Brussels, 15 February 2013
Competitiveness Council – 18-19 February 2013
The first EU Competitiveness Council under the mandate of the Irish EU Presidency will meet in Brussels on Monday, 18 and Tuesday, 19 February chaired by Mr Richard Bruton, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Mr Seán Sherlock, Minister for Research and Innovation, of Ireland. The European Commission will be represented by Vice-President Antonio Tajani, responsible for Industry and entrepreneurship, by Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, responsible for Research, Innovation and Science and Commissioner Michel Barnier, responsible for Internal Market and Services.
Monday, 18 February
RESEARCH AND INNOVATION
1. Annual Growth Survey – how research can contribute to growth and jobs
On 28 November 2012 the European Commission adopted the 2013 Annual Growth Survey (AGS), setting out the five priorities designed to guide Member States through the crisis to renewed growth (IP/12/1274). Research ministers will discuss in particular how research and innovation can contribute to the objective of promoting growth and competitiveness, in particular what Europe is doing to foster new technologies, the role of public-private partnerships and how research results can best be translated into new products and services. Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn will address all these points and note also how the research budget, through the use of innovative financial instruments, is used to improve access to finance for research-intensive businesses, both big and small.
2. Open access to scientific information
Ministers will discuss the European Commission's proposals on open access to scientific information on the basis of questions prepared by the Irish Presidency. Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn will urge them to swiftly put in place national contact points so that the EU can coordinate its approach to the issue.
Open access gives readers free access to research results over the Internet, without having to pay subscriptions to scientific journals. Broader and more rapid access to scientific information is a key goal of the drive to complete a European Research Area.
In July 2012 the Commission presented its proposals on open access. These included a Communication that sets out open access policy for research funded by the Commission through the future EU research and innovation programme Horizon 2020. They also included a Recommendation to Member States outlining a complete policy framework for improving access to, and preservation of, scientific information. (IP/12/790 and MEMO/12/565)
The Commission has established open access as a general principle for Horizon 2020. As of 2014, all articles produced with EU funding will have to be made accessible immediately online by the publisher ('gold' open access) or in an open access repository after a 6 or 12 month delay ('green' open access). The Commission has called on Member States to also embrace open access. The goal is for 60% of all publicly-funded scientific articles in Europe to be available under open access by 2016, making it easier for researchers and businesses to use this information.
3. Joint Programming
Ministers will take stock of the ten Joint Programming initiatives (JPIs) launched since 2009 on the basis of a report prepared by a group of high-level experts. Joint Programming is a mechanism for Member States to coordinate their research activities in specific areas which they themselves define. Moving towards greater trans-national cooperation in setting research agendas is one of the key goals of the drive to complete the European Research Area.
Tuesday, 19 February
1. Annual Growth Survey and state of the single market integration 2013
On 28 November 2012 the European Commission adopted the 2013 Annual Growth Survey (AGS), setting out the five priorities designed to guide Member States through the crisis to renewed growth (IP/12/1274). The Commission also published its first Annual Report on Single Market Integration (MEMO/12/913), to present an analysis of the functioning of the Single Market in the European Semester process.
The AGS kick-started the European Semester for economic policy coordination, which ensures Member States align their budgetary and economic plans with the Stability and Growth Pact and the Europe 2020 strategy.
The Council will hold a policy debate on the European Semester and in particular the Annual Growth Survey, the first annual State of the Single Market Integration Report and the Single Market Acts 1 and 2. Commissioner Barnier will take the opportunity to underline the importance of the competitiveness and growth dimension of the European Semester.
2. Single Market Acts I and II: state of play
The Single Market can do more to bring about new growth and jobs, to strengthen citizens' and businesses' confidence and to deliver concrete day-to-day benefits to them. Modernising and deepening the Single Market is a continuous exercise. The Single Market must respond to a constantly changing world where social and demographic challenges, new technology and imperatives, such as climate change, must be incorporated in policy thinking.
This is why Single Market Act I adopted on 13 April 2011 (IP/11/469) and Single Market Act II adopted on 3 October 2012 (IP/12/1054) proposed key priority actions for new growth designed to generate real effects on the ground and make citizens and businesses confident to use the Single Market to their advantage.
The Council is expected to discuss the state of play of implementing the Single Market Acts 1 and 2, based on a summary paper by the Irish Presidency. Commissioner Barnier will call again for a rapid examination of the proposals for the key actions.
