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Brussels, 17th May 2002
Preparation of Internal Market, Consumer Affairs and Tourism Council, Brussels 21st May 2002
(Jonathan Todd , Thorsten Muench, Per Haugaard)
Community Patent (JT)
Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein will strongly urge Ministers to make real progress towards adoption of the Regulation to create a Community Patent, proposed by the Commission in July 2000 (see IP/00/714 and MEMO/00/41). He will appeal to the Council to heed the wishes of successive European Councils and to put the EU's strategic interests first by coming to an agreement on a clear and balanced package. The March 2000 Lisbon European Council had called for the Community Patent to be adopted by the end of 2001.
He will express the Commission's willingness to facilitate a compromise over the linguistic arrangements that remain at issue, provided the overall Community Patent system remains affordable, simple, cost-efficient and legally certain. The latter element requires that jurisdictional arrangements (notably in cases of disputes concerning infringement or interpretation of Community Patents) are satisfactory and of a Community nature, though Mr Bolkestein will reiterate the Commission's willingness to accept flexible solutions within this context.
When the Council last discussed the Community Patent in December 2001 and March 2002, twelve Member States were able to agree that a compromise proposed by the Belgian Presidency was a good basis for progress (see MEMO/01/451 for details of that proposal). However, the proposed Regulation must be adopted unanimously.
Public procurement (JT)
The Council is due to seek to achieve political agreement on proposals to simplify and modernise the existing Directives on public procurement. The proposals were put forward by the Commission in May 2000 (see IP/00/461).
The proposals aims to open up further the benefits of the Internal Market to guarantee improved public services, boost the competitiveness of European companies, ensure effective allocation of public resources and stimulate economic growth and job creation. The amendments will enable purchasers and suppliers to computerise all public procurement procedures and so derive maximum benefit from electronic commerce. The legislative package also includes measures designed to make for greater clarity in the criteria determining the award of the contract and the selection of tenderers.
Mr Bolkestein will thank the Presidency for its efforts so far and also underline the efforts the Commission has made to meet Member States' requirements. He will appeal to Ministers to now take stock of the progress that has been made and agree on the basis of the Presidency's latest text.
The two main issues necessitating further discussion are the scope of award criteria for public procurement contracts and the issue of the inclusion of financial services in the scope of the Directives.
Sales promotions (JT)
The Council is due to hold an orientation debate on the proposed Regulation on sales promotions, presented by the Commission in October 2001 (see IP/01/1351 and MEMO/01/306). The Regulation would remove barriers to cross-border sales promotions arising from national rules on discounts, premiums, free gifts, promotional contests and promotional games. It complements the Commission's plans, as set out in the Green Paper on Consumer Protection (see IP/01/1354 and MEMO/01/307), to modernise consumer protection in the Internal Market (see below).
Mr Bolkestein will thank the Spanish Presidency for its efforts on this proposal. He will point out that the proposed Regulation will promote competition to the benefit of consumers across Europe. It offers strong consumer protection and respects the principle of subsidiarity while ensuring a level playing field and the proper functioning of the Internal Market. He will reiterate the Commission's view that a Regulation, which does not require transposition into national law, is the appropriate instrument in this case and that it should apply equally to "business to consumer" and "business to business" sales promotions. He will say that a "mutual recognition" element is essential so that operators of sales promotions lawfully established in one Member State should be able to provide this service freely in other Member States.
On "sales below cost", one of the more sensitive areas covered in the proposal, Mr Bolkestein will emphasise that loss-leading can be an effective, and sometimes the only, way to break into new markets and that it therefore should be permitted under certain circumstances. He will stress that the best way to prevent predatory pricing is to ensure effective enforcement of competition rules.
Proposed Directive on Recognition of Professional Qualifications (JT)
Mr Bolkestein will present to the Council the proposal put forward by the Commission in March 2002 (see IP/02/393 and MEMO/02/52). He will explain that it is a major contribution to a more dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy and an example of better, simpler regulation which will give citizens wider opportunities. The Commission is ready to work constructively with the Council and European Parliament so that the measure can be adopted as soon as possible.
The proposed Directive would clarify and simplify the rules in order to facilitate the free movement of qualified people between the Member States, particularly in view of an enlarged European Union. It would replace fifteen existing Directives and constitutes the first comprehensive modernisation of the Community system since it was conceived forty years ago. A number of changes are proposed compared with the existing rules, including greater liberalisation of the provision of services, more automatic recognition of qualifications and increased flexibility in the procedures for updating the Directive. The Commission also proposes to develop its cooperation with the Member States in order to keep citizens better informed about their rights and give them more help in getting their qualifications recognised.
Internal Market Strategy Review (JT)
Mr Bolkestein will present to the Council the Strategy Review, published in April (see IP/02/541), with the simple message: "We know what we have to do: let's do it!" The success rate of 50% in completing target measures needs to be improved. The latest Strategy Review provides a checklist of 30 measures which need to be completed by the end of next year, on the eve of enlargement and nearly half way through the Lisbon process. The Commissioner will warmly welcome the Council's intention to adopt conclusions endorsing the target measures and the deadlines for achieving them.
