HC Deb 13 May 1999 vol 331 cc193-4W
Mr. Hood

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what was the outcome of the Industry Council held in Luxembourg on 29 April; and if he will make a statement. [83263]

Mr. Byers

My noble Friend the Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe represented the UK at the EU Industry Council held on 29 April.

The Council reached political agreement on a common position on a late payments directive. The purpose of this directive is to deter late payment by giving all businesses a right to statutory interest on debt not paid on time, regardless of where the debtor is based in the EU. Now that Ministers have reached a political agreement, a common position will be finalised for communication to the European Parliament for the Directives second reading.

Council conclusions were agreed on shipbuilding which sent a strong message of support to the European shipbuilding industry, given the lack of orders for European yards so far this year. In particular, the Conclusions provided a mandate for Commissioner Bangemann's forthcoming discussions with South Korea. The Commission also presented the third monitoring report on aid to German and Spanish shipyards.

The Council had an open debate on globalisation and competitiveness. Ministers spoke on a wide range of themes. The Presidency summed up by identifying the key themes arising from the discussions: venture capital, take-up of university research, intellectual property, strengthening the internal market to create the framework conditions for the information society training and the global context of competition policy and liberalisation. The Presidency concluded that the Council saw itself as having a co-ordinating role in updating EU industrial policy, and there was a need for further rationalisation of Council structures.

The Council adopted a Resolution settling the outstanding issue of ownership and administration of the assets of the ECSC after the expiry of the Treaty in 2002. The Resolution reflects agreement reached by member states by which the assets will be transferred to the ownership of the remaining Communities, while being ring-fenced from other Community funds. The Commission also presented the latest monitoring report on past steel aid cases and noted that there were no particular problems.

A lunchtime discussion was held on industrial aspects of enlargement of the EU. There was agreement that enlargement should not lead to competitive distortions, that effective implementation of the EU acquis was essential, and that restructuring would be needed in several sectors. A meeting of representatives of such sectors and Ministers from candidate countries would be held in Estonia in the autumn, to help them learn from EU experience.

Agreement was reached on two amending regulations which would allow the Commission to bring forward a new block exemption policy for dealing with vertical agreements between companies. The Presidency also noted agreement of a Council declaration on the essential elements that the new block exemption should contain. The Commission undertook to take on board the content of the Council declaration and made its own declaration to this effect.

The Presidency withdrew its proposed Council Conclusions which encouraged the Commission to bring forward and adopt its White Paper on the Modernisation of Competition Policy, following the Commission's adoption of the White Paper on 28 April. The White Paper is intended to bring about debate on the future implementation of Articles 85 and 86.

The Council also adopted Conclusions on benchmarking, sustainable development, the Business Environment Simplification Task Force (BEST) Report and the Commission's White Paper on Commerce.

The Commission gave presentations on the economic situation in the EU and its Communication on Tourism and Employment.