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EU: Competitiveness Council

Volume 711: debated on Thursday 11 June 2009


My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Higher Education and Intellectual Property (David Lammy) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The following Statement provides information on the Competitiveness Council which took place in Brussels on 28 and 29 May 2009. The industry session of the council took place on 28 May, and was chaired by Vladimir Tošovský, Czech Industry Minister. The research session of the council was held on 29 May and was chaired by Miroslava Kopicova, Czech Minister of Education, Youth and Sports. The UK was represented by David Lammy, both for the intellectual property items in the afternoon of 28 May, and for several research items on 29 May. The Deputy Permanent Representative to the European Union, Andrew Lebrecht, represented the UK when the Minister was not in attendance.

The first item that David Lammy covered on 28 May was the Community patent and single patent court. The council discussed a progress report on these issues under the Czech presidency and took a decision on whether to refer legal questions concerning the court’s structure to the European Court of Justice. The UK advocated referring these questions to the Court of Justice as soon as possible and urged a rapid reply from the court. Doing so would allow us to make progress on creating a more efficient, affordable and responsive European patent system, which would help boost European innovation and competitiveness.

The council agreed to consult the European Court of Justice. This creates a good starting point for Swedish presidency ambitions for strong progress on a Community patent and single patent court.

Under any other business, Germany raised copyright and competition concerns with the Google books search service. The UK recognised these concerns, but noted that new technologies present opportunities as well as risks for copyright owners and society and a measured approach should be taken. The presidency invited the Commission to explore impacts on EU authors and propose action, if required, to protect their rights.

The Competitiveness Council on 29 May was preceded by the Space Council (an informal meeting of EU and ESA Ministers) which discussed the importance of innovation for the space sector as well as how innovation in the space sector could boost European competitiveness. The Space Council agreed a resolution on this (which was subsequently formally adopted by the ESA and Competitiveness Councils). The Commission presented its proposal for a regulation providing community funding and setting up a governance structure for the initial phase of the global monitoring for environment and security (GMES)—an initiative to provide and pool data relating to environmental monitoring, up to now funded by EU research framework programme and ESA.

The Competitiveness Council reached a political agreement on a regulation providing a legal framework for large-scale research facilities supported by a number of countries (European Research Infrastructure Consortia or ERICs). All member states that had reservations on the tax exemptions point lifted them at council. However, Spain and Portugal said they intended to vote against the draft regulation as they felt an ERIC should initially be allowed to operate with only two member states (rather than needing three at all times as in the Commission's proposal).

Ministers welcomed the emphasis being placed by the presidency on evaluation and impact assessment and there was consensus on the need to strengthen evaluation and impact assessment for both European and national research funding programmes. The council also adopted conclusions on this subject. In the debate the UK said that a much better understanding of results achieved and impact assessment were needed to allow research funding programmes to be more effectively geared towards supporting the development of the European Research Area, boost European competitiveness and tackle major societal challenges.

The council also adopted conclusions on the first steps towards realising the vision for the European Research Area in 2020 and on the development of the regional dimension of research infrastructures.

Under any other business, the presidency highlighted its recent conference on issues relating to researcher careers and mobility. The Commission announced it planned to launch a feasibility study for a pan-European pension fund for researchers.

The Commission updated Ministers on plans to deepen European research ties with Russia through association to FP7 and provided an update on the ITER fusion research project.