Select Committee on European Scrutiny Eleventh Report




COM(00) 724

Commission Communication: Fisheries and poverty reduction.
Legal base:
Department: International Development
Basis of consideration: Minister's letter of 22 March 2001
Previous Committee Report: HC 28-vii (2000-01), paragraph 7 (28 February 2001)
To be discussed in Council: Development Council November 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared; but request to be kept informed

The Commission Communication

9.1  The Communication sets out the Commission's strategy for addressing poverty through the fisheries sector. It argues that a development policy approach to fisheries has significant potential in the fight against poverty. 150 million poor people depend on the fishery sector for their livelihood and over one billion depend on fisheries for critical contributions to their nutrition.

9.2  We did not clear the Communication when we considered it on 28 February.

9.3  We pointed out that the Commission had recognised that there were potential conflicts of interest to be reconciled and balanced. For instance, some fishing communities in the EU rely on fishing in non-European waters. The Secretary of State for International Development (the Rt. Hon. Clare Short), in her Explanatory Memorandum identified problems that some developing countries could have in ensuring that resources which their people depended on for their livelihoods were not threatened and that sustainable and equitable use was made of them.

9.4  We asked the Minister to provide us with facts and figures on the value to the UK of fishing in non-European waters and of how compatible the interests of the UK communities which depended on such fishing were with UK and EU development policies. We also asked her about fishing in inland waters, on which there are no proposals in the Communication.

The Minister's letter

9.5  The Minister replies that recent research to evaluate the costs and benefits of agreements to fish in non-European waters indicates that such arrangements are worth £15.9 million per year and create 918 jobs for the UK. This UK activity is based in waters where the arrangements for managing the fisheries are adequate and there is little or no risk to the sustainability of the resources.

9.6  The Minister then comments:

"The Government has recognised, however, that there are agreements for European vessels to fish in areas where the arrangements for managing the fisheries are not adequate and where, consequently, the situation may not be consistent with the objective of sustainable fishing. These areas are often in the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of poorer countries and it is for this reason that we have included in the Government's White Paper on Making Globalisation Work for the Poor the objective of making such agreements coherent with development policies.

"The Government will continue to press for the EC to introduce measures to make such agreements consistent with our development objectives. We will do this specifically through the review of the Common Fisheries Policy, where the UK seeks to ensure that what has been learned about the social and economic costs of these agreements is fully taken into account. We will also work closely at official level with the relevant Directorates General in the EC to establish coherent fisheries strategies.

"We continue to invest, along with FAO[16] and partner countries in West Africa, in support for artisanal fishing communities and in research which will help all policy-makers — UK, European and West African — gain a better understanding of the true effects of these agreements.

"On the more specific question of the lack of proposals in the Commission Communication for fisheries in inland waters, we do believe that Community policy on fisheries and poverty reduction has to seek to promote sustainable use of these resources. The lack of a specific focus on inland waters is, we believe, a consequence of the Commission's focus on fisheries agreements rather than on the wider problem of poverty in fisheries-dependent communities around the world. We will press for this wider perspective to be the primary one in Community policy. Sustainable use of inland fish resources will, given the very large numbers of poor people who depend on them, be an essential element in such a policy.

"Finally, as far as the follow up to the Communication is concerned we understand that it will be on the agenda of the Development Council to be held in November 2001."


9.7  We thank the Secretary of State for responding promptly and fully to our request for more information.

9.8  We clear the document, but we ask her to write to us if the issues raised are discussed substantively in the Development Council.




COM(00) 722

Commission Report: Better lawmaking 2000.
Legal base:
Document originated: 30 November 2000
Forwarded to the Council: 1 December 2000
Deposited in Parliament: 9 January 2001
Department: Cabinet Office
Basis of consideration: Minister's letter of 28 March 2001
Previous Committee Report: HC 28-iv (2000-01), paragraph 11 (24 January 2001)
To be discussed in Council: No date set
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared (decision reported on 24 January 2001)


10.1  Since the Edinburgh European Council in December 1992, the Commission has produced annual reports dealing with progress made in improving legislation in the EU. Since 1995, the reports have considered not only the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, but also ways of making legislation simpler, more understandable and more accessible.

