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Brussels, 9th December 2010
The EU Competitiveness Council will meet in Brussels on Friday, 10 December under the chairmanship of the Belgian Presidency: Mr. Jean-Claude Marcourt (Walloon Minister for the Economy, SME's, Foreign Trade and New Technologies) and Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne (Federal Enterprise and Simplification Minister). The European Commission will be represented by Vice President Viviane Reding, responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, Vice President Joaquin Almunia, responsible for Competition, Vice-President Antonio Tajani, responsible for Industry and Entrepreneurship, Commissioner Michel Barnier, responsible for Internal Market and Services and Commissioner John Dalli responsible for Health and Consumer Policy.
1 - Internal Market :
Single Market Act (SMA) Conclusions
Improving the Single Market is a key pillar of the EU 2020 Strategy and a prerequisite for its success. Though the Single Market has proven a valuable asset in shielding Europe from the worst effects of the crisis, it has also suffered serious setbacks. Growth is flat or negative, the jobless rate has hit 10% and productivity has plummeted; Europe risks losing competitiveness if things remain unchanged. At the Competitiveness Council, the Member States are expected to adopt conclusions which are generally supportive of the approach followed by the Commission in its Single Market Act which is a comprehensive package of proposals announced at the end of October and currently being debated throughout Europe. This comprehensive package highlights key priorities in the areas of economics, governance and the general public in an attempt to re-launch growth and create jobs in the EU. A number of public forums have already been held, and will continue until the end of February 2011. Following the public debate, the Commission anticipates enacting these proposals by 2012.
Betting and Gambling Conclusions
The number of online gambling services is growing in the EU. As of 2008 the sector accounted for just over € 6,16 bn or 7,5 % of the overall gambling market. Web-based gambling is the fastest growing segment of the gambling market and is expected to double in size in five years. Under the leadership of the French presidency in 2008 efforts were made to step up the regulation of online gambling in the EU in order to ensure Internal Market rules were being upheld and that citizens were adequately protected.
The Belgian Presidency, which has in turn focused on the role of public authorities and cooperation between regulators, will announce its conclusions for adoption at the Competitiveness Council. The text that will be presented and adopted underlines several key issues, notably that Member States recognise the importance of administrative cooperation through tools such as the Internal Market Information System (IMI). The next step will be the presentation of a Green Paper to launch a consultation on issues relating to the protection of minors, gambling problems such as addiction, crime prevention, and how to effectively implement regulations in the online gambling market. The Commission believes that as a result of both current and forthcoming efforts within the Council the consultation will stimulate lively discussion in the EU on how to generate effective solutions for this sector.
EU Patent (public debate)
Ministers are to revisit the issue of an EU Patent regime. Earlier this year the Commission launched a proposal on translation arrangements for a future EU Patent (see IP/10/870), which is the final element needed for a single EU Patent to become a reality. Obtaining a patent in Europe currently costs ten times more than in the US. This situation discourages research, development and innovation, and undermines Europe's competitiveness. The Commission believes that Europe needs to act so that innovators can protect their inventions at an affordable cost with a single patent covering the entire EU territory. The goal would be to implement a system with few additional costs. Currently, translation fees make up the lion's share of the costs incurred for validating a patent in Europe. Language remains a contentious issue, with some countries voicing concern over the fact that English, French and German would be the languages patents will be validated in. As no decision has been reached, the Council will discuss the possibility of enhanced cooperation on this issue. This is when a group of Member States agree to move on an issue when the full cooperation between all 27 countries cannot be achieved. A number of countries favour this option and have requested that the Commission investigates the possibility. Reaching a conclusion on the EU patent is viewed as necessary for the completion of the internal market for innovative products. The current complexity and high costs of validating a patent in the EU leads to a fragmented system in the EU, a major obstacle for innovative companies and lost competitiveness.
