29 Sep

Participants at the first day of the Competitiveness Council held and in-depth discussion about a possible long-term strategy on sustainable growth, based on the Finnish Presidency’s report. The Presidency indicated its intention to present this document, along with the outcome of the Ministers’ debate, to the October European Council. As a contribution to the Strategic Agenda, the report could serve as a reference document for the next Commission’s five-year work programme. During the debate László GYÖRGY, Minister of State for Economic Strategy and Regulation emphasized that social and regional differences and the principle of technology neutrality should properly be taken into account during a just transition towards climate neutrality. In addition, he regretted that a reference to economic convergence, as one of the founding pillars of improving the EU’s competitiveness and growth, was missing from the report. He suggested that the new Commission put competitiveness even higher on its agenda, by setting up a so-called Competitiveness Pact.

Ministers also discussed the state of play of an amendment of the regulation on Euro 6 vehicle real driving emissions (RDE). László GYÖRGY explained that providing a predictable legal environment is crutial to the car manufacturers, authorities and consumers.
The background of the draft proposal is the General Court decision over the request of the municipalities of Paris, Brussels and Madrid of 2016 to repeal the existing legislation on vehicle real driving emission (RDE) limit values. The ruling of the Court of December 2018 found that the Commission acted outside of its powers in setting the conformity factors for NOx emissions of cars via comitology procedure instead of ordinary legislative procedure. The General Court annulled those provisions in the concerned Regulation, nevertheless did not question the technical needs for conformity factors. The now proposed Regulation includes the same conformity factors for nitrogen oxides (NOx) under co-legislative procedure in order to avoid legal uncertainty regarding vehicle type-approvals.
However, due to the ruling 8 million vehicles planned for production are at stake in the EU in the absence of a legislative proposal, which could put an end to the European automotive industry and jeopardising the livelihoods of millions of European families. In order to protect the European car industry, first Hungary, then Germany and the European Commission appealed against the decision.
Minister of State László GYÖRGY emphasized that the correct interpretation of sustainability takes environmental, economic and social aspects equally into consideration. Air quality in cities is important to Hungary, but it can also be guaranteed without jeopardizing the European car industry and the livelihoods of families working in it. The Hungarian government is able to provide answers to questions related to air quality that do not pose the least risk to the competitiveness of the industry. For example, according to the new Green Bus Program, from January 1 2022 in Hungary, only electric buses can be put into circulation in cities with more than 25,000 inhabitants, and the aim is to increase the proportion of domestic value added in the production of environmentally friendly buses.

The same report prepared by the Finnish Presidency has been discussed at the research day of the Competitiveness Council, on 27 September. Ministers agreed that R&I, knowledge, education, skills and growth of companies are drivers of sustainable economic growth. They found it crucial to deepen links between education and research, the European Education Area and the European Research Area. Several ministers stressed the importance to bring research results to market and deploy them, in addition to support SMEs, in particular their digitalisation.

On the second day of the Council research ministers also held a discussion over the sustainable growth report of the Presidency, followed by  a policy debate on the synergies of Horizon Europe with other programmes. Ministers agreed that workable synergies (to be ensured at regulatory and operational level) are needed in order to ensure that European programmes mutually reinforce each other. Several ministers highlighted the possibilities given by the use of Seal of Excellence. József BÓDIS, Minister of State responsible for knowledge and innovation management stressed that synergies should be created between the European Institute of Innovation and Technology and European Innovation Council as well, covering not only operational but also governance aspects. He highlighted that introducing regulations which allow a more flexible use of the Structural Funds and the change of state aid rules may facilitate the increased involvement of these Member States in the R&I partnerships. At last, he stressed that innovation divide between EU13 and EU15 countries become clear in Horizon 2020, and the Horizon Europe agreements do not address this highly important issue properly either.  In order to achieve real progress in this field, he proposed the introduction of a regional quota of 20% for the EU 13 Member States.