Serge Kubla, Minister for the Economy, SMEs, Research and new technology in the Belgian region of Wallonia, and chair of the Industry council during the Belgian EU Presidency has announced his work plan for the next six months, which will closely address life sciences and biotechnology and the allocation of financial resources to research and development activities following the expiry of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) Treaty in 2002. These priorities are part of the Belgian approach to use its Presidency term to strive for increased competitiveness. Minister Kubla also outlined the particular attention that will be paid to the modernisation of the rules governing competition between businesses and competitiveness and business policy, with a particular focus on small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). In the area of life sciences and biotechnology, Minister Kubla is hoping for communication from the European Commission covering the following points, and intends to raise these issues at the Industry council on 5 December: - regulatory framework and application with a view to guaranteeing safety for human health and the protection of the environment; - biotechnology research in support of European policies and industries, education, supply of qualified staff, intellectual property; - innovation and competitiveness, spirit of enterprise, access to financing; - public perception and good governance (handling of questions such as the advantages for society, ethical problems); - EU policy in a global context (international governance, development policy, relations with commercial partners, multilateral cooperation). The minister hopes that these areas can be addressed in collaboration with industry. With the ECSC Treaty due to expire on 23 July 2002, Minister Kubla is intending to finalise agreement on the allocation of funds to coal and steel research after this date. An unofficial political agreement was reached at the Industry Council on 15 May 2001, but the Belgian Presidency intends to confirm or adjust this unofficial agreement following the opinion of the European Parliament, which is expected in September. 'It is essential to be able to reach an agreement as soon as possible, so that the steel industry can enjoy the important research activities necessary for its redeployment and its diversification into new products,' said Serge Kubla. Belgium's decentralised political structure means that ministers of regional governments, such as Serge Kubla from Wallonia, but also ministers from Flanders and the Brussels regions will chair some of the EU councils. Reflecting Belgium's linguistic diversity, a minister from the German speaking community will chair the Informal council on regional policy. Federal ministers with functional responsibility will preside over councils on matters relating exclusively to federal competence.