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Preparation of the Competitiveness Council of Ministers, Brussels, 28 September 2007

European Commission - MEMO/07/384   27/09/2007

Other available languages: none

MEMO/07/384

Brussels, 27th September 2007

Preparation of the Competitiveness Council of Ministers, Brussels, 28 September 2007

The EU Competitiveness Council will meet in Brussels on Friday 28 June under the chairmanship of Manuel Pinho, Portuguese Minister for Economy and Innovation and José Mariano Gago, Minister for Science and Technology. The European Commission will be represented by Vice-President Günter Verheugen (Enterprise and Industry Policy), Commissioner Viviane Reding (Information Society and Media), Commissioner Meglena Kuneva (Consumer Protection) and Commissioner Janez Potočnik (Science and Research). The following subjects are on the agenda:

1. Industrial policy – Economic and policy context of the mid-term review (TvL)

Background

The Communication in July was a follow-up to the industrial policy Communication of 2005 in which a number of horizontal and sectoral initiatives were announced (see IP/07/1007). The Council and Parliament endorsed the Commission’s programmatic approach and invited the Commission to report on progress in 2007 and put forward new initiatives where appropriate.

Overall, industry is currently performing well and there is no need for a fundamental change of this policy. However, globalisation, technological advances and environmental challenges will intensify over the coming years. Policy actions fostering industrial competitiveness are partly carried out at Community and partly at Member State level, but the link between EU industrial policy and national policy actions should be strengthened. Nevertheless, some important challenges such as the creation of an open and competitive Single Market need action on a European level. Also synergies between European and national level need to be explored when it comes to the industrial policy response to the energy and climate change agenda.

At this Council

The Council will review the state of play of the ongoing initiatives and discuss the possible launch of new initiatives. The Council is expected to adopt conclusions at its meeting in November.

2 E-Skills Communication: Actions to foster 21st Century e-Skills (TvL)

Background

The Commission has adopted a Communication on “e-Skills for the 21st Century: Fostering Competitiveness, Growth and Jobs” on 07.09.2007. It proposes a long-term e-skills agenda and five action lines at the EU level.

Recent reports and surveys indicate that Europe may face severe e-skills shortages and mismatches in the coming years. At the same time, e-skills are becoming central to boost innovation, productivity and employability and to respond to global challenges. To this end, the European Commission has proposed a long-term e-skills agenda and a set of action lines at EU level following extensive expert group and stakeholder consultations. These actions will complement and enrich significant efforts already under way in Europe (IP/07/1286).

At this Council

This Council meeting will continue the discussions on this issue which took place at Council Working Group level so far. It is planned that the November Competitiveness Council will adopt conclusions on e-skills.

3. Two years of Modern SME policy: what have we achieved? (TvL)

Background

The European Commission will present soon a mid-term review on its policy for small and medium sized enterprises (SME's), launched two years ago.

The mid term review will report on progress achieved in the five main areas of the Modern SME policy (cutting red tape, improving SMEs’ access to markets, promoting entrepreneurship and skills, improving SMEs’ growth potential and strengthening dialogue and consultation with SME stakeholders).

At this Council

The Council will discuss achievement and possible avenues for this area .

4. Product safety (HK)

Background

European Consumer Protection Commissioner Meglena Kuneva will set out the latest developments in the relation to the Commission's 2 month review of consumer product safety control systems and ask Ministers for their strong political support. In particular, she will discuss with Ministers the critical role of national surveillance authorities in the enforcement of consumer safety standards. The Commissioner will brief Ministers on her recent discussions with the toy industry.

5. Timeshare (HK)

Background

On 7 June 2007 the Commission presented new legislation on timeshare and other holiday products. The 1994 EU Timeshare Directive gives consumers basic rights to clear information, a ban on deposits and right to change their mind and withdraw. The new proposals published in June aim to tackle loopholes in the current rules, to cover new products which have emerged on the market – like discount holiday clubs, and "timeshare-like" holidays on cruise boats, canal boats and caravans - and extend protection to areas like timeshare resale and exchange clubs.

