Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 2 October 2012
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation
Forthcoming Competitiveness Council Meeting: Discussion with Minister of State
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Sean Sherlock, who is here to discuss the research aspects of the agenda for the forthcoming Council of Ministers meeting in Luxembourg on 10 October. I understand members have received a briefing note on the agenda for day two of the Council meeting. They are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I thank members for giving me the opportunity to provide a summary of the outcome of the previous Competitiveness Council and discuss the agendas for the meetings in Luxembourg on 10 and 11 October. I will also briefly apprise the joint committee of my Department's priorities for the EU Presidency in 2013. I am accompanied by Mr. Tommy Murray and Mr. Pat Kelly from my Department and Mr. Tim Cullinane from the Department of Education and Skills.
I will begin by dealing with the outcome of the previous Council in May. It was a two day meeting attended by my colleagues, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, who dealt with Internal Market and industry issues and the Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy John Perry, who dealt with research and space issues on the second day. A ministerial informal lunch attended by Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn and Commissioner Vassiliou provided an opportunity to review the achievements of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, EIT, to draw lessons for the future, as well as to engage in an exchange of views.
Among the main decisions reached at the Council on research issues were: the Horizon 2020 framework programme for research and innovation; the EIT; and Council conclusions on European innovation partnerships. In respect of the Internal Market, decisions were reached on the competitiveness and SME programme, COSME, for the period 2014-20, the Single Market Act and the governance of the Single Market and the Digital Single Market. The Council agreed to the main elements of the COSME programme.
I now turn to the forthcoming Council meeting which will take place on 10 and 11 October.
The first day will deal with the research items and the second day will deal with the industry and Internal Market issues. My colleague, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, will attend the Council on 11 October to deal with issues relating to the internal market and industry. I will deal with the research items.
On the research side, the main issues are a proposal for an amending regulation establishing the European Institute of Innovation and Technology. The debate during the ministerial lunch will consider the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures, a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the rules for participation and dissemination in Horizon 2020 - the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation 2014-2020, and a communication from the Commission, A Reinforced European Research Area Partnership for Excellence and Growth. The European Commission will present its communication and associated recommendation on better access to scientific information.
On the Internal Market and industry side the main issues are: adoption of a Council regulation on a communication from the Commission, A European Consumer Agenda - Boosting Confidence and Growth; a presentation by the Commission of its mid-term review findings on the implementation of the EU flagship on industrial policy; a ministerial discussion devoted to the proposed improvements to the operation of the competitiveness council; another presentation by the European Commission on the cultural and creative sectors for creative growth in the EU; adoption of Council conclusions on key enabling technologies and the European innovation partnership on raw materials; and a debate on the state of play in relation to the Single Market Act I, initiated by the Cypriot Presidency.
I will deal initially and briefly with the Internal Market and industry issues. In terms of the consumer agenda, the European Commission published its communication A European Consumer Agenda - Boosting Confidence and Growth on 22 May 2012. The agenda is intended to support consumer interests in the areas identified by the consumer markets scoreboard as being most problematic for consumers, namely food, energy, financial services, transport services and digital services. The communication identifies four main objectives for the agenda: reinforcing consumer safety, enhancing consumer knowledge, improving enforcement and redress and aligning rights and key policies to economic and societal change. It also identifies key measures needed to empower consumers, boost their trust and put consumers at the heart of all EU policies as a means to achieve the Europe 2020 goals. The Presidency is seeking the endorsement of the communication by way of the draft resolution which it has tabled on the agenda.
Ireland endorses the agenda's four key objectives and acknowledges the significance of the consumer agenda in terms of its potential contribution to the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Accordingly, Ireland is happy to support the draft resolution on the consumer agenda as proposed by the Presidency and is committed to working with other member states and the European institutions to ensure the timely achievement of the agenda's objectives.
Under the agenda item of the Commission's communication on industrial policy review, the Commission will present its mid-term review findings on the implementation of the EU flagship on industrial policy. This flagship, which was launched by the Commission in October 2010 under the Europe 2020 strategy, aims to boost growth and jobs by maintaining and supporting a strong, diversified and competitive industrial base in Europe offering well-paid jobs, while becoming more resource-efficient. The mid-term review of the industrial policy flagship will be published as a communication by the Commission in October 2012 and will review progress on implementing the flagship. I believe it will focus on developing a limited number of further initiatives to tackle the consequences of the economic crisis and that it can deliver sustainable results in the short to medium term. In general, as a priority, the review must deal with new instruments to address access to finance, especially for SMEs, and to promote SMEs and their inherent added value to a competitive industrial Europe. Strengthening the Single Market must also be of paramount importance.
