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EU: Competitiveness Council

Volume 687: debated on Thursday 7 December 2006

My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Science and Innovation (Malcolm Wicks) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I attended the Competitiveness Council in Brussels on 4 December. Mauri Pekkarinen, Finnish Minister for Trade and Industry, chaired the council. There was a policy debate on the modernised customs code on the basis of the discussion paper produced by the presidency. The discussion focused on the proposals for a single window, centralised customs clearance, and the liberalisation of the customs agent market. I gave broad support for all three proposals and noted in particular the need to ensure that the customs agent market was not bound by new restrictions.

There followed a policy debate on the Lisbon strategy and innovation policy on the basis of the Commission communication, Putting knowledge into practice: a broad-based innovation strategy for Europe for which council conclusions had been prepared. The presidency asked delegates to consider in particular joint technology initiatives, intellectual property rights, and the European Institute of Technology. I supported the text of the council conclusions, noting in particular the importance of rapidly ensuring a patent regime that had the support of industry. The council conclusions were adopted.

At the lunch, I gave a short presentation on the UK Government's response to the Stern review on climate change, focusing on the competitiveness elements, which was then picked up in discussion. It was agreed that the Competitiveness Council would remain active in this area.

There followed a presentation by the presidency on its better regulation progress report, followed by a presentation and exchange of views on the Commission's communication on A Strategic Review of Better Regulation in the European Union. I spoke to offer strong UK support for the communication and in particular for the overall target for reducing administrative burdens.

The council noted the presidency's progress report on the proposal for a revised consumer credit directive, on which substantial disagreement still remained. Delegates spoke to give their assessment of how the proposal should go forward. I expressed my concern over the added value of the directive and urged a thorough evaluation of the benefits of the proposal.

Under “any other business”, the Commission gave presentations on the Pharmaceutical Forum; the European competitiveness report; joint technology initiatives and implementation of Article 169; the review of the consumer acquis; the common frame of reference; the review of the timeshare directive; and the state of play on suspension of import duties on primary aluminium. There were presentations from the presidency on the Commission communication on external aspects of competitiveness, and the EU-US Informal Economic Ministerial Meeting.