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EU Presidency: Informal Competitiveness Council

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr Alan Johnson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
 
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The Informal Competitiveness Council hosted by the UK presidency took place in Cardiff on 11–12 July 2005. Lord Sainsbury of Turville chaired the first day covering research issues and I chaired the second day, which considered EU Better Regulation and the development of the internal market. Over dinner on 11 July both research and economics/industry Ministers discussed innovation policy.

On the first day, research Ministers heard presentations from a number of speakers, including Research Commissioner Potocnik and representatives from industry and science.

The Commission stressed the need for the EU to help fulfil Lisbon goals for growth and jobs by committing more money for EU research, both nationally and for the EU's next research framework programme (FP7). Speakers from academia and business presented on how the framework programme could be made simpler and more accessible for business and how the Scientific Council for the proposed European Research Council (ERC) had been chosen.

Ministers then broke up into five small groups for detailed discussions on: the structure of the European Research Council (ERC); increasing industry and SME participation in the framework programme; and how to develop the potential of the less-research-intensive regions. In addition, Ministers were asked to consider the cross-cutting issue of simplification as it related to their areas.

Group rapporteurs reported vigorous and useful discussions. Lord Sainsbury concluded that while there were still difficult issues to tackle, there was consensus on the need for the ERC to be independent; on the need for effective, practical help for SMEs; that collaborative research should be more user-driven; that help for less research intensive regions had to be focused; and on the continued importance and need for simplification.

On the second day, the session on EU better regulation opened with presentations from the vice-president of the European Commission and Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry Gunter Verheugen, Alain Perroy (Director General of CEFIC—the European Confederation for the Chemicals Industry—and leading member of the Alliance for a Competitive European Industry) and Jacek Piechota (Polish Economics Minister).

The Commission's commitment to progressing the better regulation agenda in the EU and the importance of regulatory reform in achieving Lisbon objectives on growth and jobs were stressed. The Commission also outlined recent initiatives that would contribute to the delivery of regulatory reform, including strengthened impact assessment guidelines that would ensure effects of proposed legislation on competitiveness were taken into account, a new push to simplify existing EU regulation and screening of proposals that were already on the table for their effects on competitiveness. Alain Perroy gave a business perspective on the need for regulatory reform and Jacek Piechota outlined steps that Poland had taken at a national level to improve policy-making processes.
 
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Ministers then split into four groups to discuss using impact assessments in Council deliberations; maximising the involvement of business in policy-making; simplification; and what member states can do to improve the regulatory framework at a national level. Ministers reported productive and positive discussions, with a strong consensus on the need to deliver regulatory reform for growth and jobs. In my summary, I welcomed the Commission's clear commitment to change and recent initiatives, and emphasised the need for the Commission and member states to work together to achieve results.

Debate on the internal market began with presentations from Czech Deputy Prime Minister for economic affairs Martin Jahn, who explained how membership of the internal market has benefited the Czech economy, and Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy, who called for greater efforts to ensure effective implementation of the existing acquis and for progress on opening up the market in services.

Subsequent breakout group discussions concluded that the internal market was often taken for granted and should be more vigorously promoted. The perception of enlargement (focused on immigration and social dumping) was at odds with the actual impact (a strengthened global position for the EU, a more varied and flexible EU economy). Ministers also emphasised the need for progress on the services directive as key to the future development of the internal market. In addition, implementation, enforcement and the provision of advice and assistance to businesses and citizens were seen as crucial.

EU: General Affairs and External Relations Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) was held on 18–19 July in Brussels. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary (Jack Straw) chaired the council as president. My right honourable friend the Minister for Europe (Douglas Alexander) represented the UK.

The Foreign Secretary made a short intervention at the start of the GAERC on the London bombings. He thanked partners for their expressions of sympathy and recalled the declaration agreed by the JHA Council on 13 July. The council adopted short conclusions reaffirming the declaration, focusing on external action.

The agenda items were covered as follows:

Presidency Work Programme

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Enlargement

World Trade Organisation (WTO)

Preparation of the EU-China Summit

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Uzbekistan

Zimbabwe

UN Millennium Review Summit

Syria/Lebanon

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Middle East Peace Process (MEPP)

Iran

Indonesia/Aceh

AOB—Estonia/Russia Border Treaty

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AOB—Malta/Illegal Immigration

EU-Macedonia Association Council

EU-Kazakhstan Co-operation Council

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