The point is listed on the agenda as "Information from the Presidency". This information will be given orally. The Commissioner is expected to respond to the Presidency and give her appreciation of the progress of this file.
http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/cons_int/safe_shop/timeshare/index_en.htm

6. Green Paper on the review of the consumer acquis (HK)

Background

On 8 February 2007 the Commission adopted a Green Paper on the Review of the body of EU consumer protection legislation or "acquis". The initiative aims at revamping core EU consumer rules – including guarantees, delivery-related issues, unfair contract terms, cooling off periods - to improve consumer confidence and boost cross-border shopping. The Green Paper launched a public consultation on 28 suggestions (cutting across eight Directives) for possible new action.

At this Council

Under this point the Commissioner will inform about the outcome that featured in the responses to the consultation and the likely way forward. This information will be given orally. A report on the results of the public consultation launched with the Green Paper will be published by mid October.
http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/cons_int/safe_shop/acquis/index_en.htm

7. Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs) on Embedded Computing Systems and nanoelectronics research (MS)

Background

ARTEMIS and ENIAC are proposals for Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs) which are designed to help European industry consolidate its world leadership in embedded computing technologies (invisible computers - embedded - in all machines that help run them) and nanoelectronics respectively. Such JTIs will pool industry, Member State and Commission resources into targeted research programmes. These should create a critical mass for European research and innovation, consolidating the European research community in key strategic areas and streamlining project funding to bring research results on-stream quicker (see IP/07/668, IP/07/864).

Member States and Associated Countries can simply request to participate in the JTIs, which will guarantee their presence in the decision making process.

At this Council

The Member states will express their views on JTIs. The Commission would welcome swift discussions so that these first JTIs may be decided by Council before the end of 2007. This would allow them to start with their first calls for research proposals in 2008. A delay of a few months would risk losing financing from Member State budgets in 2008 as national authorities may not have the time to earmark and commit funds to ARTEMIS and ENIAC.

8. Ambient Assisted Living joint research and development programme (MS)

Background

Responding to the needs of Europe's growing ageing population in June this year, the Commission adopted its Action Plan for "Ageing well in the Information Society" (see IP/07/831). This Action Plan was accompanied by a proposal for support to a new joint Europe-wide applied research programme on technologies that will help people live more comfortably in later life, called Ambient Assisted Living. The proposed programme will pool Member State and EU funding.

This new initiative should improve quality of life and social participation for older people in Europe, create new business opportunities for Europe's industries and lead to more efficient health and social services. The proposal will raise the European research investment on information and communications technologies (ICTs) for ageing well to over €1bn. It has the following specific aims:

  • Foster the emergence of innovative ICT-based products and services for ageing well, thus increasing the quality of life of elderly people, and reducing the costs of health and social care;
  • Create critical mass of research, development and innovation at EU level in technologies and services for ageing well in the information society;
  • Improve conditions for industrial exploitation by providing a coherent European framework for developing common approaches which can be easily adapted to meet with varying social preferences and regulatory aspects at national or regional level across Europe.

Since the launch of the co-decision process 19 countries (16 EU Member States and 3 countries associated with the EU's 7th research Framework Programme - see IP/06/1590) have agreed to participate in this Joint Programme. For more information see: http://www.aal-europe.eu/

At this Council

The Commission will inform the Council on the Ageing Well action plan and the Ambient Assisted Living applied research programme. Subject to the timetable for co-decision by Council and the European Parliament, the Commission would like to begin supporting the Joint Programme on Ambient Assisted Living in late spring 2008.

Ministers will exchange views on the co-decision proposal for the Joint Programme.

9. Joint Technology Initiatives

Background

Joint Technology Initiatives, known in short as JTIs, are a major innovation of the EU's 7th Research Framework Programme. For the first time ever at European level, industry, the research community and public authorities build together public/private partnerships, to pursue ambitious common research objectives under four different initiatives:

  • IMI will support the removal of research bottlenecks in the drug development process by fostering Innovative Medicines (MEMO/07/190);
  • Clean Sky will work on a greener air transport system to reduce CO2 emissions by around 40%, NOx emissions by 60% and noise by 50% (IP/07/854);
  • ARTEMIS will sustain Europe’s world lead in embedded systems, specialised computer components dedicated to a specific task that are part of a larger system (IP/06/1589),;
  • ENIAC will target the next level of miniaturisation required to cross the threshold from micro to nanoelectronics, as more and more functions are integrated into simple commercial products (IP/07/864).

