The Competitiveness Council (Internal Market and Industry) took place on 28 May in Brussels. Lord Henley (Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) represented the UK.
The standing ‘competitiveness check-up’ debate focused on the linkages between internal market integration and competitiveness in the EU. The Commission argued that its analysis showed that the Single Market generates significant economic benefits across a range of sectors. The UK underlined its continuing interest in the success of the Single Market, calling for continued progress, particularly on services, and for the EU to be a force for open international trade. Other Member States picked up similar themes as well as other issues including access to finance.
The Council agreed a General Approach on the revision of the Mutual Recognition Regulation, which aims to improve the functioning of the mutual recognition principle for non-harmonised products in the Single Market. Member States were unanimous in their support for the Presidency’s compromise text and praised the balance struck between the need to support businesses trading across the EU while allowing Member States to protect their legitimate public interests.
The Commission presented its new proposal on platform to business relations, which it believed was a balanced attempt to improve transparency and predictability for users without creating undue burdens on platforms or stifling innovation. The UK responded positively but emphasised the benefits of platforms to businesses, particularly SMEs, and underlined the need to consult businesses. Other Member States generally welcomed the Commission’s approach, but the debate displayed the tension between those that have legislated in this area and those who want to avoid fragmentation in the Single Market as a result of differing national legislation. Some hinted at their preference for further regulatory measures.
The Presidency provided an update on progress in negotiations on the copyright package. Member States also responded to the UK’s ratification of the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court.
The Commission presented its latest package of Digital Single Market proposals, which focus on the improved use of data at EU level as a tool to drive innovation.
Ministers discussed the opportunities and challenges of Artificial Intelligence, including the role of public and private investment, the impact on labour markets, and ethical and legal questions.
The Commission provided information on its ‘New Deal for Consumers’ proposal, confirming its ambitious timetable for adoption by May 2019. Some Member States raised the dual quality of products as a key concern.
The Commission also presented its Company Law package and a proposal amending the Supplementary Protection Certificates Regulation for the export of medicinal products.
The Presidency also provided updates on work in the area of tourism and within the SOLVIT network; the Austrian delegation presented its priorities as incoming Presidency.
The Competitiveness Council continued on 29 May covering research, innovation and space. I represented the UK.
The Council held a policy debate on the future of European space policy. The UK emphasised the global nature of the space sector and the long heritage of technical excellence and research within the European Space Agency. The UK also outlined the case for continued full involvement in EU space programmes such as Galileo and Copernicus.
The Council continued with a discussion on the Progress Report on the Regulation on establishing the European High Performance Computing Joint Undertaking. The UK assured the EU of our commitment to continuing collaboration in science and innovation and highlighted the importance of a continued focus of wider programmes on excellence. Following the discussion, the Council held a plenary session providing an update on the progress of the regulation.
The following sessions adopted two Council Conclusions: the first on accelerating knowledge circulation in the European Union and the second on the European Open Science Cloud.
The Council then agreed a General Approach on the Regulation on the Research and Training Programme of the European Atomic Energy Community (2019-2020) complementing the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. Ministers agreed to the approach set out by the Commission.
The Council held a policy debate on research and innovation within the context of the next Multiannual Financial Framework. The UK noted the value to the EU of the UK's strength in research and innovation both in terms of results and of expertise in supporting research and innovation as well as emphasising the UK’s continuing desire to engage in European collaborative research and innovation programmes.
The Commission provided information on the outcome of the Presidency event dedicated to space (Sofia, 17-19 April 2018). The Council concluded with Austria’s presentation of its incoming Presidency work programme.