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11/05/2005 Competitiveness Council of Ministers

The Competitiveness Council of Ministers of the European Union met yesterday in Brussels. Greece was represented by Minister for Development Dimitris Sioufas, accompanied by the general secretary of the Ministry of Finance, Georgios Mergos and the special secretary for competitiveness, Spiros Efstathopoulos.

The items on the agenda included an examination of the latest developments in the textiles sector. Greece was one of six member countries to ask the European Commission to proceed to a fresh examination of the current situation regarding new mass imports of textile products from third countries and to propose measures to deal with it.

A proposal was also tabled to use the capacity provided by the Commission to create a flexibility reserve, in the framework of the regulation on the Structural Funds, in sectors such as textiles, clothing and footwear, which are suffering damage from the opening up of markets to third countries.

Another issue that was discussed was the interim review of the Lisbon Strategy and the impetus that must be given to the orders of the European Council of March 2005 to strengthen the competitiveness of the European economy, at the same time boosting employment and social cohesion, with respect for sustainable development and the environment.

In addition, there was an exchange of views on the Commission’s new competitiveness and innovation programme, which is being laid down for 2007-2013. The aim of the programme is to increase the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises by advancing simpler and clearer Community actions.

The European Commission also provided an update on recent developments in negotiations regarding the installation of an experimental thermonuclear reactor in Europe (France). According to the timetable, an agreement is expected by the end of 2005, with the widest possible participation at an international level.

Finally, the European Union’s industrial policy for the coming years and the need to increase productivity were discussed over lunch. A common theme was that the recent enlargement of the European Union provides significant opportunities for investment, skills and new markets.

After the meeting, Minister for Development Dimitris Sioufas made the following statement:

“I took part in a meeting today of the Competitiveness Council of Ministers of the European Union, together with general secretary of finance, Prof Gerogios Mergos, and the special secretary of the Operational Programme for Competitiveness, Spiros Efstathopoulos. Three important issues were discussed.

I shall start by discussing the first issue: the situation in the textiles, clothing and footwear sector. Today’s development is that six countries, Greece, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Belgium, agree that an urgent procedure should be used to deal with the wave of textiles, clothing and footwear from China into the countries of the European Union, which has assumed unforeseen proportions.

The common call along with France, Spain, Italy and Portugal, for the European Commission to deal seriously with this issue and not to wait the 60-day period for an investigation of the problem, changes the outlook for intervention of the countries that suffer the greatest impact from this terrific rise in imports from China. The question is not for there to be protective measures for the sectors that we are referring to. But measures that allow a smooth adaptation to the opening up of China through the World Trade Organisation since 1 January 2005, and in such a way that irreparable damage is not caused to the three sectors.I would also like to point out here that Greece tabled an additional proposal, because as you know, the Fourth Community Support Framework provides for the reorganisation and modernisation of textiles, clothing and footwear. Greece tabled the following proposal: instead of these support measures being taken with the creation of a special reserve in CSF IV, this should happen now, in the framework of CSF III. We believe that we are not pursuing a defensive policy. We are pursuing and demanding a policy by which China will adapt, and adapt its growth on international markets, in a smooth manner for all the other economies, especially for the countries of Europe, and particularly for those countries in which these sectors are highly developed.

We hope that the proposal of the six member states for application of the urgent procedure meets with a response, so that we do not have to wait sixty days for this development, when an investigation of the 9 sectors chosen by Commissioner Mandelson, and not the 16 that we are asking for, will take place. Because we have added some other sectors here.”

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