COMMONS

Committee Meeting Summary: 22 January 2014

23 January 2014

The European Scrutiny Committee met on Wednesday 22 January

The Committee is taking further oral evidence this week for its inquiry into the application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in the UK.  The final session will take place next week (for further details see the Committee’s website, which also includes the written evidence which has been submitted to the inquiry).

This week the Committee considered the following documents

Recommended for debate on the floor of the House: Procedural Rights Package

These proposals are particularly significant, but the Government’s initial Explanatory Memoranda were disappointingly thin on detail, particularly in the areas of which considerations will inform the Government’s decision on whether or not to opt-in, and the extent to which the proposals comply with the principle of subsidiarity and existing national legislation.  We therefore sent an urgent letter to the Minister last week asking for further information.  The Minister has now replied and, taking his response into account, we recommend that the House issue a Reasoned Opinion that the presumption of innocence proposal does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity, and that there are opt-in debates held on that proposal, those relating to the right to provisional legal aid and those relating to procedural safeguards for children and other vulnerable defendants in criminal proceedings.  We recommend that all the proposals are held under scrutiny.

Recommended for debate on the floor of the House: Free movement of EU citizens

We reported on this Commission Communication two weeks ago, and kept it under scrutiny, seeking urgent further information from the Government on the data it held on the number of nationals from other EU countries claiming benefits in the UK; the data sources used to determine the present scale of abuse of the UK’s welfare system by migrant EU citizens; and the scale and form of the most prevalent types of abuse and fraud of EU free movement rules in the UK.  The Minister has now replied.  We conclude that the challenges presented by free movement within an enlarged European Union, the impact on national welfare systems and local services, the adequacy of the safeguards enshrined in existing EU rules to protect against abuse and fraud, and the scope for (and proportionality of) action at national level are of sufficient importance to merit a debate on the floor of the House.

European Investigation Order

The Draft Directive aims to create a single instrument for obtaining evidence located in another Member State in the framework of criminal proceedings.  It has been held under scrutiny since September 2010, and the Government has opted into it.  We recommended in November that the proposal be debated in European Committee; no date has yet been set.  In the meantime the Government has sent further details of the final draft, but as it has a limited classification it cannot be deposited for wider readership in the House.  We express concern about the scrutiny handling of the document, and ask the Minister to explain in the course of the Committee debate to what extent national law and/or procedure will have to be changed to implement the EIO, and to confirm what its consequences are for the pre-Lisbon JHA measures it either revises or replaces.

Commission’s response to EPPO Reasoned Opinion

The Commission has published a Communication which forms a composite response to those Chambers of National Parliaments – including both the House of Commons and the House of Lords - which took the view that the proposal to establish a European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) did not comply with the principle of subsidiarity.  We publish a detailed rebuttal of many of the Commission’s points, and note that the UK Government shares our disappointment at the tone of the Commission’s comments.  We raise a number of specific issues and keep the document under scrutiny; we will also send our Report to the Commission.

Customs

The aim of this Draft Directive is to harmonise civil penalties for customs infringements, which currently vary throughout the EU, notwithstanding the fact that customs legislation is completely harmonised across Member States.  The UK currently imposes civil penalties ranging from £250 to £2,500 for such breaches.  The Minister describes a limited number of advantages of the proposal and considerably more disadvantages – including that a single penalty regime would be disproportionate and inflexible.  We are also told that when the Commission first raised this proposal at a high-level compliance seminar in 2012 it was only supported by one Member State.  We therefore ask the Minister to inform us, once negotiations have advanced a little, how they are progressing.  The document remains under scrutiny.

Restrictive measures against Iran

As part of the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action agreed by Iran and the E3/EU+3, which entered into force on 20 January, the Council amended Council Regulation No.267/2012, suspending certain EU restrictive measures against Iran for a period of six months. The prohibition has been lifted on: the provision of insurance and transport in relation to Iranian crude oil sales to its current customers; on the import, purchase or transport of Iranian petrochemical products and related services; and on the provision of vessels, to enable the transport of Iranian crude oil and petrochemical products. The ban on trade in gold and precious metals with the Iranian government, its public bodies and the Central Bank of Iran has also been suspended. As foreseen by the Joint Plan of Action, the thresholds for authorising financial transfers to and from Iran have been increased tenfold in order to ease legitimate trade with Iran. The suspension will last for six months during which relevant contracts will have to be executed. By putting the sanctions relief in place, the EU has implemented its part of the first step towards a comprehensive solution to address concerns about the Iranian nuclear programme. This first step may be prolonged by mutual consent between the Iran and the E3/EU+3. The Committee reports on, and clears, the document.

Animal cloning

The proposed Draft Directives would prohibit the cloning of farmed animals and prevent the marketing within the EU of food produced from cloned animals.  A Commission Report trailing such proposals was debated in European Committee in 2011.  We noted at the time the Government’s view that while it recognised the need to safeguard food safety and the welfare of clones and their surrogate dams, existing EU legislation was sufficient.  This remains the Government’s view, and it has also identified several legal issues.  We ask the Minister to respond on legal points by our next meeting (on 29 January), and keep the proposal under scrutiny.

Other documents reported

We are also reporting on documents relating to:

  • Energy and Climate Change: Public intervention and the internal electricity market;
  • Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Cultivation of genetically modified maize; Methods for stunning poultry;
  • FCO: EU-Syria relations; Outer Space Activities;
  • HM Treasury: Macro-financial assistance; Financial management; EU Solidarity Fund;
  • Home Office: Functioning of the Schengen area; Regulation of new psychoactive substances;
  • International Development: European Investment Bank; EU humanitarian assistance;
  • Office for National Statistics: Management audit;
  • Transport: Rail research and innovation;

The Committee’s Report will be published next week (with the Procedural Rights Package Report published separately). The Committee’s Thirtieth Report has been published. It covers: Banking Union: single resolution mechanism; EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process; Posting of Workers; Insolvency Proceedings;EU Cooperation with Egypt in the Field of Governance; EU support for policing in Afghanistan; Taxation; Extending participation in the European Asylum Support Office; Review of the implementation of the EU-US PNR Agreement; Statistics; Tripartite Social Summit for Growth and Employment.

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