Brussels, 29 Mar 2004
The EU's Heads of State and Government agreed on 26 March that a focus on just four priorities is necessary in order to enhance European competitiveness - completing the internal market, better regulation, higher rates of research and development (R&D) and effective institutional arrangements.
Incumbent President of the European Council Bertie Ahern was even more specific, however, saying after the meeting that the most important priority is increasing R&D, particularly that relating to life sciences.
'If you asked me to single out one thing, I think it would be research development, based around the life sciences,' declared the Irish Prime Minister. 'This is where we can really change across Europe.'
The Council conclusions include a call on the Member States to improve the general conditions for R&D investment and to consider targeted support and incentives to encourage greater investment by business.
The Commission's Framework Programmes for research must be simplified, agreed the Council, in order to make it more user friendly, particularly for small and medium sized enterprises and start-ups. Leaders pledged to examine the case for increased funding for basic research, and narrowed down the priorities for the Framework Programmes to promoting cooperation between business and research, boosting future technologies, and supporting basic and applied research.
The Competitiveness Council, created in 2002 following the merger of the Research, Internal Market and Industry Councils, was told to 'move forward rapidly to champion and drive a clear and integrated response to the competitiveness challenges facing the Union.' Institutional arrangements may change under the next European Commission, it is implied, with the statement that 'the incoming President will wish to consider how to ensure the competitiveness agenda is effectively supported.'
The EU's Action for Growth and its Quick Start Programme were also discussed at the meeting. The Council called for 'serious engagements by the EU institutions and Member States, as well as project promoters', in order to ensure that projects are undertaken in a sustained and timely way.
The European Parliament will debate the outcome of the European Council on 31 March.
To see the European Council conclusions, please consult the following web address: