The EU competitiveness Council will meet in Brussels on Monday 30 and Tuesday 31 May under the chairmanship of Mr Zoltan Csefalvay, Minister of State for Strategic Affairs of Hungary. The European Commission will be represented by Vice-President Neelie Kroes, responsible for Digital Agenda, Vice-President Antonio Tajani, responsible for Industry and Entrepreneurship, Commissioner Marie Geoghegan-Quinn, responsible for Research and Innovation, Commissioner Michel Barnier, responsible for Internal Market and Services and Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth. Commission and Member States are expected to make a push on several key issues: patent, Single Market Act, Innovation, Research, Digital agenda and Education.
Monday 30 May
INTERNAL MARKET AND INDUSTRY ISSUES (Chantal Hughes)
European Private Company Statute (SPE)
On 25 June 2008 the European Commission put forward a proposal for a regulation on a European Private Company Statute (SPE) (IP/08/1003). It was designed to address the onerous obligations on SMEs operating across borders, which need to set up subsidiaries in different company forms in every Member State in which they want to do business.
Most of the discussions on the SPE Statute were concluded under the Swedish Presidency in 2009. The remaining issues will now be discussed at the Competitiveness Council where we hope an agreement can be reached (unanimity required).
In the current economic climate in the EU, it is essential that we provide SMEs with tools which will help them not just to survive but also to grow. The SPE offers added value for European SMEs and its potential has to be used. The Commission would therefore welcome a reasonable compromise that represents real added value for all European small and medium sized companies.
Creation of a unitary patent protection and the applicable translation regime and of a unified patent litigation system
These two points will be taken separately in the Council.
Unitary patent protection
As part of the Single Market Act (IP/11/469) tabled on 13 April 2011, the European Commission presented two legislative proposals (IP/11/470), under the enhanced cooperation procedure, that are aimed at reducing the cost of patents in Europe by up to 80%. This will allow any company or individual to protect their inventions through a single European patent which would be valid in 25 Member States. The proposed regulations lay down the terms and conditions for obtaining unitary patent protection, its legal effects and the applicable translation arrangements. The draft regulations are now with the Council and the European Parliament for consideration. The Commission hopes that Spain and Italy, who are not yet among the participants, will join the enhanced cooperation in due course.
Obtaining a patent in Europe currently costs ten times more than one in the US because of national validation and translation costs. This situation discourages research, development and innovation, and undermines Europe's competitiveness.
Monday will be an opportunity for a first debate on the Commission's proposal.
Creating a unified patent litigation system
Currently, patent litigation in Europe is fragmented and expensive: national patent courts only decide about the validity of the patents in their territory and a patent owner may be required to start court proceedings in a number of different courts in order to enforce his/her patents on the same invention throughout Europe. This creates unnecessary costs as well as legal uncertainty.
To address these issues, a draft agreement for the setting up of a unified patent court had been developed between 2007 and 2009 under consecutive Presidencies. In its opinion (Opinion of the Court in 1/09), the European Court of Justice (CJEU) has however raised certain concerns in respect of the draft. In order not to lose momentum for the setting up of the future patent system, a solution on the patent litigation system needs to be found as quickly as possible. The Commission has proposed a possible solution in a working paper which addresses the concerns raised by the CJEU and which needs to be examined together with the Member States. Any solution needs to be in the interest of the users of the patent system.
In February 2009, the European Commission put forward a proposal to amend the Fourth Council Directive (78/660/EEC) on the annual accounts of certain types of companies (IP/09/328). The aim was to allow Member States to make it easier for the EU's smallest companies (commonly referred to as "micro-entities") to deal with the requirements of this Directive.
An agreement is within reach in the Council on this matter. The Commission considers that at this stage it is important to support a compromise: not only will it lead to some burden reduction but it is also an important message to our industries that Europe is able to act on burden reduction.
