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European Scrutiny Committee Meeting Summary: 26 June 2013

28 June 2013

European Scrutiny Committee Meeting summary: 26 June 2013

Reforming Europol— important proposals to be the subject of an opt-in debate

The draft Europol Regulation proposes merging the functions of Europol and the European Police College (CEPOL) within a single EU Agency for Law Enforcement Co-operation and Training, strengthening the obligation on Member States to share information with Europol, and enhancing scrutiny of the new Agency’s activities and budget by national Parliaments and the European Parliament.  As the draft Regulation is subject to the UK’s justice and home affairs opt-in and is likely to be of strong interest to Parliament, the Government offered a debate — based on commitments made by the Minister for Europe in January 2011 — on the Floor of the House on a motion setting out whether or not it recommends opting in.  We raised a number of questions on the substance of the draft Regulation, and asked the Government to tell us whether or not it would recommend opting in, as well as the reasons why, in sufficient time for us to report the Government’s position to the House before the debate takes place on 3 July.  The Minister’s response, which we report this week, addresses our questions but fails to tell us whether or not the Government intends to opt into the draft Regulation.  We consider that its failure to do so undermines the Government’s commitment to enhanced Parliamentary scrutiny of important opt-in decisions.  We ask the Minister to explain why the Government has been unable to provide the information we requested on the Government’s recommended approach to the opt-in in this case, and indicate that we will wish to review thoroughly the Government’s commitment to Lidington opt-in debates in light of its inability to provide timely information on this and other important opt-in decisions.  

Development and migration

We also report on a Commission Communication which seeks to establish the basis for a common position of the EU and Member States at the forthcoming High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development organised by the United Nations General Assembly which will take place in October 2013.  The Communication highlights the potential for migration and mobility to contribute to the economic, social and environmental development of low and middle income countries and identifies ways in which any negative impacts can be mitigated.  Whilst the Government welcomes the Commission’s contribution and endorses many of its “key messages”, it suggests that some are too prescriptive or contradict UK policy.  The Minister expects the Council to agree Conclusions in July which ensure that national competences and policy preferences are properly reflected in the EU’s final position for the High Level Dialogue.  We ask him to provide us with a copy of the Conclusions and an explanation of how they address the Government’s concerns.  We also ask him to tell us who will represent the EU in the High Level Dialogue and whether and how Member States will be able to make their own contributions.

The functioning of the Schengen free movement area

Although the UK remains outside the Schengen free movement area, and continues to exercise border controls on all individuals seeking entry to the UK, it has chosen to take part in those aspects of Schengen cooperation dealing with policing and law enforcement.  Every six months, the Commission produces a report on the functioning of the Schengen free movement area which is intended to form the basis for political and strategic discussions on recent developments at Ministerial level.  The latest report covers the period from 1 November 2012 to April 2013 and provides an overview of migratory pressures at the EU’s external border and migration flows within the Schengen area; the application of the Schengen acquis by Member States; and the use of "flanking" measures (such as the Schengen Information System) which are intended to enhance security.  Whilst clearing the document from scrutiny, we note in our conclusion that it is in the UK’s interest to play an active part in these discussions since the efficacy of controls at the EU’s external border, and the application of measures to strengthen security within the Schengen area, will necessarily have some impact on migratory pressures at the UK’s borders and on its internal security. 

EU Special Representatives

Following last week’s reports on a series of Council Decisions renewing the mandates of a number of EU Special Representatives (EUSRs) the Committee reports this week on the EUSRs for the South Caucasus and the Georgia conflict; the African Union; the Horn of Africa; the Middle East Peace Process; Sudan and South Sudan; and Bosnia and Herzegovina. We are also reporting on a Council Decision to increase the budget of the EUSR for Human Rights for the remaining year of his mandate. The increase would be met from the existing CFSP budget for missions and operations; having successfully objected to the earlier proposals for larger budgetary increases, the Government is reasonably content with the revised budget.

Trans-European Telecommunications Network, 2014-20

Trans-European Networks in the areas of transport, telecommunications and energy are aimed at promoting the interconnection and interoperability of national networks and access to such networks. In January 2012 a draft Regulation setting guidelines for the Trans-European Telecommunications Network for 2014-20 was cleared from scrutiny after debate by the House of Commons. It was predicated on the Commission proposal that the network would be allocated €9.2 billion (£8 billion) in the Multiannual Financial Framework for 2014-20. Today we considered an amended draft Regulation which, as a result of the European Council’s agreement to reduce the size of the Commission’s proposals for the Multiannual Financial Framework, would allocate €1 billion (£0.8 billion) to the Trans-European Telecommunications Network, to be focussed on a smaller number of digital service infrastructures and a limited contribution to broadband networks. Given that the budgetary provision for the Trans-European Telecommunications Network has been scaled back, we are content to clear this amended proposal from scrutiny.

European Earth Observation Programme

Pending further information from the Government addressing its concerns about the lack of clarity of some of the proposed administrative arrangements, we  decided to hold under scrutiny a draft Regulation setting out the financial and governance provisions for the European Earth Observation Programme ("Copernicus") for the period 2014-20.

Other documents reported

We are also reporting on documents relating to:

  • Department for Business, Innovation and Skills: EU Structural and Cohesion Fund programmes
  • HM Treasury: Money laundering and terrorist financing; 2013 European Semester
  • Home Office: European statistics on safety from crime; Development and migration
  • Ministry of Justice: Public access to EU documents
  • Transport: Freight transport

The Committee’s report will be published next week. 

Image: iStockphoto

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