European Scrutiny Committee Meeting Summary: 06 November 2013

07 November 2013

European Scrutiny Committee Meeting Summary:  06 November 2013

This week the Committee considered the following documents:

The Tobacco Products Directive
The Committee has considered this draft Directive to regulate the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco and tobacco products across the EU on several occasions.  The Government overrode the scrutiny reserve to support a general approach on a Presidency compromise text, following which the Committee held an evidence session with the Minister. In our Report of 4 September, we recommended a debate on the Directive in European Committee.  We asked that, prior to the debate, the Minister write to the Committee with the key changes sought by the European Parliament and the Government’s views on them. Today’s Report scrutinises the Minister’s response, notes that trilogue negotiations may be concluded by the end of the year and presses the Government to hold the debate as soon as possible.

Economic and Monetary Union (EMU)
The Commission has produced a Communication on Strengthening the Social Dimension of the EMU which aims to contribute to deeper EMU through reinforced surveillance and policy coordination on employment and social policies; enhanced solidarity and action on employment and labour mobility; and strengthened social dialogue.  It draws attention to existing spending initiatives that could be drawn on to fund work on the social dimension of EMU as well as reiterating the ultimate aim of the blueprint on EMU— full fiscal and economic union.  The Committee reports in detail on the Government’s position, and the likelihood that discussions will be concluded at the December European Council. The Minister says that the UK has made clear that policies that impinge on areas of Member State competence must be voluntary.  We recommend that the Communication be debated in European Committee to give Members an opportunity to explore the significant implications these ideas could have for the UK. 

EU Foreign, Defence and Security Policy
The Committee this week reports on three documents that will feed into the December 2013 European Council discussions on European Defence — a review of the European External Action Service; a Communication on the European Defence and Security Sector; and the EU High Representative’s Report on Common Security and Defence Policy. The first two were already under scrutiny while awaiting additional information from the Minister and an Opinion from the Defence Select Committee on the latter, which we now report.  The Defence Select Committee supports our intention to recommend a debate prior to the December Council and notes several areas of concern, among them the possibility of undermining the work of NATO and the extent to which Member States are prepared to commit to developing a pan-European defence and security base.  In relation to both documents and the HR’s Report, we ask questions about the potential of some of these proposals to impinge on areas of Member State competence and ask the Minister to respond to the points we raise by mid-November. 

Protecting the EU’s financial interests
Having previously scrutinised the content of this draft Directive on the fight against fraud to the Union’s financial interests by means of criminal law, this Report addresses the ongoing legal uncertainties about the opt-in process.  We again ask the Minister to respond explaining whether the UK’s justice and home affairs opt-in was triggered by the addition of the Title V legal base to the General Approach text on 6 June.   We welcome the Minister’s indication that the Government does not intend to opt into the Directive prior to adoption and will continue to welcome our views on it, however, we ask her to acknowledge the limitations on effective scrutiny once the provisions of a proposal have been fixed.  We reiterate our view that parliamentary scrutiny has been seriously mishandled in this case, and that the Government has failed to adhere to its undertakings on enhanced parliamentary scrutiny of opt-in decisions.  Given the extent of these failures, we invite the Minister to give oral evidence before the Committee to explain what has happened.

The role of national parliaments and subsidiarity
The Commission produces an annual report on relations with the national parliaments of the Member States in which it outlines the ways and extent to which national parliaments have engaged with it through commenting on individual initiatives, including through the Reasoned Opinion procedures. The Government’s explanatory memorandum reflects comments made by the Committee in the past on the need to stress the role of national parliaments as the true conduits for democratic accountability and to strengthen mechanisms that promote their involvement.  We report separately on the annual report on subsidiarity and proportionality, agreeing with the Government that national parliaments must maintain the flexibility to interpret the principle of subsidiarity and that the Commission’s responses to the yellow card on Monti II were deficient. We ask the Minister to write to us explaining what efforts will be made in Government to ensure the Committee is given sufficiently substantiated subsidiarity assessments.  We note with satisfaction that the Commission has revised its working methods in response to a letter from the Committee drawing attention to concerns about the brevity, generality and accessibility of subsidiarity justifications.  Given the critical importance of the debate about the role of national parliaments we recommend both documents for debate on the floor of the House.

Other documents reported
We are also reporting on documents relating to:

  • Culture, Media and Sport: a “Europe for Citizens” Programme 2014–20;
  • Energy and Climate Change: implementation of EU commitments on reducing greenhouse gas emissions; long-term energy infrastructure for Europe and beyond; 
  • Foreign and Commonwealth Office: EU enlargement strategy: EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy; political dialogue and cooperation between the EU and Central America; reform of the EU’s staff regulations; the EU and the Horn of Africa;
  • HM Treasury: Financial services: shadow banking; protecting the EU’s financial interests;
  • Home Office: European Investigation Order;
  • International Development: European Investment Bank
  • Office of National Statistics: statistics (draft Regulation); statistics (draft Regulation and Central Bank Opinion)
  • Transport: civil aviation safety;

The Committee’s report will be published next week.

The Committee’s Twentieth Report will be published on Friday 8 November, available on the Committee's publications page.  It covers: European aid to the most deprived; EU Passenger Name Records (PNR) Agreement with Canada; Adjustment of Direct Farm Payments for 2013; The EU and Korea; maritime spatial planning and integrated coastal management; Nagoya Protocol: sharing of benefits from genetic sources; health-enhancing physical activity; Union Customs Code; financial management; financial services: benchmarks; financial services: insurance and reinsurance; financing EU external action; inland waterways: vessel standards. 

Image: parliamentary copyright.

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