Single Market Act
On 13 April 2011, the Commission adopted the Communication on the Single Market Act1 aimed at delivering twelve projects to relaunch the Single Market by 2012. These twelve instruments of growth, competitiveness and social progress range from worker mobility to SME finance and consumer protection, via digital content, taxation and trans-European networks. Their aim is to boost growth and jobs in the Single Market and to enhance citizens' and businesses' confidence in it (IP/11/469).
During the Competitiveness Council, the Commission will seek the Council's commitment to delivering a first set of twelve priority measures for the single market by the end of 2012.
Gambling and betting
Under Any Other Business, the Commission will present the Green Paper consultation on on-line gambling (IP/11/358) which it launched on 24 March. Its primary aim is to obtain a facts-based picture of the existing situation in the EU on-line gambling market and of the different national regulatory models. The Commission seeks the views of stakeholders and wishes to collect detailed information and data on key policy issues such as organisation of on-line gambling services and enforcement of applicable laws; consumer protection and other relevant public policy challenges as well as commercial communications and payment services. Contributions to the consultation can be submitted until 31 July 2011, and will determine the need for and form of any EU follow-up action in this field. Expert workshops on specific themes will be organised to complement this consultation.
The Commission services launched in January 2011 a public consultation (IP/11/14) on the Professional Qualifications Directive (Directive 2005/36/EC). The consultation represented an opportunity for stakeholders to highlight areas of the Directive they feel could be simplified and made more user-friendly. It also sought views on how to better integrate professionals working in the Single Market, and raised the option of a European Professional Card. Updating this Directive is one of the key actions set out in the Single Market Act adopted in April 2011 (IP/11/469) and follows Commission reports on how the Directive works in practice (IP/10/1367). The results of the consultation that are going to be presented at the Council will feed into an evaluation report and a Green Paper due in the coming weeks. The Commission will come forward with a proposal for modernising the Directive in 2011.
This Directive is key to enabling professionals to take full advantage of the potential of the Single Market.
Conclusions on the Review of the Small Business Act for Europe (Carlo Corazza)
Ministers will be invited to adopt conclusions on the review of the SBA in the presence of Vice-President Tajani.
The review of the SBA was first presented by the Vice-President at the Competitiveness Council in March and Ministers had the opportunity to have initial exchange of views during its working lunch. At the Council meeting, the Commission will reaffirm its commitment to involve the Member States closely in the implementation of proposed actions and will emphasize the role of national SME representatives ('Mr / Mrs SME') to ensure that the SBA will be translated into tangible results for SMEs. The Council Conclusions will act a solid basis for future cooperation.
In addition, other items on the agenda also fall within Vice-President Tajani's portfolio:
-The Presidency will present the results of the Informal Competitiveness Council in April 2011 which was devoted to discussions on the theme "Be Innovative - Go International" and had an opening speech by VP Tajani which focused on this review.
-At the request of the Maltese delegation, the results of the 8th Euro-Mediterranean ministerial conference on industry which took place on 11th and 12th May in Malta will be presented.
Reducing the administrative burden for businesses
One of the informal lunches of the Competitiveness Council will be on the reduction of administrative burden for businesses. The Hungarian Presidency has invited Mr Stoiber, Chairman of the High Level Group of Independent Stakeholders on Administrative Burdens. Vice-President Tajani and Commissioner Barnier will also attend.
Tuesday 31 May
SPACE ISSUES (Carlo Corazza)
Space Strategy for the European Union
The Communication from the Commission "Towards a space strategy for the European Union that benefits its citizens " was adopted on 4 April, 2011. It sets out the EU’s priorities in the space domain, including in particular the flagship programmes EGNOS, Galileo and GMES, as well as actions in the field of Space and security, particularly Space Situational Awareness (SSA), space research and innovation, space exploration and international cooperation. The Communication was largely welcomed by the space community throughout Europe.
The Council will begin with an exchange of views on the EU Space Strategy following an introduction of the Communication by Vice-President Tajani. Ministers will then be invited to adopt conclusions on the Strategy.