10.2  When we considered the Commission's report, 'Better Lawmaking 2000', we noted the comment of the Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office (Mr Graham Stringer) that the report lacked an appropriate degree of self-criticism. Although we cleared the document, we asked the Parliamentary Secretary to explain more specifically the grounds for this comment, with examples of cases where the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality had not been followed or where the drafting of legislation could have been improved. We also asked what steps the Government proposed to take to ensure that the conclusions of the Lisbon Special Economic Council in this area were taken more seriously.

The Parliamentary Secretary's letter

10.3  In his letter of 28 March, the Parliamentary Secretary makes the following further comments on the report:

"The Government believes that a document reporting on the EU's performance in improving lawmaking should, to be complete, offer a critique of the existing Commission system of impact assessment, which is widely recognised to be inadequate. It also believes that such a document should refer more explicitly to the section of the Lisbon Conclusions that call for 'a strategy for further co-ordinated action to simplify the regulatory environment' by 2001 and should outline how the Commission proposes to meet this request. The Government further believes that the document could usefully have given details of the measures it has taken to put into practice the obligations of the Inter-Institutional Agreement on the quality of drafting."

10.4  In response to our comments on the Lisbon Special Economic Council, the Parliamentary Secretary replies as follows:

"To carry forward the Lisbon Conclusions on better European regulation, the UK Government wishes to see the systematic appraisal of the impact of all proposed legislation, use of non-legislative alternatives, comprehensive consultation, a rolling programme of simplification and codification and the establishment of an appropriate administrative and institutional framework."


10.5  We thank the Parliamentary Secretary for his letter. Although we regret the absence in his letter of examples of cases where the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality have not been followed or where the drafting of legislation could have been improved, we are grateful for the further justification which has been provided to explain the Government's criticisms of the Commission's report.

10.6  We have already cleared the document, but consider that the Government's further comments should be reported to the House.




COM(00) 754

Amended draft Directive concerning the organisation of working time for mobile workers performing road transport activities and for self-employed drivers.
Legal base: Articles 71 and 137 EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting
Document originated:
Forwarded to the Council: 27 November 2000
Deposited in Parliament: 12 January 2001
Department: Environment, Transport and the Regions
Basis of consideration: EM of 22 January and Minister's letter of 30 March 2001
Previous Committee Report: None; but see (21010) —: HC 23-xi (1999-2000), paragraph 8 (8 March 2000), HC 23-xxv (1999-2000), paragraph 1 (19 July 2000) and HC 28-i (2000-01), paragraph 9 (13 December 2000)
Discussed in Council: 20-21 December 2000
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared


11.1  This draft Directive is intended to provide more detailed rules for the organisation of the working time of mobile workers in the road transport sector than those contained in the "Horizontal Directive",[17] concerning, in particular, breaks and rest periods. It has proved very difficult to negotiate.

11.2  When we last considered the proposal (in December), we cleared it. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty) had answered our questions, and told us that agreement at the Transport Council in December at last seemed possible.

The document

11.3  In January, the Minister deposited this amended text, which had been prepared by the Commission before the Transport Council. In his Explanatory Memorandum, however, he explained that this document had already been overtaken by events. Key changes had been agreed at the Council, about which he undertook to write to us shortly. We waited for his letter before reporting on the document.

The Minister's letter

11.4  The Minister has now written, as promised. He tells us that the political agreement reached at the Council was formally confirmed as the Council's Common Position on 23 March, and that the Commission's amended proposal was irrelevant to the outcome . He regrets that the time constraints imposed by the Presidency prevented the final text from being submitted for parliamentary scrutiny, but reminds us that we had cleared the proposal on the basis of his letter of 7 December 2000.[18]

11.5  The Minister outlines the main features of the agreement as follows:

"Under the agreement, the scope of the Directive would be restricted to all employees who are already subject to European drivers' hours rules (EC3820/85). Ministers were not able to agree to the inclusion of the self-employed. However, it was agreed that the Commission would conduct a review of the impact of the Directive on the haulage industry two years after its implementation. The review will analyse the effect on road safety, on competition, on the structure of the profession and on social aspects of excluding the self-employed. If the review concluded that exclusion of the self-employed has led to problems (e.g. if it found evidence of a distortion in competition), the Commission would have a further year to present new proposals to Council.

