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INFORMAL COMPETITIVENESS COUNCIL : COMMISSION TO PRESENT "VERY IMPORTANT" REPORT ON INNOVATION.

Only 13 Ministers made the trip to attend the informal Competitiveness Council on 10 and 11 July in Jyvaskyla, Finland. And yet, some feel the meeting produced a genuine substantive debate. "It is very rare to hold such a discussion at a normal Council session in Brussels where there are a great many distractions", Commissioner foraEnterprise and Industry Gunter Verheugen told journalists on 10 July. He represented the European Commission at the informal Council session alongside his colleagues Charlie McCreevy (Internal Market) and Janez Potocnik (Research). Discussions focused on research and innovation. Two dates were announced: the staging of an extraordinary Competitiveness Council on 24 July in Brussels to finalise a political agreement between member states on the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Development (see article on previous page) and the presentation in September of a Communication by the Commission on a global policy on innovation.

The meeting, held on the initiative of Finland's Trade and Industry Minister Mauri Pekkarinen, brought together Trade and Industry Ministers and Ministers responsible for research policy. The Presidency also invited a number of external speakers to address the debate, including Jorma Ollila, Chairman of Nokia Corporation, and Sir Michael Worley, Chairman of the European Association of Family Businesses. Whilst no conclusions emerged from the two-day informal session, the Presidency did present a summary of results on 11 July. This summary will be used in the autumn for the resumption of discussions on innovation policy based on the Commission's proposed Communication.

Speaking to the press on 10 July, Mr Verheugen expressed delight at this first meeting dedicated to innovation. "It is extremely encouraging to see that the Finnish Presidency has made it one of its central priorities", he declared. The Commissioner regards innovation as one of the responses to questions posed by citizens such as what will happen to their jobs, to the education of their children or to healthcare systems. There is a need to focus efforts and strive to secure better quality of services in terms of technology and energy efficiency. Innovation is not just a matter for industry but also for services. Moreover, levels of innovation vary significantly between member states and specific circumstances need to be reflected in solutions designed to improve the potential for innovation.

MINISTERS PAVE WAY FOR FP7 DEAL

Mauri Pekkarinen, meanwhile, suggested that innovation is necessary since it represents a genuine challenge laid down in the Lisbon Strategy. Moreover, economic growth in the EU has been very sluggish over the past five years and this demands a response. "We will identify a number of areas that need to be improved and we also aim to bring forward new concrete ideas", he added. He believes the package' (see box), due to be presented shortly by the Commission, "will be very important", notably in the context of the forthcoming informal Summit of EU Leaders in Lahti in October, focusing on innovation. The December European Council will, meanwhile, aim to "agree more concrete guidelines for moving forward". The Minister hopes the German Presidency (the next in line) will pursue the work begun by Finland.

Concrete solutions for improving innovation include: rapid implementation of the FP7; agreement on better protection of intellectual property rights; agreement on new rules on state aid and use of new financial instruments, notably through the framework programme for innovation and competitiveness and the JEREMIE (Joint Resources for Micro to Medium Enterprises) initiative. The principal objective of the new Framework Programme is to invest 3% of EU Gross Domestic Product in research and development.

A Communication and a package of proposals

The European Commission's contribution to promoting innovation under the Finnish Presidency will entail two phases. A Communication ( umbrella Communication') will first be presented in September. It will outline a global strategy on innovation in Europe. In this context, Commissioner Gunter Verheugen reassured the member states that the Commission does not mean to exceed its powers. This remains an area covered by national sovereignty and the Commission "will simply outline what member states might do and encourage them in their efforts". The second stage will consist of the presentation in the autumn of a package' of concrete proposals for helping to "improve the innovation climate". It will, for example, contain measures to increase aid for public research, strengthen clusters' and innovation poles, foster conditions for an effective single market and introduce new state aid guidelines for research.
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Publication:Europe Energy
Date:Jul 26, 2006
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