Nieuwsbericht | 22-06-2006
Charlie McCreevy European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services The Commission's work programme for 2007
European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI) Brussels, 21 June 2006
Mr Chairman, Honourable Members,
It is a pleasure for me to be here today. It has become tradition that every spring Commissioners discuss with the Parliamentary Committees responsible for their respective portfolio the priorities for the forthcoming year. I welcome such opportunities because I recognise that the Commission does not have a monopoly on good ideas.
In setting policy priorities, we must make sure that what we do matters to citizens and companies that live their lives in the real world, far away from inter-institutional dialogues, reflection periods, co-decision and qualified majority voting. As elected representatives of our citizens, you reflect a wealth of experience and are familiar with the hopes and concerns of the bulk of our companies and people that never make it to Brussels or Strasbourg to plead their case. Their input via you in priority setting is crucial if we want policy that makes a difference for them.
Without pretending to cover all aspects of our ongoing and future initiatives, let me offer you some views on a number of issues I consider important for the development of the internal market in the next months and in 2007.
But let me begin by reiterating that I do not regard a short legislative agenda as anything to be ashamed of. The number of directives proposed or adopted is not a yardstick for success. For me, success is making it easier for business and consumers to take up and pursue business opportunities. An integrated market without internal barriers that is not stifled by excessive and detailed legislation or harmonization is the best service we can render our companies and consumers.
Studies have shown that in the 10 years since 1992, GDP in the EU has risen by an extra 1.8% on account of the Internal Market and 2.5 million extra jobs were generated by it. This is what matters. I am convinced that in continuing to make it easier for companies and consumers to operate across borders we can extend this success and see more growth and more jobs being created as a result of the Internal market. This does not require dozens of legislative measures. The bulk of the internal market legal framework really is already in place. I accept that it is not always applied properly, but no amount of new legislation will change this.
We should make existing laws work. This requires ownership. It also requires companies and countries to have more confidence in their own abilities. They must see the internal market as an opportunity, not as a threat.
Agreeing on legislation in Brussels is just the start of a process. What is agreed must be implemented and applied. Community law serves a broader purpose than merely being a playground for academics and university students or an inexhaustible source of litigation for lawyers.
Opening up markets is a two-way street. I am still to come across a country or a business that does not want to gain access to other markets but too often such ambitions do not instil a sense of reciprocity and protectionist rhetoric undermines the very foundations of the internal market.
But I am in no way pessimistic. It is our job to work to make the Single Market the reality and provide the benefits to our citizens. We have plenty of opportunities ahead of us. The world is changing and we must change with it. Just as a business has to keep up to date - watching carefully for changes in the market place or for new opportunities - so we in the European Union have to make sure that what we are doing remains relevant and effective. We need to make the most of the advantages we enjoy.
Taking periodic stock. Planning ahead. These are good disciplines. That is why the Commission in its "Citizens' agenda" has announced that it is undertaking a fundamental and forward-looking review of the Internal Market.
In this, we will seek to reach a shared assessment of where we are and where we should be going. The Parliament's views on this will, of course, be very valuable. The Commission will report by June 2007, with an interim report going to the Spring European Council next March. Now that I have set out some of my overall views on the Internal Market, let me highlight some specific activities that fall within the remit of this Committee.
Company law and corporate governance
First on the recent public consultation on the Company Law and Corporate Governance Action Plan. The first phase of implementing the Action Plan presented under the previous Commission has been completed. Nearly all measures scheduled have been adopted. Even more importantly, they are starting to make a difference on the ground. More transparency, better governance, more reliable information for investors.
Before moving on I decided to consult stakeholders. We must bear in mind that the business environment is constantly changing. I want to make sure that what we propose reflects businesses' needs and realities. Quality instead of quantity, if it ain't broken, don't fix it.
More than 250 respondents from the EU and third countries have sent us their views, generally supporting the work done since 2003. A number of respondents expressed their "regulatory fatigue" and called for a stabilisation period - except for the "enabling legislation", such as the directive on the Transfer of Registered Office or the Statute of a European Private Company, currently under study. We will be particularly attentive to tomorrow's hearing organised by this committee. The result of the consultation will be published in a detailed report.
The proposal for a directive on the exercise of voting rights by shareholders currently on your table, got strong support in the consultation. I would like to thank you for the work you are doing. I am sure you will agree with me that we should pursue our objective to obtain an agreement as soon as possible. Shareholders and companies rely on us to solve problems quickly. We must equip our rules in this area for the 21 st Century.
I would also like to say a few words on intellectual property rights.
Intellectual property rights are at the heart of a knowledge-based economy. Innovation is key for Europe's chances to remain competitive. Protection of intellectual property stimulates and rewards innovation. A solid legal framework is essential. We must get this right. We also need to keep up. Compared to others, Europe is losing ground. We need to see where progress can be made.
The Community Patent remains blocked in the Council pending a solution on the language regime. No workable consensus on the patentability of Computer Implemented Inventions was possible. Opinions remain divided on this question. From my side I maintain the position I gave when the Parliament rejected the Common Position. I will not bring a new initiative forward on this during my time as Commissioner for the Internal Market. I will leave this choice to my successor.