"The revised text also offers increased flexibility for hauliers and bus companies over the original proposals in two important respects. Firstly, there is a definition of working time which reflects more closely the activities of the haulage industries ... . Secondly, changes were made to the definition of 'night work' and 'night worker' and an increase in the number of hours (from 8 to 10 hours) in the amount of work a night worker could perform over a 24-hour period. Without these amendments it would have been very difficult for some companies to continue their operations at night. It would also have led to an increase in the number of heavy goods vehicles using roads during the day, and thus adding to congestion and levels of pollution.

"Our main objective at the Council was to get either a temporary derogation for a 65 hour maximum working week (to allow industry time to adapt to the shorter 60 hour working week) or to obtain the right for mobile workers to opt-out of the 48 hour average working week in the same way as other workers can under the general Working Time Directive (EC93/104) as amended by (EC2000/34). During negotiations, we put forward a compromise that would have broken the deadlock over the issue of the self-employed, whilst at the same time achieving at least one of our objectives. Unfortunately we were unable to secure any concessions — our compromise was firmly opposed by the Commission as well as a number of Member States. So whilst we are generally in favour of the revised text, we were disappointed with the final outcome and as a consequence we abstained when it came to the vote. Ireland and Portugal voted against the proposal because the self-employed would not be included from the outset".

11.6  The Minister then turns to the need to reach agreement with the European Parliament. He tells us that the UK will not be pursuing its proposed compromise, but will be lobbying MEPs to retain the key provisions in the Common Position. In addition, it may ask the Parliament to table an amendment so that the reference period for drivers taking a break is brought into line with those under existing drivers' hours legislation. The second reading is expected to be before the end of July.

11.7  Finally, the Minister, mindful of our concerns about road safety, updates us on the progress of the Work-Related Road Safety Task Group. He tells us that the Group published a discussion document on 1 March which is to be the subject of a conference in London in early April.


11.8  In a scrutiny history notably short of actual texts, it is ironic that, when one is available, it has already been overtaken by events. Nevertheless, we thank the Minister for depositing it, and for his full and helpful letter about the Council's Common Position.

11.9  Given our concern that both sides of the road industry should take health and safety issues seriously, we are pleased to learn that the proposed review of the Directive will include an analysis of its effect on road safety.

11.10  We clear the document.




COM(00) 803

Commission Communication on the application of the precautionary principle and multiannual arrangements for setting total allowable catches.
Legal base:
Document originated: 1 December 2000
Forwarded to the Council: 1 December 2000
Deposited in Parliament: 12 January 2001
Department: Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
Basis of consideration: EM of 29 January 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: April 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared

The current document

12.1  This Communication has its origins in the fact that it has long been the practice of the Fisheries Council to set, at the end of each year, the total allowable catches (TACs) for the following calendar year in Community waters subject to the Common Fisheries Policy. However, it is widely recognised that this approach has a number of drawbacks. In particular, annual decisions have prevented a medium- term perspective being followed, they have often given rise to sharp fluctuations from year to year in the fishing opportunities available, those for the following year have as a rule been known only at the end of the previous year, and it has proved difficult to create a link between a conservation policy dominated by an annual pattern and a fleet policy requiring a longer- term outlook.

12.2  In this Communication, the Commission looks at the application of the precautionary principle and the multiannual setting of TACs under a number of headings.

  • Application of the precautionary principle to fisheries

12.3  The Commission suggests that this is necessary if a collapse of fish stocks is to be avoided, since there has hitherto been a tendency for difficult decisions to be watered down or delayed on grounds of uncertainty as to their need. However, it also makes it clear that this approach also involves a number of other decisions. One is whether the risk to be addressed is that of stock collapse or simply one of maintaining maximum sustainable yields. Another is what constitutes an acceptable degree of risk, which the Commission says does not imply achieving zero risk, since it is necessary to balance the biological arguments against the industry's economic concerns. It adds that this judgement is also complicated by the fact that, although the scientists can generally identify the levels below which it would be dangerous to let a stock fall, they are unable to quantify directly the risk of a stock collapsing. The Commission also notes that the body responsible for providing scientific advice on the state of the stocks in Community waters, the International Council for the Exploration of Sea (ICES), has invested considerable efforts in preparing advice which meets the needs of decision-makers, but that it has proved difficult to strike a balance between expressing advice simply enough to be understood by non-scientists whilst avoiding over-simplifications which can lead to incorrect interpretations.