The discussion on REACH will provide the opportunity for Ministers to discuss the Commission's report on the general review of the REACH regulation adopted on 5 February 2013, as well as well as the Commission's Roadmap on Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs).
The use of chemicals in Europe has become considerably safer since the REACH regulation entered into force, according to the European Commission report published on February 5. More readily available information about chemical substances on the market and better targeted risk management measures mean that risks from substances registered under REACH have significantly decreased. The trend is expected to continue, as industry is continuously working towards finding substitutes for the most hazardous chemicals. Five years after REACH's entry into force, implementation is in full swing. Companies have now registered 30,601 files with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) describing the uses and properties of 7,884 chemical substances manufactured or placed on the market. According to a Eurobarometer survey published on February 5, 61% of Europeans think that chemicals are now safer than 10 years ago.
The review concludes that while some adjustments are needed, no major overhaul is required. More readily available information about chemical substances on the market and better-targeted risk management measures mean that risks from substances registered under REACH have significantly decreased.
The Competitiveness Council will discuss the Commission's assessment of REACH objectives so far, as well as its plan of assessing potential candidates for SVHCs.
VP Tajani will also present the Commission's 3 October Communication on the second regulatory review of nanomaterials. Ministers will discuss in particular the Commission's aim to apply the REACH framework to the risk management of nanomaterials.
2. Entrepreneurship Action Plan
On 9 January, the Commission adopted an Action Plan to support European entrepreneurs and boost entrepreneurship in Europe. In a time of economic difficulties, this Action Plan should contribute to promote small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and ultimately, generate employment opportunities.
The Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan aims to make it easier and more attractive for Europeans to start their own businesses, notably by fostering entrepreneurship through educating and training. With 4 million new jobs created every year, new companies, especially small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), create the most new jobs in Europe. Therefore, the plan stresses the key role of education and training to nurture new generations of entrepreneurs, and includes specific measures to help budding entrepreneurs among young people, women, seniors, migrants, and the unemployed. It also tackles obstacles to entrepreneurship such as ambitious measures to facilitate start-ups and new businesses, make transfers of business ownership more successful, improve access to finance, and give honest entrepreneurs a second chance after bankruptcy.
Vice President Tajani will present the Action Plan and its main pillars to the Competitiveness Council, emphasising the importance of entrepreneurship in yielding growth and employment in Europe. To this end, he will call for the long term support of Ministers to this strategy and encourage implementation at all relevant levels.
The Competitiveness Council is expected to take stock of the Action Plan and discuss the road ahead for its implementation.
3. The situation of the steel sector in Europe
In light of the crisis in the sector and the wave of plant closures, Member States decided to organise a discussion on the situation of the steel sector in Europe.
The High Level Group on steel that met in Brussels on 12 February adopted Recommendations to help create the right framework for the European steel sector to maintain its long-term competitiveness in an increasingly global context. These concrete proposals include measures on trade, raw materials, legislation costs, climate change, energy, environment, employment and research and development.
Vice President Tajani will take stock of the recent discussions of the High Level Group, and sketch out the Commission's response to the difficult situation the sector finds itself in.
The Competitiveness Council is expected to discuss both possible short term responses and long-term strategies.
4. Presentation of the package on market surveillance and general product safety
On 13 February, the Commission adopted a package to improve product safety in the EU by strengthening market surveillance in the Member States. The package should enable better coordination of how authorities check products and enforce the product safety rules across the EU. This will contribute both to strengthening consumer protection and to creating a level playing field for businesses.
VP Tajani and Commissioner Borg will present the proposed package to Ministers and outline the opportunities it provides for strengthening the security of products on the markets
5. Presentation of the "Missions for Growth"
Vice President Tajani will present to Ministers the "Missions for Growth" he has been leading since late 2011. The Missions for Growth involve visits to growth regions in the world to help EU enterprises better profit from fast growing emerging markets. Accompanied by business delegations composed of representatives of European companies and industry associations, the visits aim to help companies and SMEs internationalise their activities, and reinforce industrial cooperation in areas such as industrial innovation, key enabling technologies, tourism, space and access to raw materials.
This will be an opportunity to explain the objectives of these visits, involving European business representatives, and to draw some first conclusions on past Missions for Growth. VP Tajani will then inform the Competitiveness Council of the next Missions planned for 2013.