In addition, two diverse points in relation to space policy will be discussed:
-The results of the conference "Lets embrace space" on FP7 space research organised in Budapest on 12 and 13 May 2011. More information: http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/newsroom/cf/itemlongdetail.cfm?lang=en&item_id=4845&tpa=0&displayType=calendar
-The 54th committee meeting of UN COPUOS in Vienna on 1-10 June 2011
RESEARCH AND INNOVATION ISSUES (Mark English)
Proposal for a Council Decision on the Framework Programme of Euratom for nuclear research and training activities 2012-2013
Ministers will discuss the proposal for the 2012-2013 Euratom Framework Programme (see IP/11/256) designed to align the Euratom part of the EU's Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7) with the period of the rest of FP7 (2007-2013). Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn will welcome the text presented by the Hungarian Presidency. She will stress the need to reach a unanimous agreement on the general approach.
The Commissioner will highlight that the extension of Euratom will allow the Joint Research Centre to continue its essential work on nuclear security, training, and combating illicit trafficking of nuclear and radioactive materials. She will add that the essential nature of this work needs no underlining in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. Extending the Euratom programme as envisaged since the beginning of FP7 will help Europe to keep its leadership in nuclear safety and also allow further progress in areas such as the use of radiation in medical treatments.
Interim Evaluation of the Eurostars Joint Programme
The Council is expected to adopt conclusions on the interim evaluation of the Eurostars Joint Programme (see IP/07/1313). The Commission's own response was adopted on 8 April 2011.
Eurostars is a joint research and development programme undertaken within the context of the EUREKA initiative by 27 EU Member States and 6 countries associated to FP7. Eurostars provides financial support to market-oriented research projects initiated and driven by R&D performing SMEs. In its first years, Eurostars has shown good potential attracting a high level of interest among the type of SMEs targeted. The Commissioner will express her overall satisfaction that Eurostars is a good example of a joint initiative between the EU and the Member States.
The Commissioner will stress the need for greater political and financial commitments to help SMEs meet the challenges of the Europe 2020 strategy and contribute to and benefit from the Innovation Union (see IP/10/1288). She will confirm the continued support of the Commission for the current programme until 2013.
She will also highlight and support possible improvements to the programme that were identified by the expert-evaluators..
Development of the European Research Area through ERA-related Groups
The Council is expected to adopt conclusions on recommendations by the European Research Area Committee (ERAC), a strategic policy advisory body chaired by the Commission, on the continuing development of the European Research Area (ERA) through "ERA-related groups". These groups of Member State representatives were set up after the 2007 ERA Green Paper, to implement initiatives on knowledge transfer, researchers' careers and mobility, joint programming and international cooperation in science and technology.
Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn will stress that completing ERA is a crucial component in the Europe 2020 growth and jobs strategy, and the Innovation Union. She will call for greater political commitment from the Member States to removing obstacles to completing ERA. She will inform the Council that she is willing to consider presenting legislation to remove barriers to the completion of ERA, in duly justified cases.
The Commission will bring forward an ERA framework proposal in 2012, so that ERA can be completed by 2014, as agreed by the European Council of 4 February. The Commissioner will also report on the preparation of the stakeholders' consultation on the ERA Framework, due to start in the autumn.
ERA is basically a "single European market" for research allowing researchers, research institutions and businesses to circulate, compete and co-operate better across borders. ERA aims to overcome national and institutional barriers and the duplication and fragmentation of research which prevent Europe from fulfilling its research and innovation potential and maximising growth and jobs.
Common Strategic Framework for Research and Innovation
Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn will report on progress with the preparation of the common strategic framework for research and innovation funding. February's Green Paper consultation on the future research and innovation funding closed on 20 May with over 2 000 responses. Over 1 300 online questionnaires were submitted, and more than 700 position papers were received.
The Commission will present its analysis at a major conference in Brussels on 10 June, at which more than 700 scientists, entrepreneurs, politicians and other stakeholders are expected to attend. The Commission will present a legislative proposal to implement the future common strategic framework to the European Parliament and to Member States by the end of this year.
