The Competitiveness Council took place on 27-28 May. The UK was represented by Katrina Williams, deputy permanent representative to the EU on day one (Internal market and industry); and by myself on day two (Research and space).
Day one (Internal market and industry)
The final Competitiveness Council of the Romanian presidency agreed three sets of Council conclusions: on the single market; on industrial policy and on tourism and reviewed the legislative achievements of the last six months.
The Council discussed the link between competition policy and EU competitiveness. Commissioner Bienkowska presented the Commission’s analysis on market integration, market concentration in the EU and protectionist practices in third countries. Ministers discussed EU competition rules and EU trade policy with regards to third country competition. The UK cited the Furman review which recommends updating competition policy for the digital age.
Ministers held a wide-ranging discussion on priorities for the future of EU industrial and single market policy. On industry there was broad agreement that the new Commission should develop an integrated industrial strategy which recognises global challenges. Discussions focused on the need to develop strategic value chains within Europe and welcomed the focus on important projects of common Europe interest (IPCEIs). The UK highlighted the need to recognise the global nature of value chains when developing policies. The increasing servitisation of manufacturing, the importance of digitalisation and the need to support the transition to a low-carbon economy were also key themes. The Council adopted conclusions on a vision for an EU industrial policy strategy (9263/19) and the future of the single market (9402/19). Ministers also agreed conclusions on the importance of tourism (document 9264/19).
The Commission reported progress on current legislative items: the directive on cross-border conversions, mergers and divisions; the directives on the modernisation of the EU consumer protection rules; and the collective interests of consumers and the general safety of vehicles regulation. The Commission also outlined its work on better regulation and provided an update on the future of the Rapex market surveillance system following the 2018 assessment.
The presidency reported on its conference in Craiova, Romania on the automotive sector on 18 March. The forum discussed challenges around low emission vehicles; connected and autonomous vehicles; and the competitiveness of European industry.
The Commission reflected on work to move the EU towards a circular economy and to achieve the objective of recycling 10 million tonnes of plastic by 2025.
The incoming Finnish presidency set out its future priorities: environmentally and socially sustainable growth with an integrated view of the single market and a modern industrial policy.
Day two - Research
Day two of the Competitiveness Council (Internal market, industry, research and space) took place on the 28 May in Brussels. I represented the UK.
The Competitiveness Council started with a policy debate on strengthening Europe’s role as a global actor and promoting international co-operation, space diplomacy and contributing to building the global space governance. The UK stressed the importance of open collaboration with third countries and entities with expertise, such as the European Space Agency (ESA), in order to achieve the strategic objectives of the EU in space.
Following the policy debate there was a brief “extraordinary ESA Council”, which adopted the “space as an enabler” conclusions.
The 11th EU-ESA Council was jointly chaired by the Spanish ESA presidency and Romanian EU Council presidency. They facilitated an exchange of views on the topic of “space as an enabler”. In the UK’s intervention Minister Skidmore highlighted the need to focus on better exploitation of the new technologies—artificial intelligence, internet of things and quantum technology—which would drive the 4th industrial revolution.
The Romanian presidency then resumed the Competitiveness Council with a policy debate on research and innovation as a driving force for a more competitive European Union. The UK stressed the importance of researcher freedom, closing the innovation gap and operating in a global context—as well the importance of training the next generation: in this context, the UK announced that EU students starting courses in England in the 2020-21 academic year will have guaranteed home fee status and financial support for the duration of their courses. EEA/EFTA and Swiss nationals (and their family members) will remain eligible for support on the same basis as now.
During any other business the Slovakian delegation outlined the recently signed BIOEAST initiative whilst the Romanian presidency recalled the launch of the joint strategic research and innovation agenda for the Black sea (SRIA) on 8 May. The incoming Finnish presidency concluded the Council by providing information on the work programme of their EU Council presidency.