Recognising the economic importance of patents, I felt it was not a good thing to leave the entire patent agenda in limbo. For this reason we launched early this year a broad consultation on future patent policy in Europe. The consultation was a considerable success in terms of stakeholders' participation. We have received 2000 replies.
The next step is a public hearing on 12 July. The hearing will focus on four topics: the principles and values that underpin the patent system; the proposed Community patent; non-Community initiatives such as the London Protocol and the European Patent Litigation Agreement (EPLA); and possible areas for harmonisation at Community level. I am very pleased that the European Parliament has shown interest in this consultation, in particular, that your Chairman, Mr Gargani, has agreed to be the first speaker at the hearing.
We intend to publish a report summarising the outcome of the written consultation and of the public hearing. I hope to come back here to discuss the conclusions with you in the autumn. One thing is certain, progress in the patent field has to be made. Businessmen, faced with a 21 st century global economy, scratch their heads in disbelief when they see us stuck in discussions about language regimes and regional distribution of courts. What they want is a cheaper and reliable patent system. That's why I think we should look at all possible routes forward, be they Community or non-Community initiatives.
On the related issue of design protection, the so-called 'spare parts proposal', we have seen little progress. I can only regret this. Over-protecting the designs market does nothing to stimulate competitiveness - on the contrary, this may just perpetuate "economic rents". I have no doubt that the adoption of this proposal would result in more choice and lower prices. There are economic benefits to be gained - for consumers as well as industry. Consumers will benefit from lower prices and more choice. Business will benefit because newcomers will have a chance to enter this market and create growth and jobs.
Safety issues have been raised repeatedly. Safety must remain a primary concern, but let me stress that this concern has already been addressed by other EU laws, for instance by the type approval framework directive in the automobile sector. I hope that discussions on the "spare parts proposal" can resume quickly. Businesses and consumers are waiting for concrete results. This is what they are entitled to.
On copyright, I look forward to your opinion on the Recommendation on Online Music which the Commission adopted last year. We are now monitoring its impact. I am pleased to be able to report that things already seem to be moving forward. We have seen a number of deals for EU-wide licences struck since the start of this year, and we are also seeing moves towards improved governance in the more forward-looking collecting societies.
In bringing forward the Recommendation, we wanted to inject a bit of pace into the online music market. It is an area with rich potential for growth, to the ultimate benefit of all concerned - business, rightsholders and consumers. We are also looking at the question of copyright levies. This is on our work programme for later this year. We fully share the view that copyright holders deserve to be rewarded for their work. But we need to ensure that this is done in a fair, efficient and equitable way.
Levies - on media and equipment - impose a cost on both producers and consumers. We need to be sure that this is the most appropriate way to reward rights holders and to examine whether it is putting a brake on innovative products and services. Through digital rights management, there are new technological means through which rights holders can, more directly, protect their interests. The key question is whether existing levies imposed on digital devices should be reduced or phased out and be replaced by direct payment systems. We have launched a consultation to get the views of consumers and stakeholders. I have written to your chair about this and would very much welcome your views on this process.
Finally there is the question of the term of protection for sound recording and its role in fostering a more competitive EU phonogram industry. Currently, the term of protection for performers and producers is fifty years from the time of a recording. The question is whether this should be extended possibly to match the USA which offers 95 years' protection.
Performers feel that they are entitled to greater protection, at least for their own lifetimes. The European music industry claims an extension is vital for its competitiveness. The results of an impact assessment will be available by the end of 2006. We are consulting all stakeholders during this process with an open mind.
While not primarily within the remit of this Committee, I do want to make some final remarks on the Services Directive.
I was delighted that Ministers were able to reach a political agreement on 29 May. No Member State voted against. The text of the agreement is very close to the Commission's amended proposal, which in turn reflected closely the compromise reached in this House.
The result is a balanced and workable text that will deliver substantial benefits to the services sector and that retains the core of our ambitions in this sector, namely facilitation of establishment, freedom to provide services and administrative co-operation and simplification. This is a truly remarkable achievement, especially when one considers how much progress we have been able to make, against the odds, in the past 12 months. We should capitalise on the political momentum that this proposal has now gathered to complete the second reading as soon as possible. The earlier this happens, the earlier we will be able to reap the economic benefits in terms of growth, competitiveness and jobs.
Parliament has delivered the breakthrough on this proposal. Everyone recognises this. The Compromise reached in February was balanced. It was also fragile. Therefore I took it upon me to defend it before the Council who accepted it without changing the crucial provisions. The Council's political agreement is equally balanced and fragile and I call upon Parliament not to unpick it.
The position of the Council, the Parliament and the Commission have converged so much on this proposal that I think it is fair to say that there is overall consensus. We should not undermine this by pursuing further changes that will not have much of a material effect anyway.
Chairman, Honourable Members,
An exchange of views is something quite different from a monologue. I am here to hear your views. I have set out mine but think we should hear from you now.