The first day of the Competitiveness Council (Internal Market and Industry) took place on 27 September 2018.
The UK was represented by Katrina Williams, Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU. The legislative and non-legislative “A” items were adopted; the UK abstained on a decision not to oppose the adoption of amendments to the regulation on vehicle type approvals, and on the adoption of European seabass quotas.
Regional policy and competitiveness
The routine “competitiveness check-up” on day one focused on the role that greater convergence in productivity within member states has to play in boosting the EU’s competitiveness. The UK joined others in support of so-called “smart specialisation” strategies and their emphasis on innovation and comparative advantage. Some member states welcomed the Commission’s intention to incorporate a regional element into the European semester. Over lunch, Ministers also discussed the next multi-annual financial framework in the context of competitiveness.
The presidency identified priority areas for the EU on artificial intelligence (AI) relating to the uptake of technology, ethics and liability, and digital skills. The Commission confirmed its intention to publish an action plan by the end of the 2018 and recalled increased investment in AI proposed as part of the Horizon Europe and Digital Europe programmes.
An external speaker, Mr Michael Hirschbrich, urged member states to cultivate a new, positive “data culture” in Europe as a prerequisite for the EU to profit from the revolution in AI and machine learning. Germany felt this would be a challenge for the EU and would require public trust. Several delegations cautioned against over-regulating in this area and others argued that effective communication and realising the potential of new technologies in the delivery of public services would help to raise public trust and awareness.
The UK outlined its investment plans for AI, its inclusive approach to digital skills, work to establish an independent centre for data ethics and innovation, and noted the importance of regulatory co-operation in this area.
Under any other business, the Commission called for the full implementation of the geoblocking regulation and recalled the aims of a recent communication on the retail sector.
The Czech Republic and Latvia summarised the conclusions of events held this year to mark 25 years of the single market. Member states urged the Commission to produce a comprehensive and evidence-based assessment of the remaining barriers to trade, particularly in the area of services.
Day two of the Competitiveness Council (Internal Market, Industry, Research and Space) took place on 28 September in Brussels. I represented the UK during the morning and lunch sessions of the Council. Katrina Williams, Deputy Permanent Representative of the UK’s Permanent Representation in Brussels took the UK’s seat during the afternoon session.
Progress report and policy debate on the Horizon Europe Package: Framework Programme for Research and Innovation 2021-2027
The Council started with a policy debate on the Horizon Europe Package: Framework Programme for Research and Innovation 2021-2027. The UK called for excellence to remain the key criterion for awarding Horizon Europe funding. The UK also suggested that space should become a separate cluster outside of “digital and industry”, and that the secure society cluster should be divided into two distinct clusters; one for “security” elements and one for “social sciences and humanities” elements. The UK also supported the presidency’s approach to the debate surrounding the legal base of the Horizon Europe Specific Programme, agreeing that the aim should be to reach a timely conclusion on the Horizon package.
Lunch debate on the Horizon Europe package—exchange of views with EP rapporteurs
During the lunch debate the Council had an exchange of views with EP rapporteurs Dan Nica and Christian Ehler. The UK made an intervention specifying UK’s priority areas for amendments and encouraging debate amongst MEPs at the first exchange of views on October 8.
Strategic planning process in relation to the Horizon Europe Framework Programme for Research and Innovation 2021-2027
The Council concluded with a policy debate on the strategic planning process in relation to the Horizon Europe Framework Programme for Research and Innovation 2021-2027. The UK made an intervention seeking to help find consensus in Council on the process and status of the plan, agreeing that broad areas for missions and partnerships should be set out in the specific programme and suggesting that the process for selecting specific missions and partnerships should also be included. The UK agreed that more detailed strategic content should be determined at a later date.