European Scrutiny Commitee Meeting Summary: 8 January 2014

09 January 2014

European Scrutiny Committee Meeting Summary:  8 January 2014

The Committee is currently inquiring into the application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in the UK. The first oral evidence session will take place next week (15 January). Full details of the witnesses are on our website.

The Government’s response to our Report on the UK’s block opt-out of pre-Lisbon criminal law and policing measures (known as the “2014 decision”) has been received and will be published next week.

This week the Committee considered the following documents:

Free movement of EU citizens
This Commission Communication provides an overview of the legal framework governing the free movement of EU citizens and their families and proposes five actions to help Member States apply the rules effectively. It was produced following a request from the Home Secretary and her counterparts in Austria, Germany and the Netherlands in April 2013 for an urgent review of EU free movement rules and their impact on local services and social welfare systems. The Commission concludes that, in its view, EU free movement rules contain "robust safeguards" to tackle abuse and prevent unreasonable burdens being placed on the host country, and that it is the joint responsibility of Member States and the EU institutions to uphold the right to free movement "including by countering public perceptions that are not based on facts or economic realities". The Minister for Immigration is critical of the Commission for not acknowledging the scope and seriousness of free movement fraud and abuse, suggests that the sanctions available to Member States are inadequate and adds that there is insufficient flexibility to manage access to benefits for EU migrants. Noting that the timing of the publication coincides with the lifting of transitional controls on migrants from Bulgaria and Romania on 1 January 2014, and the entry into force of domestic regulations removing entitlement to Jobseekers' Allowance for EEA nationals seeking employment in the UK, we seek further information from the Government by Friday 17 January, with a view to returning to the issue later this month.

Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in Development
This Commission Staff Working Paper is the third progress report on implementation of the EU 2010-2015 Plan of Action on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in Development (GAP). The GAP contains nine objectives, 37 actions and 53 indicators. The Minister notes that, as in previous years, the report highlights not only the achievements made in promoting gender equality through development co-operation by EU Member States, the European External Action Service and EU delegations, but also frankly highlights the persisting challenges and areas where more work needs to be done. She describes the report's conclusion that, overall, progress was "extremely slow" between July 2012 and June 2013 as very disappointing, and underlines the Government's commitment to putting girls and women at the centre of international development. We recommend a debate in European Committee.

CSDP missions in Iraq and South Sudan
The Committee cleared these Council Decisions in July 2013 and July 2012 respectively. We have had a number of exchanges with the FCO over the need for CSDP missions to be properly evaluated throughout their existence and to be wound up when their job has been done or when it is plain that, for whatever reason, they are failing to deliver value for money. The Minister now reports that though both missions were scheduled to close in December 2013 and January 2014 respectively the European External Action Service brought forward proposals that they should be extended for up to a year, which the Government successfully opposed. We commend the Minister for the position he took, and urge him to continue to press the EEAS and the Commission to ensure that CSDP missions are measurably effective (by outcome, not by activity) and focused, continue to address threats to our security and can demonstrate that there are still valid and achievable goals to pursue.

Reforming Europol
This draft Regulation establishes a new legal base for cooperation between Member States' law enforcement authorities and Europol. It includes provisions on Parliamentary scrutiny of Europol's activities which involve both the European Parliament and national parliaments. The proposed arrangements build on ideas first mooted in a Commission Communication published in 2011. As in 2011, we sought the Opinion of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, which has now been received. The Home Affairs Committee underlines the importance of the principle that national Parliaments are sovereign and as such that they cannot be the subject of legally binding EU obligations, and expresses dismay at the prescriptive approach proposed by the European Parliament's LIBE Committee. We strongly endorse the Opinion, and publish with it our own legal view that the EU Treaties, while recognising the important contribution that national Parliaments make to the good functioning of the European Union, do not - and cannot - impose binding obligations on national Parliaments or prescribe the nature of their contribution. In the spirit of the political dialogue we will be transmitting our views to the President of the Council, the Commission and the LIBE Committee.

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

  • FCO: EU restrictive measures and Libya; the EU and the Central African Republic; Subsidiarity and proportionality; Financing EU external action; EU’s Comprehensive Approach to external conflict and crises;
  • HMRC: Customs: mutual assistance;
  • HM Treasury: Eurozone economic governance: draft budgetary plans; Eurozone economic governance: Economic Partnership Programmes;
  • Home Office: Relocation of the European Police College;
  • International Development: European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps; Financing EU external action;
  • Justice: EU accession to the ECHR;
  • Transport: Seafarers;
  • Work and Pensions: European Globalisation Adjustment Fund; European aid to the most deprived; External coordination of social security systems.

The Committee’s Report will be published next week. The Committee’s Twenty-eighth Report has already been published, covering: Regulation of medical devices; Gender balance on corporate boards; Banking Union: single resolution mechanism; European Defence Agency; Annual Growth Survey; Telecoms Single Market; Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol; EU-Madagascar fisheries Partnership Agreement; Promotion of agricultural products; Coupled national support schemes under the CAP; EU Special Representative to the South Caucasus and the Georgia conflict; Iran sanctions and the EU General Court; EU-Indonesia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement; EU’s comprehensive approach to external conflict and crises; Application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality; Terrorist Finance Tracking Program; Money laundering and terrorist financing; Freezing and confiscation of the proceeds of crime; and European Investment Bank.

Image: iStockphoto

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