The European Commission's communication on the strategy for sustainable competitiveness of the construction sector and its enterprises sets out a number of initiatives that are aimed at taking action to support jobs and provide opportunities in the sector. While we will never see a return to pre-recession levels of employment in the construction sector, we need an economy that plays to our strengths across a variety of sectors. Construction, therefore, still has an important role to play in helping to rebuild our economy. The communication notes that there are new opportunities for the sector that support the EU's objectives in moving to a low-carbon economy to take advantage of the emerging opportunities.
The European Commission will present its communication on cultural and creative sectors for creative growth in the EU. Ireland welcomes the initiative and looks forward to working with the Commission in developing programmes under the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, that will assist in the recovery of both the Irish economy and the European economy. It will be a difficult challenge but one to which the cultural and creative sectors can contribute strongly in a positive way.
On 26 June the European Commission tabled its strategy to boost the industrial production of key enabling technology-based products such as innovative products and applications of the future. The Council of Ministers will be asked to adopt the current conclusions and to welcome the Commission's communication entitled Making Raw Materials Available for Europe's Future Well-being - Proposal for a European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials; call on the Commission to launch the European innovation partnership, EIP, on raw materials and to develop and finalise the strategic implementation plan by the end of 2013; and invite the Commission to report to the Council by the end of July 2013 on progress achieved in the raw materials EIP, particularly with regard to the strategic implementation plan.
Ireland supports the adoption of the Council conclusions. While we, with some other member states, remain sceptical about the added value of EIPs, we are prepared to support this initiative. Ireland's main concern has been to ensure that member states through the Council retain the right to approve EIPs and that EIPs are not a means to determine research priorities outside institutional procedures. These issues have been addressed satisfactorily from our point of view.
The Presidency will present a state of play report on the implementation of the 12 priorities under the Single Market Act I package. In the context of my Department's Presidency competitiveness agenda, there will be a particular focus on finalising those priorities in the Single Market Act I which have not yet been completed. My Department, through the interdepartmental committee on the Single Market and services directive, will co-ordinate with other relevant Departments on how the Cypriot Presidency proposes to deal with the Single Market Act II package and any individual files emanating from the Commissioner's proposals with a view to finalising agendas for relevant working groups during the Irish Presidency. We are looking forward to working collaboratively with the Council and Commission to ensure we finalise those measures that are not concluded by the end of the year and we are looking forward to the challenge of instigating work on the new measures announced by Commissioner Barnier in the next phase of the Single Market.
In regard to research issues, in November 2011 the Commission submitted to the European Parliament and to the Council its proposal for a regulation amending the original regulation which established the European Institute of Innovation and Technology. This has been intensively examined in the research working party and delegations have generally welcomed the Commission's proposal.
As the EIT will be an integral part of Horizon 2020, and implemented in accordance with its rules for participation and dissemination, an amendment to the existing regulation is needed to align EIT within Horizon 2020.
I shall comment further on Horizon 2020 - the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation 2014-2020. In the context of the negotiations on Horizon 2020, the EU's next funding programme for research and development, the Cypriot Presidency will propose a compromise text of the rules for participation and dissemination for approval by the Council of Ministers. As the proposal requires co-decision with the European Parliament, I expect trilogue negotiations between the Council, Parliament and Commission to be commenced under Ireland's Presidency. It will be a priority for me to complete these trilogue negotiations and secure agreement on Horizon 2020 during the Presidency.
With regard to European research areas or ERAs, the European Commission will make a presentation on a reinforced European research area partnership for excellence and growth. The overarching objective of the European Commission is to open up and connect EU research systems, thus leading to a significant improvement in Europe's research performance to promote growth and job creation. More joined up and smarter specialisation across member states will be a significant milestone en routeto a fully developed European research area and will avoid costly overlaps and unnecessary duplication of activities. The Irish Presidency will highlight the importance of joint programming in addressing the fragmentation of research in Europe and its role in contributing to the achievement of the European research area. On research careers, the Irish Presidency will provide an opportunity to assess progress and map out outstanding issues in the area.