The approach proposed by the JTIs signals a genuine change in the way Europe promotes industry-driven research. JTIs create major partnerships between publicly and privately-funded organisations in research, concentrating on those technologies which are strategic to Europe's future and for which research and technological development powerfully increases competitiveness and generates a better quality of life for the Europeans (see MEMO/07/191).

At this Council

The Council will have an exchange of views on these first four JTIs.

10. EuroSTARS

Background

R&D-performing Small and Medium-sized companies (SMEs) are the entrepreneurial stars of Europe. For them, the Commission adopted on 12 September the EuroSTARS proposal. EuroSTARS is a joint research programme by 27 EUREKA countries, including 22 EU Member States and 5 States associated to the 7th Framework Programme. EuroSTARS aims at providing financial support to research projects initiated and led by R&D performing SMEs. Counting on up to EUR 100 million from the Seventh Framework Programme's budget and with at least EUR 300 million of public funding from the participating countries, EuroSTARS expects to leverage about an equal amount from the private sector, resulting in about EUR 800 million to support R&D performing SMEs.

EUROSTARS is one of several areas identified for a higher level of research co-operation among the Member States, with the Commission participating actively, on the basis of Article 169 of the Treaty. The idea is to go beyond mere coordination of research programmes to encompass a voluntary integration process covering scientific, management and financial aspects of research projects (see IP/07/1313).

At this Council

European Commissioner for Research Janez Potočnik will present the EuroSTARS proposal to the Competitiveness Ministers.

11. European Research Area

Background

The European Commission's Green Paper "The European Research Area: New Perspectives", adopted on 4 April 2007, recognised the challenges posed to Europe by underinvestment in and fragmentation of research and the growing globalisation of science & technology. It made clear that existing potential needs to be tapped by providing the freedom for people, infrastructures, organisations, funding, knowledge circulation and global co-operation to operate effectively, securing knowledge firmly at the heart of society. Only with better generation and use of knowledge will the EU achieve its economic, social and environmental ambitions, outlined in the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs.

The launch of the Green Paper opened a 4-month on-line public consultation, which generated a strong interest, with 800 responses and 686 answers to the online questionnaire from individuals and public and private organisations (including universities, industry, NGOs, etc) from 26 Member States and a number of non-EU countries. The ongoing analysis of the responses reveals support for the ERA and provides answers on how best to deepen and widen the ERA, in order to fully contribute to the renewed Lisbon Strategy.

The early results will be discussed at a high-level conference on the Future of Science and Technology in Europe, organised by the European Commission and the Portuguese Presidency in Lisbon on 8-10 October 2007. The debate will then continue, notably in the Council and European Parliament, and a final analysis of the public consultation will be published in early 2008. These elements will provide the basis for new initiatives on furthering the ERA to be announced by the Commission in 2008 (see IP/07/469).

At this Council

European Commissioner for Research Janez Potočnik will provide a first report to Ministers on the preliminary results of the wide-ranging public consultation launched by the ERA Green Paper.

Any other business

Administrative Burdens Reduction – Online Consultation (TvL)

Background

Tell us if red tape makes your life difficult via new website: The Commission launched on 21 September an on-line consultation available in all languages where everybody can point at unnecessarily burdensome administrative obligations and suggest reduction measures. This consultation is part of the “Action Programme for reducing administrative burdens in the European Union (objective 25 % less administrative costs by 2012) (see IP/07/1373).

Together with the launch of the online consultation, a contractor has been entrusted with measuring the administrative costs arising from European legislation and their implementation at national level. A high level group of stakeholders – to be chaired by Edmund Stoiber after he steps down as Bavarian Prime Minister - will advise on the ongoing work under the Action Programme for reducing unnecessary burdens (IP/07/1339).

Meanwhile, the action programme for reducing administrative burdens announced by the Commission in January 2007 continues to make the life of economic operators easier. To alleviate the burdens on businesses immediately, ten so-called 'fast track actions' have been tabled and almost half of them have already been adopted (IP/07/294).

At this Council

The Vice President will inform the Council inform on progress of the action programme to reduce administrative burdens.


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