Research agenda pushed but patent fudge condemned


12 Mar 2004

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European enterprise ministers have issued a strong recommendation to the forthcoming European Summit that a higher proportion of the EU budget be invested in scientific research and development.

Mary Harney TD (pictured), chairman of the Competitiveness Council, said Europe had a lot of catching up to do. “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,” she said.

The Council, in its first formal meeting of Ireland’s EU Presidency, noted that the expected improvement in the world economy this year and the accession on 1 May of ten new member states provided a new opportunity to address the 10-year growth and employment targets set at the Lisbon summit in 2000.

“At the heart of this challenge is the promotion of conditions which foster investment, innovation and greater competition. The regulatory regime must not only be fair and effective but must be proportionate and avoid stultifying enterprise,” the Ministers stated in a formal communication to the Heads of Government, which will be considered at the European Summit on 25 March.

Analysis of on-going industrial restructuring within the EU, including concerns about “out-sourcing” of elements of European industry, notably to India and the far-East, “as well as the challenges facing particular sectors, including those with a strong research base such as the pharmaceutical industry”, will remain to the fore of the Council’s work programme, they stated.

The Ministers also welcomed a European Parliament vote yesterday for a Directive on the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights. The directive will be formally adopted next month. The activities of counterfeiting and piracy had given rise to serious difficulties for governments and industry and carried a high cost in terms of lost revenues and jobs, the Tánaiste told the Council. The proposed measure would give new powers to national authorities to seize infringing goods and to force offenders to pay compensation for lost income.

Ministers also heard a presentation by the Commission on a new draft directive on services in the internal market, which, the Tánaiste said, was one of the key elements of the Lisbon agenda. The proposed directive covers most services provided to consumers and businesses, including construction, leisure services, IT services, advertising, employment agencies and security services. It also includes services provided by the medical and legal professions.

“The Competitiveness Council should give the highest priority to this comprehensive proposal,” the Tánaiste said. “It is a real test for our role as a champion of the Lisbon goals. It is a complex and ambitious proposal. However, it is clear that the target set in Lisbon to make the European economy the most competitive in the world cannot be met unless barriers to cross border services are removed as a matter of urgency.”

The proposal would cut red tape by limiting the number of documents required and establishing electronic procedures, she added.

However, the Tánaiste described as “deeply disappointing” the Council’s failure to reach agreement yesterday on the Community Patent. This follows proposals by the European Commission last month to create a new Community Patent Court to resolve patent disputes in the EU. “Europe’s companies have been crying out for too long for access to pan-European patent protection at reasonable cost with minimum red-tape and maximum legal certainty,” said internal markets commissioner Frits Bolkestein.

Harney said that the Irish Presidency, like its predecessors, had worked very hard to try to forge an agreement and had put forward a compromise approach to the meeting in good faith.

“I regret very much that neither that approach nor the other options on the table have been acceptable to some member states,” she said. She added that the Presidency would now reflect for a short while as to what the basis should be for continuing work. “We have to bring this matter to a conclusion very soon either in the form of an agreement or otherwise.”

By Brian Skelly