With regard to better access to scientific information, the concept of open access to publicly-funded scientific data has been around for some time, having first been put forward by the Commission and endorsed by the Council. Progress on open access to scientific data has been slow due to a number of barriers identified in the Commission communication. In brief, these are: the potential of the Internet for improving access to scientific information has not been fully exploited; the low level of investment in the scientific dissemination system; the uneven and unco-ordinated actions by the different member states; the costs associated with the process of selecting, reviewing and publishing articles; and the lack of financing for rapidly emerging e-infrastructures and thematic data infrastructures for storing and providing access to data. In addition, funding has tended to be short lived and fragmented. It is often related to specific projects only and has not provided long-term solutions.
The Commission communication encourages all member states to intensify their efforts to implement open access and follows up the communication with a recommendation for endorsement by the European Parliament and the Council. It calls on the member states to implement open access and to report back to the Council on progress 18 months after the recommendation and every two years, thereafter. In order to give effect to this, each member state is instructed to designate by the end of 2012 a national point of reference whose tasks will be as follows: to co-ordinate the measures listed in the recommendation; to act as interlocutor with the European Commission on questions pertaining to access to and preservation of scientific information; and to report on the follow-up to the recommendation.
Ireland is supportive of the proposal to implement open access to scientific information and allows for the protection of legitimate commercial interests. We are conscious that there may be significant cost factors involved in establishing the necessary e-infrastructures for data storage. There may also be legal barriers to implementation across the EU which must be addressed.
There are a small number of "any other business" items on the agenda. Of significance are the items that relate to communication on enhancing and focusing international co-operation in research and the Single Market Act II, as mentioned earlier. I shall comment on the communication on enhancing and focusing international co-operation in research. The European Commission will present its communication dated 14 September entitled Enhancing EU International Co-operation in Research and Innovation. The communication sets out a new strategy to help the European Union maximise the opportunities presented by globalisation of research and innovation. Obviously the Single Market Act II is the second phase of the Single Market Act and comprises a new set of 12 priority actions. The Single Market Act II will be presented in the form of a Commission communication by Commissioner Barnier, as indicated earlier.
I shall now discuss the Department's priorities for the EU Presidency 2013. My Department will play a central role in driving the EU policy agenda embodied in the overarching policy theme of “Promoting sustainable economic growth and jobs and building Europe's competitive advantage".During its Presidency, Ireland will focus on measures to promote growth and employment in accordance with the compact for growth and jobs as agreed by Heads of State and Government in June 2012.
Research and development will be of major importance in highlighting the Department's innovation theme given its potential in contributing to economic recovery, competitiveness and growth in Ireland and across the Union. The Presidency will work with member states and the European Parliament to finalise the Horizon 2020 package and to promote further actions towards the completion of the European research area. The package includes support for European leadership in industrial development, developing the innovation capacity of SMEs and addressing grand challenges affecting society.
Further deepening of the Internal Market is required including identifying new opportunities as stated under the Single Market Act, improvements in Single Market governance and the operation of the services directive across Government and the economy. The ongoing implementation of Single Market Act measures that add greatest value to jobs, growth, competitiveness and investment will be key to the Department's Presidency competitiveness agenda.
During the Presidency, Ireland will seek to stimulate growth and job creation by bringing forward measures proposed by the Commission to reduce the regulatory burden on SMEs, by advancing the entrepreneurship agenda in Europe and by promoting smart regulation. In addition, the Commission's programme for competitiveness and SMEs, COSME, has been developed to facilitate access to financing for SMEs and should be significantly advanced during the Presidency. Proposals on the state aid modernisation will also be a prominent issue on the agenda. Ireland welcomes the initiative in light of post-crisis structural reforms and industrial restructuring and the alignment of state aid with Europe 2020 objectives.
Ireland attaches great importance to promoting the external trade agenda during its Presidency, underscoring the case for the Union leveraging its position as a major trading bloc in international negotiations. Ireland's aim is to support deeper transatlantic trade and investment ties, in particular, and to give an important impetus to EU-US trade negotiations, as well as economic, trade and investment relations with other strategic partners including India, China and Japan.
Working in the EPSCO formation with ministerial colleagues, we will follow-up on the Commission's communication on a job-rich recovery and work to secure adoption of the proposed new instruments on the youth guarantee and the quality framework on traineeships. We will also carry forward the EU's 2020 flagship initiatives called new skills, new jobs and youth opportunities initiative. We will manage the semester process resulting in country specific recommendations on employment and take forward an array of dossiers, most notably, posting of workers, the European Social Fund regulation and portability of pensions.