DIGITAL AGENDA ISSUES (Jonathan Todd)
Evaluation of the Ambient Assisted Living Joint Programme (AAL JP)
The Council is due to adopt conclusions on mid-term evaluation of the Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) Programme. Vice-President Kroes, responsible for the Digital Agenda, will remind Council that the ageing population is a major challenge facing Europe and will affect how society functions as a whole. She will emphasise that it is not only about the increasing costs of care and the general lack of carers, but also the general impact an aging population has on the labour market. Vice-President Kroes will underline how Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) can turn these challenges into opportunities in three important ways:
-help improve quality of life for the population;
-contribute to sustainability of health and social care systems;
-create growth through the development of a large new global market for products and services in active and healthy ageing.
The Commission's Communication on AAL was adopted on 16 December 2010 (IP/10/1726). The Communication sets out recommendations to improve the operation of the programme and extend the AAL programme beyond FP7. This is a joint initiative, shared between 20 EU Member States, Israel, Norway and Switzerland. The programme's planned total budget is 700 M€, of which approximately 50% is public funding - from the AAL Partner States and the European Commission - and approximately. 50% is private funding from participating private organisations. The Commission's financial contribution amounts to 150 M€ for the duration of the programme. The programme has been very successful in uniting the 23 participating countries around a pressing societal challenge and filling a gap between advanced research and large scale market roll-out solutions for active and independent living.
Evaluation of ENIAC and ARTEMIS public-private partnerships
Vice-President Kroes will also update Ministers on the Interim Evaluation of ENIAC and ARTEMIS, two public-private partnerships for collaborative research in the fields of nanoelectronics and embedded systems, used widely in cars, smart phones, power plants and elsewhere. She will underline that these two undertakings have been successful because they enable all parties to share costs and gain leverage on their own investments in strategic R&D. Vice-President Kroes will invite Ministers to work with her on three issues:
-a strategic re-engagement from industry at the highest level in order to focus and move towards a truly joint effort;
-a multi-annual commitment from Member States to reduce the risk of funding shortfall;
-alignment of Member State funding rates and national procedures to reduce bureaucracy and speed up the national process.
The Commission Report on ARTEMIS and ENIAC was adopted on 16 December 2010 (IP/10/1727).
EDUCATION AND INNOVATION (Dennis Abbott)
European Institute for Innovation and Technology
Commissioner Vassiliou will inform Ministers about latest developments at the European Institute for Innovation and Technology (EIT).
The Commission recently launched a public consultation (IP/11/474) on the Institute's first 'strategic innovation agenda', which will set out its priorities and headline targets for the next seven years. The consultation, which runs until 30 June, focuses on key questions including the EIT's mandate, objectives and future funding. The Commissioner will encourage feedback from Member States and underline the Institute's significant leverage effect in raising private money and contributing to European competitiveness by creating new business and in fostering talent.
As well as input from the consultation, the Commission will take account of an independent evaluation and the EIT's own proposals . The Commission will present the strategic innovation agenda before the end of this year.
The EIT has an administrative headquarters in Budapest and operates from 16 sites throughout Europe, from Barcelona to Stockholm, through cross-border public-private partnerships known as 'knowledge and innovation communities' (KICs).
The KICs bring together higher education institutions, research centres and businesses (the so-called 'knowledge triangle'). An entrepreneurial approach is at the core of their work.
So far, three KICs have been created, focusing on sustainable energy (InnoEnergy KIC), climate change (Climate KIC) and information and communication society (EIT ICTLabs).
Each is setting up Master and PhD programmes aimed at providing students with the entrepreneurial skills needed in the "ideas economy". InnoEnergy will launch its Master and PhD programmes this autumn and the two others will follow suit next year. InnoEnergy has pledged to train up to 2,000 students and mid-career professionals over the next three years and to launch 20 companies.
The EIT has received €309 million from the EU budget for the period 2007-2013.
“Single Market Act -Twelve levers to boost growth and strengthen confidence” (COM 2011 (206) final)