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Results of the Competitiveness Council of Ministers, Brussels, 3rd March 2003

European Commission - MEMO/03/47   04/03/2003

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MEMO/03/47

Brussels, 4th March

Results of the Competitiveness Council of Ministers, Brussels, 3rd March 2003

Community Patent (JT)

The Council reached agreement on a "common political approach" concerning the proposed Community Patent (see MEMO/02/255, MEMO/01/451, IP/00/714 and MEMO/00/41). This "common political approach" includes the main outlines of the system of jurisdiction whereby a centralised Community Court would rule on disputes, the language regimes, costs, the role of national patent offices and the distribution of fees.

"Today's agreement marks a welcome demonstration that Europe means business, and lends credibility to Europe's efforts to become the most competitive economy in the world by 2010", commented Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein after the Council. "The Community Patent will give inventors the option of obtaining, with just one application, a single patent legally valid throughout the European Union at a fraction of the existing cost of doing so. At the moment, patent protection in just eight European countries costs some €50,000 around five times as much as in the US or Japan. The Community Patent, on the basis of the current compromise, would halve these costs to some €25,000 for 25 Member States rather than just eight still more than the US or Japan but very much better than the current situation."

"I am pleased that the Council has today agreed, in accordance with the Commission's original proposal, that there should be a single, centralised Community Court to rule on disputes arising from Community Patents. This ensures that companies using the Community Patent would not have to run the risk of potential legal action before national courts in each and every Member State, with the legal uncertainty, inconvenience and cost that would have entailed."

The Council is now due to agree and adopt the text of the proposed Regulation on the Community Patent. In the meantime, the Commission is due to present proposals for Council Decisions to confer jurisdiction on the European Court of Justice to rule on issues arising from Community Patents and to establish a specialised Court to do so. For its part, the Council is due to propose to the European Patent Organisation (created by the 1973 Munich Convention) to convene a diplomatic conference to revise the Munich Convention so as to allow the European Patent Office in Munich to issue Community Patents. This revision of the Munich Convention would then have to be ratified by the EPO member countries.

Takeover bids (JT)

The Council reviewed progress on the for a Directive on takeover bids, presented by the Commission on 2 October 2002 (see IP/02/1402 and MEMO/02/201). The proposal was identified as a priority by the March 2000 Lisbon European Council in view of its potential benefits in terms of facilitating restructuring and so boosting competitiveness. It would in particular offer European firms greater legal certainty for cross-border takeover bids and protect the interests of minority shareholders where control of a company changes hands.

Speaking after the Council, Commissioner Bolkestein recalled that "The proposal is based on the principle that the future of the company should be decided by its owners the shareholders - and not by its managers."

"For my part", Mr Bolkestein continued, "I have repeated what I said when I first presented this proposal namely that the Commission is in favour of creating as level a playing field for takeovers as possible. In particular, if appropriate legal solutions could be found to neutralising shareholders' multiple voting rights in a vote by shareholders to change a company's articles of association after a successful bid, the Commission would not be opposed."

"I also stressed the need for all parties to work together to reach agreement on this proposal. The Commission is ready to examine all ideas which can help the early adoption of this proposal, for example by means of a single reading by the EU's Council of Ministers and the European Parliament," he added.

The Council instructed the Committee of Member States' Permanent Representatives to pursue work on this file as a matter of priority.

Adoption of Competitiveness Council's contribution to the Spring European Council (PH)

Commissioner Erkki Liikanen highlighted that the Competitiveness Council must establish its role as the 'guardian of competitiveness', ensuring that the effects of all measures taken on the competitiveness of European industry and services are fully taken into account. The ability to get entrepreneurship, an environment that stimulates and encourages small business, innovation and a competitive, dynamic industry on the Lisbon agenda and to keep them there, will determine how effectively the Competitiveness Council plays its role.

The item was followed by a public debate on

Competitiveness and entrepreneurship (PH)

The Council welcomed

  • the Green Paper "Entrepreneurship in Europe",

  • the 2003 Report from the Commission on the implementation of the European Charter for Small Enterprises,

  • the Communication from the Commission "Thinking small in an enlarging Europe".

On the first question about the Green Paper on Entrepreneurship, Commissioner for Enterprise and Information Society, Erkki Liikanen, pointed out that the Green Paper is complementary to the European Charter for small enterprises: while the Charter resulted from a top-down approach, the Green Paper seeks to stimulate debate amongst a wide audience of stakeholders. The Green Paper also defines entrepreneurship as a 'mindset' and considers the influence of society at large on entrepreneurial initiative and risk-taking.

The Member States emphasized SMEs' crucial role in job creation, growth and innovation in Europe and the need to better integrate the different policies enhancing entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship and competitiveness go hand in hand and to create a more favourable culture, education from early schoolyears play a key role. The Member States mentioned also the need to organise information campaigns to improve the image of entrepreneurship, to cut red tape, to improve the access to financing and to public procurement and to cooperate actively at the regional and local level.

Finally, the Council adopted the conclusions on "the Promotion of Entrepreneurship and small firms".

Preparation of the Spring European Council (FF)

Ministers endorsed the Report of the Competitiveness Council to the Spring European Council. The Report stresses the need for increased co-ordination between Member States to create the European Research Area (ERA), a true internal market for science and knowledge, through the open method of co-ordination. This should firstly be applied to a number of research-related areas, such as the objective of raising European research spending to 3% of EU average gross domestic product (GDP), up from the current 1,9%. The debate proved that Member States are clearly committed to applying the open method of co-ordination in the research field.

Green Paper on European Space Policy (FF)

European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin presented the Green Paper on European Space Policy (COM(2003)17 final). The Paper forms the basis of a consultation, to be held from 22 January to 30 May 2003. The French and Italian delegation welcomed Mr Busquin's presentation, and called for decisive action at EU level to improve co-ordination in the space field and bring about a true European space policy. The Presidency announced that an in-depth discussion on European Space Policy will take place at next meeting of the Competitiveness Council on 12/13 May.

International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) (FF)

Commissioner Busquin presented the state of play of negotiations on the ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) nuclear fusion energy research project. A full progress report will be presented at the forthcoming Competitiveness Council on 12/13 May.

Commissioner Busquin underlined two issues have still to be solved: the choice of the site where the ITER facility will be built, and cost sharing. He underlined that, with the return of the United States and the participation of the People's Republic of China, costs will be better distributed. He also underlined no additional financial burden will result for the EU budget.

The Spanish and French delegations underlined the importance of the ITER project. They both confirmed their application to host the ITER facility. A consensus on a draft international agreement to fulfil the ITER, including the site and the cost-sharing scheme between partners, is envisaged for the end of 2003.

EUREKA meets ASIA (FF)

The Portuguese delegation presented to the Council the third "EUREKA meets Asia" event, to be held in Macao in May. The event aims to strengthen the relationship between European and Asian, and particularly Chinese, businesses.


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