Throughout the summary I have tried to capture the key agenda items. Given the diverse nature of the agenda and that it is still being developed through the various preparatory groups in Brussels it is not possible to cover all of the detail at this stage. Ireland, in its EU Presidency role, will provide opportunities to manage and progress the EU agenda. I have outlined my Department's priorities that aim to advance and contribute to improving Europe's global competitiveness and promote economic growth and to create jobs.
It has been a joy to hear the extent of the work the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, is undertaking. He obviously will not have much time on his hands during the six months of our Presidency. I invited the Taoiseach to meet the board of EuroCommerce who were here last Friday. They represent the 6 million shops in Europe, the wholesalers and the international trade. They came specifically to Ireland because we are hosting the Presidency and they wanted to hear what target had been set. The Taoiseach was very impressive and gave us a great deal of encouragement as to what was going to happen.
The two areas of concern were very clear and in the course of his address, the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock has touched on them a number of times. Can we manage to ensure that the regulations we introduce do not stay in place longer than they have to? We are competing with the rest of the world. In many cases, countries have sunset clauses, so that when they introduce a regulation it dies after a specified period. Is it possible that we could do more in that area so that the regulations that are being introduced do not have to stay in place any longer than they must? Other countries, certainly the BRIC countries, seem to have gained an advantage on us in this area. The point was made very strongly by them.
The production of food was the other area of discussion. Do I get a sense there is less enthusiasm for genetically modified foods in Europe and that other countries such as Brazil will take the lead from us, in particular in regard to foodstuffs? If we are unwilling with science and technology to innovate in genetically modified food, we are likely to be left behind. It would appear to me that is likely to happen.
The State must create the environment for the entrepreneurs. The Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock said that but I question whether we are doing enough. Is there still an assumption that the job of Government is to do that rather than to think the Government's job is to create the environment so that enterprise can do it? That is the area that we are in danger of losing out on to other countries and other parts of the world.
I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive report. In regard to the consumer agenda and the draft resolution, what will it mean in practice on the ground to the consumer in Ireland? What do the European innovation partnerships do? What is the emphasis on raw materials? Is it envisaged that they will deal with raw materials or will they be rolled out in other sectors? On the question of open access to publicly-funded scientific data, do the universities not publicise their data, writing papers and making presentations available? Does the Minister of State envisage that this will be a requirement that other sectors must meet?
I have a number of queries on Commissioner Michel Barnier and his Single Market Act II proposals? Are we hoping to develop them during our Presidency?
My second question relates to the phrase "promoting smart regulation". Everybody would agree that common sense regulation should be implemented. What are the views on that? How far are we willing to go to encourage common sense regulation?
In the course of his address the Minister of State stated, "as a priority, the review must address new ways and new instruments to address access to finance, especially for SMEs and to promote SMEs and their inherent added value to a competitive industrial Europe." Are we making any progress in that regard? This is one issue that is raised by constituents with all public representatives. People trying to operate small businesses tell us that the banks are absolutely crucifying them and they cannot get the finance they so badly require.
With the permission of the Chair, I will call on my officials, Mr. Tommy Murray and Mr. Pat Kelly, on some of the technical issues. I was not aware of the sunset clause to which Senator Quinn referred, but I will defer to Mr. Murray to answer that specific question. The issues relating to food are in the health silos but we have a prioritisation action group which is a research prioritisation exercise. We have streamlined what must be done. The country needs to engage in 14 key areas of research, and food is one of those areas. Teagasc would be one of the stakeholders in the prioritisation action group because we are trying to set out a new stall that does not put its eye on basic research or blue sky research but moves to an area where we get a closer alignment with industry. It is the collaboration between academia and industry that will drive jobs growth. On the announcement by Teagasc that it was trialling potato crops in certain parts of the country, I would have no problem on the basis that there is an inherent trust in the work that Teagasc does and there is a growing realisation that the exponential increase in global populations deems it that we as a country must engage in new technologies to ensure the people on this planet can feed themselves. That is the high level view but if one is drilling down into a more granular level that should present opportunities for Ireland.
I take Senator Quinn's point on innovations in that regard. I have an open mind but it is within the health remit. That is not to kick the issue to touch. I am always happy to engage further on that agenda if needs be because I firmly believe we must grapple with it at some stage.
