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European Scrutiny Committee Meeting Summary: 10 July 2013

11 July 2013

European Scrutiny Committee Meeting summary: 10 July 2013

General Budget 2013

In May, the Committee considered and cleared Draft Amending Budget No. 1/2013 which incorporated the commitment and payment appropriations the Commission deemed necessary to cover expenditure in 2013 related to Croatia’s accession to the EU on 1 July.  The Commission also proposed a draft Decision to increase the 2013 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) ceilings to take account of this additional expenditure.  Following our Report on these documents, the Financial Secretary wrote to confirm that the Government would oppose any proposal, which he said would be decided by unanimity, which increased the overall payment ceiling.  The Minister has now written again to the Committee to say that, in spite of his previous assurances, the Government has acquiesced in an agreement increasing the payments ceiling, having secured a Council declaration that the increase would only be spent on programmes relating to Croatia. We are inviting the Minister to give oral evidence to explain why, irrespective of the merits of the agreement, it chose to vote contrary to the absolute assurance we had been given.

Syria and Reforming Europol

We are bringing forward publication of two Reports on Further amendments to EU restrictive measures against the Syrian regime and Reforming Europol in order to make them available for upcoming debates on the floor of the House. 

Our Report on Syria examines the draft text of a Council Regulation to implement already-agreed changes to the EU’s restrictive measures against Syria.  Council Decision 2013/255/CFSP, adopted in June, took account of a political commitment, by way of a Council Declaration, to reinstate restrictions against Syria when they expired on 31 May, with the exception of provisions restricting the export of arms and related materiel.  Member States agreed conditions for the export or supply of such goods, but also agreed to additional derogations to certain banking provisions. It agreed to review the position before 1 August, once a report from the High Representative had been provided. As the draft is still under discussion we are retaining it under scrutiny pending further information on the outcome. 

This is our Third Report on the draft Europol Regulation, which proposes merging the functions of Europol and the European Police College (CEPOL) within a single EU Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation and Training.  The Government’s approach to the draft Regulation — including whether or not it intends to opt in — will be debated on the Floor of the House on 15 July.  Our Report sets out the Government’s recommendation not to opt into the proposal at the negotiating stage but to opt in after it has been formally adopted by the European Parliament and Council, provided the Government is satisfied that its concerns regarding the sharing of information with Europol and the initiation of criminal investigations requested by Europol are met.   We raise a number of questions which we ask the Government to address in the debate and request regular progress reports on negotiations. 

Safety of the agri-food chain

A complex package of measures on the safety of the agri-food chain is also considered this week.  The measures seek to simplify and update certain instruments to further integrate the EU’s approach across the areas of animal health, plant health, plant reproductive material (seeds) and official controls.  The Commission also put forward a proposal establishing a multi-annual EU financing programme which we will consider in a future Report.  An overarching Commission Communication, which we clear from scrutiny, identifies the main areas where the Commission is seeking to make changes.  There are a number of issues which will need to be clarified on the substance of the individual draft Regulations, which are kept under scrutiny as we await further developments.

European Union Special Representatives (EUSRs)

We have reported, over the past weeks, on a number of EU Special Representative mandate renewals.  Overall, we commended the Minister and his officials for their ongoing engagement with the organisation of these missions, including pressure for budgetary restraint.  However, all were presented far too late for effective prior scrutiny; and many lacked relevant budgetary information and/or assessment of effectiveness.  With, apparently, no communication with or questions asked by Member States’ representatives in the intervening months we expressed our dissatisfaction with the apparent failure of the European External Action Service, yet again, to take Parliamentary scrutiny seriously, in our Report on the EUSR to the Horn of Africa as well as in our evidence session with the Minister for Europe on 4 July.  The Minister now says that he will provide a copy of his further representations to the High Representative and agrees that significant improvements must be made.  Having now had the appropriate budgetary information, we clear the mandates for the EUSRs for the Horn of Africa, the African Union and Afghanistan. We also clear the Council Decision on the appointment of a new EUSR to Afghanistan.

Taxation

A draft Directive on administrative cooperation in the field of taxation proposes amendment of an extant Directive to include new categories of information to be automatically exchanged between Member States, as well as removal of the thresholds below which Member States may not wish to receive information.  The Minister has told us that the Government is fully committed to clamping down on tax evasion.  Noting the commitment to a single global standard in automatic exchange of information, we ask the Minister to inform us of any problems he foresees in the upcoming negotiations.

Other documents reported

We are also reporting on documents relating to:

  • Culture, Media and Sport: The return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from a Member State
  • Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Breaches of the Cotonou Agreement by: Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; and Zimbabwe
  • Home Office: Annual Report on Immigration and Asylum 2012
  • HM Treasury: Financial Management: European Anti-Fraud Office; Financial services: central securities depositaries and securities settlement
  • Justice: Accession by Austria and Malta to the Hague Services Convention 
  • Transport: Single European Sky
  • Work and Pensions: EU Citizenship Report 2013

The Committee’s report will be published next week.

The Committee’s Eighth Report (agreed last week) will be published next Monday. It will cover the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014–20; Climate and energy policies 2030; Regulation of tobacco and related products; Financial audits; European Union Training Mission (EUTM) Mali, EUCAP (European Conference on Antennas and Propagation) Sahel Niger, EUTM Somalia and EUCAP Nestor; Statute for a European Foundation; EUSR to Kosovo; EUSR for the Horn of Africa; free movement and public documents; Adoption of the euro — Latvia; European Globalisation Adjustment Fund; Salary weightings for EU staff working outside the EU; Establishing a new Schengen evaluation mechanism; Trafficking in firearms; European Investment Bank;  Data protection regulation in the EU; Marine equipment; Roadworthiness of vehicles; Stability and Growth Pact and financial assistance to Member States.

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