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EU: Informal Competitiveness Council

Volume 691: debated on Tuesday 8 May 2007

My right honourable friend the Minister for Trade, Investment and Foreign Affairs (Ian McCartney) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

An informal meeting of the EU Competitiveness Council took place in Wuerzburg in Germany from 26 to 28 April. The council was split into two halves. Part I dealt with science and research. Part II dealt with economic issues.

Part I: Science and research

Malcolm Wicks represented the UK at Part I of the council. The council was chaired by Annette Schavan, German Federal Minister for Education and Research.

Under the first item, Research Ministers debated the recent Commission Green Paper on the European Research Area. Along with other Ministers, Malcolm Wicks emphasised the importance of this debate on fostering the free movement of knowledge and overcoming fragmentation in Europe, and stressed the need to include consideration of subsidiarity and European added value.

Under the second item there was a discussion of the proposed European Institute of Technology, where Malcolm Wicks and other Ministers welcomed progress made in negotiations under the German presidency while noting outstanding financial and governance issues to be addressed.

In the final item, the German presidency presented a proposal for an IPR charter following a recent Commission communication on knowledge transfer.

Part II: Economics issues

I represented the UK at Part II of the council. The council was chaired by Michael Glos, German Federal Minister for Economics and Technology.

Under the first item, Ministers discussed Europe's single market and global competition. In particular they focused on factors affecting the attractiveness of the EU as an investment location, noting that the Ernst and Young European attractiveness survey confirms that the EU remains the most attractive region in the world for more than 50 per cent of the companies surveyed. In my intervention I emphasised the economic factors which had made the UK a highly attractive investment location.

As a second item, Ministers discussed the role of EU state aid in influencing foreign direct investment in the EU. Ministers noted that the Ernst and Young survey recorded that only a relatively small proportion of companies considered state aid was a significant factor in their investment decisions. Commissioner Kroes, myself and a majority of other Ministers who spoke intervened to oppose a presidency suggestion that consideration be given to relaxing EU state aid rules in order to match aid offered by third countries, arguing that this would distort competition and risk WTO litigation.