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The Informal Competitiveness Council hosted by the UK presidency took place in Cardiff on 1112 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.
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 CEFICthe European Confederation for the Chemicals Industryand 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.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) was held on 1819 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 Foreign Secretary gave a brief presentation on the GAERC work programme for the next six months, highlighting in particular future financing and the future of Europe. On future financing, the Foreign Secretary highlighted the president's commitment to work towards a deal during the presidency. On the future of Europe, the Foreign Secretary welcomed Luxembourg's referendum result, and said that the next step
The Foreign Secretary briefed partners on the 11 July meeting of the Croatia Task Force where there was further consideration of Croatian co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). There was no change in its assessment that Croatia was not yet co-operating fully with the tribunal. The Foreign Secretary invited the task force to review the situation in September.
Commissioner Rehn presented the Commission's draft negotiating mandate for Turkey. He highlighted that Turkey's progress would be long and difficult. The council's reasons for opening talks and its previous commitments remained unchanged. The opening of negotiations on 3 October was conditional on six pieces of legislation entering into force (they all had on 1 June) and on Turkey signing the Ankara agreement protocol. The Foreign Secretary confirmed that the president would be working towards the signing of the protocol in consultation with the Council legal service.
Commissioner Mandelson updated the Council on the mini-ministerial in Dalian (1213 July) and gave an assessment of how preparations are going in the run up to the end of July WTO General Council in Geneva. The Foreign Secretary noted that the main trade discussion would take place during the informal trade ministers' dinner on 18 July. The Council agreed conclusions, which recalled that Council conclusions from October 1999 and 28 June 2003 in particular remain valid and set the Community approach to the Doha development agenda (DDA) negotiations.
The Foreign Secretary updated partners on the progress of preparation for the 5 September summit. A progress report on summit preparations covering the draft agenda, elements for a Joint Statement and Declaration on Climate Change and Energy was agreed. Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner highlighted that the Commission would also be signing the financing agreement for two environmental projects totalling €55 million. The Commission also raised China market economy status (MES), noting that they would keep this under active review and wanted to see some progress at the summit. The Foreign Secretary concluded that the Commission and president would take forward summit negotiations with the Chinese and keep partners fully informed.
The Foreign Secretary highlighted the importance of the EU's response to the situation in Uzbekistan. The EU would not solve the problem in one stroke, and should bear in mind its long-term policy towards Uzbekistan and the region as a whole. The Council welcomed the appointment of Jan Kubis as EU Special Representative for Central Asia and noted his intention to travel to the region as soon as possible. The Council agreed to review the EU-Uzbekistan partnership and co-operation agreement in the light of his visit. The Council agreed conclusions expressing profound concern about the situation in Uzbekistan. The president will continue to monitor the situation during August.
High Representative Solana gave an account of the unacceptable situation in Zimbabwe and stressed the need to work with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and other African partners. He also welcomed the UN's forthcoming assessment and the African Union's decision to send an envoy to Zimbabwe. Commissioner Michel also condemned the recent actions and noted that the EU position was clearly stated in the declaration on 7 June and the demarches in SADC capitals. The Foreign Secretary concluded that if the UN special envoy's report was critical, the Council should consider further restrictive measures. The Council agreed conclusions condemning Operation Murambatsvina; expressing profound concern about the demolitions and evictions; and agreeing to keep EU policy, including on sanctions, under review.
Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner outlined the key elements of the Commission's communication on UN reform to the Council. Irish Foreign Minister Ahern, in his capacity as one of the UN Secretary-General's special envoys for the summit, updated the Council on summit preparations. Conclusions were agreed reiterating the EU's strong support for a successful UN millennium review summit outcome.