Senator Quinn made the point that the State should create the environment for the entrepreneur. The architecture of the action plan for jobs was based on engaging with industry, employers, business groups and so on. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, issued an invitation to those groups to come up with ideas. The State has a clear role. The Action Plan for Jobs 2012 is being driven directly by the Taoiseach through the Cabinet sub-committee on economic recovery and jobs. In my area of responsibility, research and innovation, there is a very clear sense of driving new messages to academia in terms of trying to foster greater collaboration with industry through the prioritisation action group. We do a great deal of work on the foreign direct investment side of the house but the clear challenge is to try to create more indigenous companies arising from that. There is a greater role for the State to play in facilitating innovation. The State agencies are feeding into the action plan for jobs. The Cabinet sub-committee on economic recovery and jobs has a results-driven agenda.
Deputy Seán Kyne raised the issue of raw materials. We may have a traditional view of them in terms of what can be derived from the earth. For example, at the CRANN Institute in Trinity College Dublin or the Tyndall National Institute, housed near UCC, material science is becoming ever more important as a subject in driving new innovations down to hand-held technology in the use of mobile phones and so on. When distilled to its most basic level, t is how we are driving energy projects, data production and so on in terms of the use of raw materials to drive new technological advances. The partnerships will target non-energy and non-agricultural raw materials, including but not limited to the European Union's list of critical raw materials. It covers metallic industrial and construction materials, as well as other industrial raw materials such as natural rubber and wood. Many of these materials are vital inputs for innovative technologies that offer environmentally friendly clean-tech applications. They are also essential for the manufacture of crucial alloys and products required by modern society. That is the Commission's definition in its own words.
On the issue of open access, we have an intellectual property protocol which was signed off on this year. Academic papers are available to everybody as a source material when individuals are completing doctorates and so on. On the interface between academia and industry, there is a need to set out some rules of engagement because if there is private capital for research, one must ensure there is a protocol in place for how that funding is used. However, where there is publicly funded research, a protocol is in place in terms of the interaction involved. If we were to examine the issue of open access from a global perspective and the European Union was to compete globally with other hegemonic areas of the globe such as the US or Asia, the greater the degree of co-ordination on strategies to enable open access the greater the level of competitiveness that can be driven on a pan-European basis. If Ireland is ahead of the curve on an EU-wide basis, that puts it in the early mover stage which will allow us to benefit from potential financial packages arising from EU programmes. For example, the Government will deal with open data systems as one of the disrupter technologies and see how we can secure a greater degree of co-ordination across Departments and between industry and government in respect of how we can mind more of the information derived in every day life in order that we become a first mover in that space. I hope that deals adequately with the question put by Deputy Seán Kyne.
I will refer the questions on the consumer agenda, the Single Market Act and the progress made on smart regulation to Mr. Murray. On my own agenda, we have set targets in regard to access to finance. The next Horizon 2020 framework programme for which I will have specific responsibility could "potentially" be an €80 billion package, subject to the multiannual financial framework. If it is an €80 billion package, we hope the research prioritisation exercise in which we are engaged in 14 key priority areas that we are going to fund will align with the Horizon 2020 framework programme priorities. Arising from this, the target figure would be upped from 15% to 20% in terms of SME engagement. We need to ensure greater engagement by SMEs. In Ireland I understand work on the foreign direct investment aspect of the puzzle is progressing well in terms of that engagement with the research community, but we need to do more to ensure more indigenous companies thrive. I will refer the overall arching issue of access to finance to Mr. Murray.
Mr. Tommy Murray:
When Ireland assumes the Presidency of the European Union, it will have to be aware that it also assumes the mantle of honest broker or chairperson. There are many shades of view among the member states. I ask members to forgive me for being a little circumspect on some of the issues raised because they are to the fore in the Council. In holding the Presidency we can espouse certain orientations at the Council and will have control over the Council agenda; therefore, we can certainly have an influence on what we see as our view of the world in terms of what we want to pursue at the Council.
