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EU: Competitiveness Council

Volume 692: debated on Thursday 24 May 2007

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

The following Statement provides information on the Competitiveness Council in Brussels on 21 and 22 May 2007, at which I represented the UK.

Day one: Monday, 21 May

The council opened with a progress report on better regulation under the German presidency. There were also progress reports from the presidency on the mutual recognition (goods) regulation and on a common framework for the marketing of products (the new approach). The council noted progress on these dossiers without discussion.

Council conclusions on industrial policy were adopted. The main debate revolved around sectoral issues. Compromise wording regarding the financing of ship-building was agreed. Text was also agreed on plans to reduce CO2 emissions from cars, where member states called on the Commission to carry out a full impact assessment.

At the request of several member states, the Commission then presented its consumer policy strategy, which was published earlier this year. Member states did not intervene. A Council resolution is expected to be agreed at the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO) Council on 30 May.

The next item on the agenda was the consumer credit directive on which political agreement was reached. Discussion centred on the optional threshold below which those repaying a loan early should not have to pay compensation to lenders for the loss of agreed interest. Eventually, member states agreed to a compromise level of €10,000, thus enabling political agreement on a common position to be reached. The Netherlands and Greece voted against, and Belgium and Luxembourg abstained. I intervened to enter a minutes statement regretting the failure to carry out an impact assessment on this proposal and stressing that it should not set a precedent for other work in the field of financial services.

Day two: Tuesday, 22 May

The second day was devoted to research and space business. The fourth meeting of the Space Council was held between the Competitiveness Council and the council of the European Space Agency (ESA). I, along with a number of space Ministers, made brief statements about the importance of a European space policy (ESP). The council resolution on European space policy was unanimously adopted after Ministers' interventions.

Under the research items, the presidency reported on progress on negotiations on the European Institute of Technology on which I, and other member states, noted a number of outstanding issues which needed to be resolved, notably concerning financing.

The Commission presented its first two proposals for council regulations to establish joint technology initiatives, one on innovative medicines and the other on embedded computing systems.

A discussion took place on the European research area green paper, following the exchange at the informal meeting in Wurzburg in May. Member states emphasised the importance of the debate and welcomed the Commission's consultation process.

Linked to this discussion, council conclusions were adopted on research infrastructures, inviting member states to take forward the work of the European Strategic Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI).

Items covering other business were taken over the two days.

Luxembourg raised concerns about the impact of the proposal for a regulation on the law applicable to contractual obligations (Rome 1). I, supported by a number of other member states, echoed Luxembourg's concerns about its potential impact on the single market and regretted the lack of an impact assessment.

In addition, the council noted, without debate, information provided by the presidency on the following items:

the outcome of the Wurzburg informal Competitiveness Council on the internal market in global competition;

the state of play of the proposal for a directive on improving the effectiveness of review procedures concerning the award of public contracts;

the proposal for a directive amending directive 2003/87/EC so as to include aviation activities in the scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading within the Community;

the proposal for a directive laying down rules on nominal quantities for pre-packed products;

the European conference on innovation and market access through standardisation (Berlin, 26 and 27 March 2007);

the 4th European conference on craft industries (Stuttgart, 16 and 17 April 2007) (9095/07);

the European conference on tourism (Berlin/Potsdam, 15 and 16 May 2007);

the GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) Conference (Munich, 17 April 2007); and

the forthcoming Euro-Med research and education Ministers’ conference (Cairo, 18 June 2007).

The council noted the information provided by the Commission concerning the regulation on a globally harmonised system of classification and labelling.

The council also noted information from the Commission regarding forthcoming proposals to establish joint national research programmes under Article 169 of the treaty, to be presented during 2007 and 2008.

At Poland's request, the council took note of the information on Poland's proposal to organise the exhibition Expo 2012 in Wroclaw.

The council noted the information provided by the Italian delegation on Milan's candidacy to host Expo 2015 with the theme of “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”.

The council took note of the information provided by the Portuguese delegation on the work programme of the incoming presidency.