Brussels, 12 Mar 2004
The Competitiveness Council met for the first time under the Irish Presidency on 11 March, and sent a message to the EU's Heads of State and Government that a higher proportion of the EU budget should be invested in research and development (R&D).
'The best approach to improving Europe's R&D performance, which faces clear challenges, particularly from the US, is to generate genuine competition among the best researchers, supported by independent global peer review,' said Mary Harney, Chair of the Competitiveness Council and Ireland's Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
Items on the meeting's agenda included basic research, space policy, the Community Patent and entrepreneurship.
The Council's reaction to the Commission's communication 'Europe and basic research' was non-committal, ministers preferring to await more detailed proposals from the Commission. The conclusions contain recognition of the need to stimulate research excellence in a wide range of sectors and disciplines by encouraging more competition in science-driven research, as well as the need to improve the exploitation basic research results through supporting the transfer of knowledge between researchers in all sectors.
The conclusions also support coordination, on a voluntary basis, of resources, approaches and instruments in order to strengthen basic research. Ministers therefore acknowledged the need to examine the case for specific funding for basic research in the Commission's next research funding programme, the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). 'At the same time, an appropriate balance should be maintained with other priorities, approaches and activities in research, technological development and innovation,' state the Council conclusions.
The Council noted that the Commission intends to propose a set of operational mechanisms by May 2004, which will be expected to 'add value to existing national approaches and provide a European dimension, with the objective of reinforcing the creativity and excellence of basic research in Europe.'
The outstanding issues holding up the implementation of a Community Patent could not be resolved at the meeting, and the Irish Presidency will therefore 'reflect on how to proceed further.' Agreement has thus far been obstructed by a difference of opinion on the period to be allowed for filing translations of a claim. While some Member States are in favour of a two year time frame, others, would like to see this period restricted to six months.
Discussions on space policy focused on the priorities and roles laid out in the White Paper on space, the short term development of space policies and other issues on which the Commission may begin work immediately, and the approach to space projects included in the Quick Start initiative. An informal EU-European Space Agency (ESA) Council is likely to take place before the end of 2004.
According to a statement by the Irish Presidency, the Competitiveness Council will recommend a simplification and streamlining of rules and regulations affecting European industry and business at the forthcoming European Council. In line with this stance, Europe's research and industry ministers reiterated the crucial role that entrepreneurship plays in driving innovation, competitiveness, employment and growth, and welcomed the Commission's Entrepreneurship Action Plan.
However, the Council called on the Commission to press ahead at an accelerated pace with initiatives to boost entrepreneurship. 'Considering the urgent need for concrete results to deliver these policy priorities, [the Competitiveness Council] calls on the Commission to set out a more ambitious timetable for undertaking these actions and encourages Member States to exploit best practices, in particular those identified through the open method of coordination,' state the Council conclusions. To see the provisional conclusions of the Competitiveness Council, please visit: http://ue.eu.int/pressData/en/intm/79379 .pdf