Work Programme of the three Presidencies (Spain, Denmark, Greece) (JT)
Mr Bolkestein will welcome the ambitious rolling work programme for the Internal Market setting out the priorities of the Spanish and the following two Presidencies and concentrating among other things on the "Lisbon Agenda" for economic reform; financial services; company law; public procurement; removing barriers to trade in services; and the recognition of professional qualifications.
The Internal Market Scoreboard (JT)
The Commissioner will present to the Council some highlights of the latest Scoreboard published on 16 May (see IP/02/722). Only seven Member States (Sweden, Denmark, Finland, the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain) currently meet the target set by EU leaders at the Stockholm European Council in Spring 2001, of having passed into national law at least 98.5 % of Internal Market Directives. The UK and Belgium have made particularly good progress in the last six months to achieve the target, while France, Greece, Germany and Ireland are furthest away from the target.
The Commission is currently dealing with over 1500 Internal Market cases and Mr Bolkestein will repeat the Commission's call for a reduction of at least 10 %. He will draw attention to the Scoreboard's conclusion that technical barriers to trade continue to hold back the overall economic performance of some sectors (e.g construction products). Finally he will say that wide price differences for general grocery and household items across Europe indicate that the Internal Market is not yet working to its full potential.
Council Resolution on "Better Regulation" (JT)
The Council is expected to adopt a Resolution in a response to a consultation paper that the Commission submitted to the Laeken European Council in December 2001. Mr Bolkestein will stress that better regulation could save businesses €50 billion annually and also that an EU of 25 or more members will need simpler rules and procedures. He will welcome the Council's Resolution and confirm that the Commission is expected to adopt a Better Regulation Package in June. The package will reflect the main points in the Resolution and will be submitted to the Seville European Council for follow-up by the Institutions as well as by Member States individually.
Evaluation of services of general interest (such as energy, transport, telecoms, post) (JT)
Mr Bolkestein will tell the Council that the Commission expects to adopt in a few weeks a methodology for the evaluation across the EU of the performance of services of general interest. This is in response to a request from the Barcelona European Council in March 2002.
The methodology will combine performance indicators with user surveys and will analyse factors such as quality and universality of service, price, number of competitors in particular markets and impact in employment and environmental terms. The availability of this information will make debate on market liberalisation more objective and productive.
Commissioner Byrne will present a short summary of the state of the play, stressing the great success of the technical operation of the euro changeover, which is confirmed by the results of the last Eurobarometer. 84 % of consumers feel that the operations in their country have taken place in good conditions. Nevertheless, he will note that, as expected, nearly half of the consumers have still difficulties to understand the prices in euro and 23 % do consider that the euro is a problem for them. Commissioner Byrne will urge Member States to continue to monitor the situation. It is important that attempts to exploit any lingering confusion over euro prices be dealt with promptly by the authorities.
Directive on distance marketing of consumer financial services (TM)
Commissioner Byrne will inform the Council of the outcome of Parliament's 2nd reading of the directive on distance marketing of consumer financial services last week (see IP/02/707) and express his hope that the Directive will soon be adopted.
Follow-up to the Green Paper on EU Consumer Protection (TM)
Commissioner Byrne will give an oral presentation of the outcome of the Green Paper consultation on EU Consumer Protection (see MEMO/01/307 and IP/01/1354). He will outline the Commission's intentions for the follow-up to the Green Paper, which will be set out in a forthcoming follow-up communication. He will explain the Commission's intentions to carry out a further round of detailed consultation with interested parties on the ideas for the harmonisation of consumer protection regulation.
Commission Communication on a new Consumer Policy Strategy (2002-2006) (TM)
Commissioner Byrne will present the Commission Communication on a new Consumer Policy Strategy (see IP/02/657), which has been adopted on 7 May 2002. This is a political document setting out the Commission overall approach to consumer policy over the coming years. The three objectives of this strategy are: "A high common level of consumer protection", "Effective enforcement of consumer protection rules" and the "Involvement of consumer organisations in EU policies". These objectives will be implemented through a set of actions over the next five years (2002-2006). A short-term rolling programme is included and will be reviewed regularly. The Commission will come up with separate and individual proposals to Council and Parliament. The objectives of this strategy are designed to help achieving integration of consumer concerns into all other EU policies, to maximise the benefits of the internal market for consumers and to prepare for enlargement. Member States held a first discussion on this strategy and will give more detailed reactions at an upcoming meeting.
Further support for the new co-operative approach for European tourism (PH)
On 21 May, the Council will adopt a Resolution presenting an important step further in the new co-operative approach for the European tourism sector. The Resolution is based on the Commission Communication "Working together for the future of European tourism" of 13 November 2001. It aims at increasing co-operation and consultation among all stakeholders in the European tourism industry. Europe, with the greatest diversity of tourist attractions in a single geographic region, is the most visited region in the world. Tourism and related activities account for 12% of EU GDP and 20 million jobs (see IP/01/1582).
The tourism industry has a cross-sectoral character and remains highly vulnerable to external events, as was seen after the 11 September terrorist attacks in the U.S. Constructive co-operation between the private and public sectors will strengthen the resilience and development of European tourism. An important step towards this goal will be taken with the first European Tourism Forum, to be held on 10 December 2002, and which will be dealing with two topics in particular: Agenda 21 and Business Impact Assessment.
The Commission welcomes the Council Resolution, which focuses on effective instruments for enhancing the competitiveness of the European tourism industry in line with EU sustainability goals.
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