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Competitiveness Council

Volume 651: debated on Wednesday 12 December 2018

My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for State for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Henley) has made the following statement:

The Competitiveness Council took place on 29 and 30 November. The UK was represented by the right hon. Lord Henley, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, on day 1 (internal market and industry); and by Katrina Williams, deputy permanent representative to the EU, on day 2 (research and space).

Day 1 (Internal Market and Industry)

The Council agreed a general approach on the platform-to-business regulation and to entering into inter-institutional negotiations with the European Parliament; these are anticipated to begin later this month. The UK welcomed the evidence-based approach taken by the Council; we consider that the compromise text meets the demand from business users for transparency without stifling development and innovation of online platforms. Others indicated that they could support the general approach but had hoped for more ambition for further regulation. Other member states urged the presidency to uphold the Commission’s light-touch approach in talks with the Parliament, with some underlining that it was too soon to consider stricter rules. The UK joined the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Poland in signing a joint statement to the minutes expressing reservations about new provisions for public enforcement.

The Council adopted a partial general approach on the single market programme. The UK noted that, while it generally supported the programme’s aims, it retained a parliamentary scrutiny reserve over this dossier and therefore abstained. The Council also adopted a general approach on the general safety of vehicles regulation.

The Council adopted conclusions on “A Future EU Industrial Policy Strategy”. The Commission highlighted the link to its long-term strategy on climate, published on 28 November.

Commission Vice-President Katainen presented the Commission’s recent communication on the future of the single market. He urged member states to adopt outstanding legislation in the remaining months of this legislature. Some member states noted a recently published report on trade in services as evidence of the persistent barriers in this area. Member states also noted the potential of digitalisation and cross-border data flows to boost the competitiveness of EU services and manufacturing. The UK noted the important economic links that would continue between the UK and EU after the UK’s exit, and the shared challenges we face, particularly around digitalisation. Other member states highlighted the role of social, environmental, regional and transport policy in the functioning of the single market.

Ministers received information on the recently agreed changes to the state aid enabling regulation, and on the negotiations on supplementary protection certificates for medicinal products where the UK advocated maintaining the scope of the original Commission proposal. The Council noted the annual report of the SME envoy network and received information from the incoming Romanian presidency about its priorities.

Day 2 (Research and Space)

The Council began with a progress report and an exchange of views on the regulation establishing the space programme of the Union. The discussion focused on governance, and in particular on the importance of clearly defined roles and responsibilities for all actors involved in delivering the programme. Access to space and how to maximise the competitiveness of the European space sector were also discussed.

The Council agreed on the conclusions on the governance of the European research area. The Council then discussed the Horizon Europe package—the framework programme for research and innovation 2021-27. The debate centred on four outstanding issues: the overall structure of the programme; return grants for Skłodowska-Curie actions; capping for partnership budgets; and the European Innovation Council. The Austrian presidency redrafted the regulation text following member states’ interventions and the UK was content with the final version. The Council then agreed a partial general approach for the framework programme and its rules for participation and dissemination. The Austrian presidency also presented a progress report on the specific programme implementing Horizon Europe.

During any other business the Austrian presidency provided information on the conference “Evolution of Europe’s space activities: Long-term perspective” held in Graz, 5 and 6 November 2018. The Romanian delegation then concluded the Council by outlining the work programme of the incoming presidency.

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