ambitious science and innovation agreement with the EU and stressed the need to focus on EU added value, simplification and international collaboration in framework programme 9 (FP9).
The mission-oriented approach in the ninth EU RDI framework programme
The Council then discussed the missions-orientated approach to FP9. The Commissioner (Moedas) encouraged member states to engage fully in the forthcoming consultation process. The UK highlighted the need to ensure continued focus on basic research and emphasised the need to avoid duplication of efforts undertaken at national level.
The European Commission gave an update on the European open science cloud. Hungary gave an update on the extreme light infrastructure project, which was on schedule to begin operations in 2018. Bulgaria then presented its presidency plans. Their priorities for science and innovation include the next framework programme (FP9), the future of the ITER project and the transfer of knowledge, data and research results to innovators and researchers. They will also focus on the roadmap for the governance and funding of the European open science cloud and the European supercomputer EuroHPC.