Smart regulation is one of those issues on which we have animated discussions at the Council. The Commission's administrative burden action plan will be brought to finality at the end of the year. That is the plan which envisaged an overall reduction in the administrative burden of 25%. I understand we have been quite successful at European level in achieving this target. There is a discussion commencing between the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council on whether we need to move on from that action plan and have another round of administrative burden targets. That discussion will take place at the Council. Meanwhile, there is a communication on smart regulation coming from the Commission which will be treated as a prominent issue by us at the Council. In order to tee it up, a high level meeting of directors general on administrative burdens will take place in Dublin on 22 and 23 November. Following the making of recommendations at the meeting, we will examine how the issue can be usefully pursued through the Council, at which there are many views. Various like-minded member states have taken certain views on the issue of regulation. However, we can have this debate on deregulation and better regulation. While everybody agrees that smart regulation is a good idea, it is a matter of how it is transposed in the member states. Administrative burdens and smart regulation will certainly be a very prominent issue for us at the Council and I envisage us producing recommendations or Council conclusions during the Presidency at the May Council next year.
I have a question on the terminology being used - administrative burden targets. Strightaway, from a small business perspective, such terminology kills such businesses. I therefore suggest we move away from using that type of lingo. We are here to be as helpful as we possibly can for small business and small industry. The use of terminology such as administrative burden targets is separate from what small businesses and small industry are seeking. We must use our common sense rather than such language. An objective should be to remove such language from EU communiqués.
I shall try to answer the Acting Chairman and give the Irish position because he asked a question on the Single Market Act. To be fair to the Minister, Deputy Bruton regarding his interaction with Commissioner Barnier, there is a determination to distil the Act into areas where Ireland has an interest. In terms of the Presidency we are talking about the proposed establishment of a high level group on services to business and progressing the digital Single Market agenda, especially building confidence measures in cross-border transactions. With regard to the cloud computing sector, there is the language of the SME access to capital markets, access to banking services, a professional qualifications directive and issues around public procurement. I agree with the Acting Chairman that the language used is arcane and does not reflect the vernacular or everyday usage. In terms of an engagement with 27 member states, it is a language that people subscribe to but I take his point.
By way of example, the Department is determined to ensure that when Council meetings take place, we can distil the language of the Commission's proposals or Council regulations into a language that can be disseminated in a way that every person, including Ministers, can grapple with.
Mr. Tommy Murray:
It is probably a case of speaking too long and spending too many hours in the company of various Commission acolytes. I agree with the Minister of State that it is just terminology or Euro-speak. Unfortunately, that is the language that we use around the Councils and with the Commission.
The industrial policy review will also come out and the Cypriot Presidency shall draft conclusions on same. The review's sectoral focus is very good and Ireland can support them. Some of the traditional industries like agrifood and tourism will be supported as well as ICTs and key enabling technologies. It is a plan that we can support, drive and emphasise during our Presidency. I am not sure if there are other comments.
I wish to reinforce the idea that the Government is prioritising smart regulation through the entrepreneurship agenda and reducing the regulatory burden. Hence, the communication between the Minister, Deputy Bruton and Commissioner Barnier. There will be an impetus during the first six months of the Presidency to drive results and reduce regulations in the SME sector. Over-regulation is a key impediment to SME competitiveness. Today, the Department wants to disseminate the message that reducing regulation is one of the key themes of the Irish Presidency. We wish to assist small businesses that the Acting Chairman talked about.
Mr. Tommy Murray:
I wish to comment on SMEs and their access to finance. During our Presidency, at the beginning of May, we will devote an informal competitive Council to SMEs and better regulation. It will be an important focal point for our Presidency in terms of dealing with the SME problems, especially access to finance, venture capital funding and the ongoing internationalisation of SMEs. It is an important issue for the Department and one that we can highlight during our Presidency and, as the Minister of State has said, to promote entrepreneurship and pursuing the entrepreneurship agenda.
To crystalise our Presidency agenda I shall mention four aspects. First, open trade and guarding against creeping protectionism; second, opening up the Single Market, services and examining regulated professions throughout Europe - for which another Council debate will be held on the issue - plus penetrating the Single Market in that respect; third, the industrial policy area is important for us and I have mentioned some of the sectors. The Minister of State had already referred to the cloud computing sector which is close to the Minister's heart; and, fourth, the research and development sector and trying to get significant advancement of the €80 billion Horizon 2020 package. Also included is competitiveness and the SME package which is €2.5 billion at present. That will be the Department's work during the Presidency. We will also promote key dossiers and key communications reached in open trade, Single Market, industrial policy and research and development sectors.
As there are no further questions I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive and informative review. I reflect the views of all of the members present when I say that his contribution has proved helpful and worthwhile. I wish him the best of luck at the EU meeting and during our Presidency of the EU for the first six months of next year.