Terje Roed-Larsen, the UN Secretary-General's special envoy on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1559 briefed Ministers over lunch. Larsen highlighted that the withdrawal of Syrian military forces was now complete. Larsen informed the Council that the recent Lebanese electionswhich had been broadly free and fairhad been an important step towards creating an independent and sovereign Lebanon. The EU should now encourage the Lebanese to form a new government quickly and play a role in tackling corruption and strengthening good governance and security. The Foreign Secretary summed up and expressed strong support
High Representative Solana briefed the Council on his recent (10 to 14 July) visit to the region. He commented that the situation on the ground was now calm, but developments at the end of last week and over the weekend had not been positive. The Council discussed Gaza disengagement and reiterated its full support for quartet special envoy James Wolfensohn. Ministers emphasised the urgent need for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to co-operate effectively with each other and with Mr Wolfensohn to support Palestinian institutional and economic development. The Council urged the Palestinian Authority to accelerate reforms and Israel to put in place the conditions essential to viable Palestinian economic growth. The Council noted the ongoing role played by the Commission in leading donor activity on Palestinian governance issues. conclusions were agreed which reflected these points.
The Foreign Secretary, together with the French and German Ministers and High Representative Solana, briefed partners on the work towards a comprehensive package on the three issues covered by the 15 November 2004 Paris agreement: nuclear issues; political and security issues and economic and technological cooperation. Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner briefed on the outcome of the 1213 July negotiations on the EU-Iran trade and co-operation agreement. Ministers also discussed the outcome of the recent Iranian presidential elections.
Over lunch, Ministers were briefed by High Representative Solana on developments in Aceh. The Council noted the report of the EU assessment mission to Indonesia/Aceh. It welcomed the successful conclusion of the Helsinki negotiations and agreed that the EU should be prepared, in principle, to provide observers to monitor the implementation of the peace agreement.
The Estonian Foreign Minister Paet outlined to partners why the ratification of this treaty has stalled and how they hope to take matters forward with the Russian Federation. The President said this was a matter of acute concern for the Estonian people. We hoped for a satisfactory outcome of the ratification process, based on what had already been agreed between Estonia and Russia, as soon as possible.
The Council heard an intervention from the Maltese Foreign Minister Frendo on the increasingly acute problem of illegal immigration in Malta and noted his request for solidarity and for this issue to be kept on the Council's agenda.
In the margins of the GAERC, the annual EUMacedonia Stabilisation and Association Council meeting took place on 18 July. Macedonian Foreign Minister Mitreva chaired. I led the EU, supported by Commission Rehn, the Council Secretariat and the Austrian Minister for Europe Dr Winkler. Mitreva was accompanied by experts on the Ohrid framework agreement, policing, judiciary, minorities, and the economy, who made technical presentations in these areas. Mitreva expressed disappointment at the EU's cautious stance on visa liberalisation. The association council underlined the June 2005 European Council's commitment, which emphasised that the future of the western Balkans lay within the EU, provided that each country met the established conditions. The association council welcomed Macedonia's adoption of the final legislation linked to the framework agreement and looked forward to its full implementation. The association council also stressed the need for further reform of the police and judiciary, fighting corruption, structural economic reform, and meeting the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) criticisms of this year's municipal elections.
In the margins of the GAERC, the EU and the Republic of Kazakhstan held its seventh meeting on 19 July 2005. I chaired the meeting and was supported by the Austrian Minister for Europe Dr Winkler and the Commissioner for Energy, Mr Andris Piebalgs. Kazakhstan was led by Deputy Prime Minister Akhmetzhan Smagulovich Yessimov.
The Co-operation Council reaffirmed the desire to see EU-Kazakhstan relations continue to strengthen politically, economically and commercially, especially in the context of the partnership and co-operation agreement. It emphasised the need for increased efforts by the Kazakh authorities to comply fully with international norms and standards, including those of OSCE, in the fields of rule of law, democracy and human rights. The Co-operation Council expressed its expectation that the forthcoming presidential elections would be fair and in line with international standards. The Co-operation Council also agreed to promote bilateral dialogue focusing on market access issues, and to work for early accession of Kazakhstan to the WTO. It welcomed the signature of the agreement between the European Community and the Republic of Kazakhstan on trade in certain steel products. The
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