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EU: Informal Competitiveness Council

Volume 694: debated on Thursday 26 July 2007

My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Competitiveness (Stephen Timms) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The following Statement provides information on the Informal Competitiveness Council in Lisbon on 20 and 21 July 2007, at which I represented the UK. The meeting was chaired by Manuel Pinho, Portuguese Minister for Economy and Innovation.

Friday 20 July

SME Policy

The mid-term review of the EU's SME policy was discussed. The presidency presented a discussion paper on four main topics:

innovation on financing;

better regulation;

internationalisation; and

energy efficiency.

Ministers agreed on the urgent need to tackle challenges identified in the presidency's paper. There was strong support for ongoing work towards reducing EU admin burdens by 25 per cent. Several Ministers called for more to be done to encourage cross-border investment and for more information to be provided to SMEs on third-country markets. A few Ministers wanted more benchmarking, though I cautioned against duplication. I called for a refocus on encouraging SMEs to grow and for more action on better regulation, access to finance and ensuring that SMEs could exploit opportunities provided by moves towards a low carbon economy.

There was good support for the role of the Competitiveness Council in monitoring of developments in SME policy. Gunter Verheugen, Commission vice-president, urged the Competitiveness Council to evaluate effects of other policies on SME competitiveness.

Dinner—The State of the EU economy

Dinner was devoted to a discussion on EU growth: cyclical or structural, with guest speaker Prof Francesco Giavazzi of Bocconi University, Milan and MIT. I noted the impact of recent economic growth performance by the EU.

Saturday 21 July

Sustainable Industry Policy

Ministers debated sustainable industry policy, based on the Commission's recent communication on the mid-term review of industry policy. Discussion was focused on three key pillars of a sustainable industrial policy:

acceleration of innovation and creation of lead markets;

full exploitation of the European internal market for the development in sustainable goods, services and technologies markets; and

“first mover” advantage, exporting EU know-how in the low carbon economy to external markets.

Ministers agreed that a more efficient product policy could be a major contribution for competitiveness and sustainability of European enterprises. They also agreed that the promotion of lead market initiatives for low carbon and efficient products and services was an important way of speeding up transition towards a low carbon economy and to put Europe as a frontrunner in global markets. I stressed the need to identify market failures and supported wide-ranging action on product policy, such as standards and labelling. There was general support from the Ministers.