Services are one of the EU's largest and most dynamic economic sectors, accounting for about 75% of GDP and 70% of employment in the EU. However barriers to entry still persist in the services sector, preventing untapped sources of growth and job creation from being realised. It is for this reason that the Services Directive, adopted in late 2006, was introduced. The Directive aims to remove barriers to trade in the services sector by requiring Member States to remove excessive or unjustified requirements, simplify administrative procedures and establish "Points of Single Contact" to allow businesses to process paperwork electronically. It is of particular importance to businesses seeking to establish services cross-border and relates to services such as retail, construction, tourism, and most regulated professions. Implementation of the Directive has proven challenging, particularly in cases where it requires Member States to overhaul existing legislation. In 2010 Member States began engaging in a process of mutual evaluation of the Directive.
The Council will discuss the results of this process as well as the consultation that followed. The state of the Directive's implementation will also be discussed, with the Commission providing an overview of the current situation, highlighting specific areas and countries where efforts need to be stepped up.
Single Market Award 2010
Internal Market and Services Commissioner Michel Barnier and Belgian Economy Minister Vincent van Quickenborne will present the Single Market Award, a prize that highlights the importance of free movement principles underpinning the EU Single Market. The Single Market Award aims to highlight the importance of the single market and at the same time raise awareness of, and show the opportunities associated with, the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital within the EU. The Award also calls attention to the problems that may arise when Single Market rules do not work in practice. Upon criteria such as "European spirit", problem complexity, originality and effect of the proposed solution, the SOLVIT and Enterprise Europe Network networks presented their candidates to an independent jury comprised by the European Commission and the Belgian Presidency that will choose the grand prize winner.
2 - Competition
Ministers are expected to adopt a new coal regulation enabling Member States to grant State aid to facilitate the closure of uncompetitive mines. The current Regulation ends on 31 December 2010. The Commission made a proposal on 20 July (see IP/10/984). On Wednesday, the Commission discussed the state of play in light of the extensive debate that has been ongoing both at the European Parliament and at the Council, and gave Joaquín Almunia, Commission Vice President in charge of Competition Policy, mandate to present its revised position to the Council with a view to reach an agreement. The Commission's new position accepts to allow operating aid for closure of the mines up to 31 December 2018 provided that a plan mitigating the environmental impact of the use of coal is put in place and that there is a reduction in the amount granted each year, so that in 2017 the operating subsidies left are only a fraction of what they were in 2011.
3 - Industry:
An Integrated Industrial Policy for the Globalisation Era
The aim is for the Competitiveness Council to adopt Council conclusions on the communication “An Integrated Industrial Policy for the Globalisation Era”.
The Communication is a flagship initiative of the Europe 2020 strategy, which sets out a strategy that aims to boost growth and jobs by maintaining and supporting a strong, diversified and competitive industrial base in Europe offering well-paid jobs while becoming less carbon intensive. The Communication is accompanied by a report on the competiveness performance of individual Member States and the annual European Competitiveness Report.
The proposed actions in the Communication will focus on:
4 – Consumers
Consumer Rights Directive
The Belgian presidency will inform Ministers about the general approach on the Consumer Rights Directive. The Directive aims to provide a high level of consumer protection while ensuring that businesses can benefit from a level playing field. The Commission proposed the legislation in 2008.
Fourth Consumer Markets Scoreboard - Information from the Commission
Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, MrJohn Dalli, will present the value of the Scoreboard in monitoring the Single Market and national consumer markets.
Commissioner Dalli will highlight the possibilities offered by the Scoreboard to monitor the national consumer markets and will present the link between the growth agenda and the EU2020 process, where the Scoreboard can provide useful data to feed into the Annual Growth Survey and in the National Reform Programmes.
The Scoreboard is a market monitoring tool which analyses how the single market is working both at national and EU level from a consumer point of view. It acts as the alarm system which informs national and EU policymakers of the problems faced by consumers and it communicates to citizens that their daily concerns are being addressed.