The Competitiveness Council (Internal Market and Industry) took place on 12 March in Brussels. I represented the UK.
EU industrial policy
Ministers had a wide-ranging discussion on the future of EU industrial policy and the need for European industry to adapt to changes in the global economy and the digital revolution. The UK noted that its recently published industrial strategy identified many of the same challenges and drivers of growth, and stressed our commitment to an open, liberal market economy based around fair competition and high standards. Commissioner Bieńkowska updated Ministers on the first meeting of the “Industry 2030” High Level Roundtable which took place in February. The roundtable would work towards a future vision for EU industry. Ministers also agreed the draft Council conclusions (doc. 2793/18).
The UK also raised concerns at the recent announcement by the US Administration to introduce tariffs on steel and aluminium imports. The UK stressed that unilateral tariffs were not the right way to tackle global overcapacity. Other member states stressed the need for a solution that respected the role of the WTO which Commissioner Bieńkowska supported in her response.
Digitalisation of the EU economy
Ministers considered how to better focus national reform efforts and funding decisions, to seize the opportunities presented by digitalisation for European industry and citizens. There was wide agreement on the need to boost digital skills, to provide clear regulatory frameworks, and to see SMEs and the public sector as potential beneficiaries as well as large businesses. Member states considered that both private sector and EU funding should be easier to access and complement existing national investment in infrastructure.
Ministers held a policy debate on the single market to mark the anniversary of the yreaty of Maastricht. A number of member states, including the UK, called for better enforcement of single market rules and an analysis of barriers to the services market to realise the single market’s full potential.
Commissioner Bieńkowska hoped that member states would reflect their aspirations for the single market in responding to Commission legislative proposals. The UK underlined our continuing interest in the success of the single market and support for ongoing efforts to reduce barriers, and reiterated the Prime Minister’s call for an ambitious UK-EU partnership.
Commissioner Bienkowska set out the key elements of the Commission’s plastics strategy and highlighted the objectives of a review of the REACH regulation. On better regulation, the presidency presented work to highlight the role of scientific evidence in the EU’s regulatory decision making. Belgium presented a short note to highlight the risk of start-ups and scale-ups being captured by the rescue and restructuring guidelines in the state aid rules. Under the regular “Competitiveness Check-up” Commissioner Bieńkowska gave a presentation on the link between services reforms and productivity in manufacturing. Commissioner Jourova updated Ministers on the forthcoming package of consumer protection proposals which are due in April.