Select Committee on European Scrutiny Second Report



Letter from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Competition, Consumers and Markets at the Department of Trade and Industry (Miss Melanie Johnson) to the Clerk of the Committee

INTERNAL MARKET, CONSUMERS AND TOURISM COUNCIL: 27 SEPTEMBER 2001

I represented the UK at the Internal Market, Consumers and Tourism Council ("IMCTC") in Brussels on 27 September 2001.

To summarise, the Council reached agreement on the Distance Marketing of financial services directive, food supplements directive, and the Community Design. The Council confirmed they would adopt the European Community Statute. An open debate on consumers and the euro allowed Eurozone members to outline national information and consumer protection initiatives. Over lunch, the Presidency affirmed its commitment to trying to reach agreement on the Community Patent. France and Germany argued for a detailed framework of rules and principles for services of general economic interest.

The Council reached agreement on the directives dealing with harmonisation, composition and labelling of food supplements, the Community Design Regulation and the amendment to directive 76/769/EEC on dangerous substances, which will ban the marketing and use of Pentabromodiphenyl ether (Penta BDE), a flame retardant, which poses unacceptable risks to the environment and human health. There was also agreement on a directive on the distance marketing of consumer financial services. This is intended to introduce a set of EU wide rules on the information, which must be supplied to consumers when financial services are sold at a distance. The agreement reached will ensure that there is a coherent legal relationship between the directive and existing EU directives and in particular that there is consistency with the so called "country of origin principle" in the E Commerce directive.

The Council confirmed its determination to adopt the European Company Statute at the Employment and Social Affairs Council on 8 October, along with the accompanying Directive on Worker Participation in the European Company. The Statute would create a legal framework for a new corporate entity, the European Company ("Societas Europaea" or SE), available to enterprises with operations in more than one Member State and would be entirely optional.

The Council adopted a set of conclusions on measures to improve the functioning of Regulation EC 2679/98, (free movement of goods among the Member States) which sets out measures to deal with transport blockages to the movement of goods affecting intra-Community trade.

The Community Patent (which would introduce a unitary patent system for the whole Community) was discussed over lunch on the basis of the Presidency's report. Member States and the Commission agreed that progress could not be made at any cost. The Community Patent had to be a workable and credible system for industry. The UK stressed the centrality of the principles in the "Common Approach" agreed at the May IMCTC (legal certainty, affordability, user responsiveness, procedural efficiency, simplicity and non-discrimination). These would ensure that the Community Patent was viable for users, complemented existing patent systems in Europe and optimally employed EU resources and expertise. Work should progress in parallel on all the essential elements.

There was a Commission presentation on Services of General Economic Interest (SGEIs) to update Member States on its progress towards its Communication planned to be completed for the Laeken summit in the second half of October. France and Germany spoke to specific memoranda, arguing for a detailed framework of rules and principles for SGEIs. We stressed the importance of the issue for the UK, where delivery of top quality public services was top priority and the importance that Community rules should not be an obstacle to the UK's increasing use of public private partnerships.

There was an open debate on progress made so far on preparing euro area citizens and companies for the introduction of the Euro. Member States had outlined specific measures in response to the Presidency's questionnaire. These aimed to encourage consumer confidence and familiarity with the new currency, increase price transparency, tackle fraud, counterfeiting and price round-ups.

The Council took note of the Presidency information on the results of the Bruges Ministerial conference on Tourism and of the Presidency Conclusions (the Presidency's own views) on "Tourism for All". The Council also noted the Presidency paper on the "Tourism Dimension in other Policies" and the Commission's forthcoming communication on tourism policy.

The Council and Commission reiterated their firm commitment to reaching agreement by the end of the year on the Commission's proposed regulation setting out general principles on food law and establishing the European Food Authority. The Commission presented the Commission's Communication on European Contract Law, a consultative document which addresses the question whether continued piecemeal harmonisation of contract law is any longer appropriate for the functioning of the internal market and the uniform application of Community law. The Commission stressed the consultative nature of the Communication and predicted a lengthy debate in the coming months.

The Commission presented its proposals for Regulations on approvals of genetically modified food and feed and on traceability and labelling of genetically modified organisms, a directive on insurance intermediaries, regulation on cross border payments in euro, review of the directive on control and acquisition and possession of weapons and free movement of EU citizens. There was also a Presidency progress report on the legislative proposals for amending the public procurement directives, which aim to "simplify, clarify and modernise" the existing directives and bring them up to date.

The Commission made presentations on Pedestrian Protection, Standardisation, Review of Pharmaceuticals Legislation, Chemicals Strategy, and Biotechnology. No significant discussion took place on these items.

I am copying this letter to Simon Burton and Les Saunders.

20 October 2001


 
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Prepared 2 November 2001