— The multiannual approach to determining TACs

12.4  The Commission notes that, whilst the industry would like year-to-year fluctuations in TACs to be as small as possible, there are major limits to how far this can be achieved. These include the natural year-to-year variations in stock abundance, coupled with the inevitable uncertainty of the scientific assessments. The Commission also observes that it will be particularly difficult to stabilise a TAC if high catch rates in the past mean that the stock is concentrated on a small number of age groups, and that, if there is no safety margin built in to meet the threat of biological collapse, stabilising the TAC in the short term may increase the risk of stock collapse. However, it also suggests that a set of rules to aid decision-making could be devised, based on a target for fishing mortality, the estimated spawning stock, and the most recently adopted TAC. It concedes that this would not eliminate conflict, but says that it would enable decisions to be taken on a rational basis, and so end the practice of giving priority to avoiding restrictions that are unpopular in the short term.

—What needs to be done

12.5  The Commission recalls that it has previously made a number of attempts to reduce the annual variations in the level of TACs, but that discussions on these stalled in 1995, largely because the scientific advice at that time did not provide any agreed basis for laying down multiannual strategies, the industry felt that insufficient attention was being paid to their concerns, and there were fears that the Council might be prevented from taking action as the need arose. However, it also observes that a number of stocks have nevertheless been managed in accordance with multiannual strategies and objectives, particularly under agreements with third countries, and that the need for a precautionary approach is now widely accepted. It therefore suggests that such strategies could be based on a planned development of fisheries mortality in the medium term, combined with two additional measures connected on the one hand with the need to react quickly if the spawning stock falls too low and on the other hand with a limitation of variations in the level of the TAC from one year to the next. The Commission says that it is seeking to carry out simulations of the effectiveness of such an approach for a number of stocks where the relevant data are available, and that it will be consulting all those concerned. It would then need to table a proposal for the adoption and implementation of multiannual strategies for stocks where the preparatory analyses have been useful.

The Government's view

12.6  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 29 January 2001, the Parliamentary Secretary (Commons) at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr Elliot Morley) says that the UK considers that the current process of setting TACs at the December Fisheries Council each year is not ideal and causes enormous uncertainty for the industry, particularly where steep cuts are being decided. He says that the Government agrees with the Commission that the adoption of the precautionary approach would make it easier to adopt multiannual strategies, and that it therefore welcomes the Commission's intention to have follow-up studies on how TAC stability might be achieved. However, he also states that, with so many stocks currently depleted, the UK would like any decisions on multiannual setting of TACs to take account of socio-economic impacts.

12.7  The Minister also tells us that interested organisations are being consulted on the Communication, and that he will be letting us have an analysis of the results of that consultation in due course in a Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum. However, we now understand that this issue is being pursued in the context of the Commission's Green Paper on the future of the CFP.


12.8  Although the concept of setting total allowable catches on a multiannual basis is in itself simple enough, it is clear from this Communication that it is in practice a far from straightforward matter, not least because it involves a number of complex concepts of stock management. Moreover, as the Minister's comments make clear, whatever the nature of the scientific advice, this is bound in many cases to conflict with the industry's very understandable concerns about the immediate economic consequences of any decisions taken about the state of the stocks. It remains to be seen whether, and to what extent, the further work being carried out by the Commission will enable these potential conflicts to be reconciled, but we welcome the fact that an attempt is being made to address this important issue.

12.9  Since the present Communication will in due course be followed by a formal proposal if the Commission decides to pursue this question, we are clearing this document, but, notwithstanding its technical nature, we think its underlying importance is sufficient to justify our drawing it to the attention of the House.




COM(01) 82

Commission Communication: Strengthening Economic Policy Co-ordination within the Euro Area.
Legal base:
Document originated: 7 February 2001
Forwarded to the Council: 12 February 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 9 March 2001
Department: HM Treasury
Basis of consideration: EM of 20 March 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: No further substantive discussion expected at this stage
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared, but relevant to any debate on Economic and Monetary Union


13.1  At the Luxembourg European Council in December 1997, in preparation for the introduction of the euro in January 1999, it was agreed that an informal group, Eurogroup, would be established to co-ordinate economic policy among Member States which adopted the euro. The agreement was subsequently reaffirmed in the Helsinki and Nice Council Conclusions. The emergence of a co-ordinating group for the 12 Member States that have adopted the euro has inevitably raised questions about its importance relative to ECOFIN, another co-ordinating forum.

13.2  ECOFIN, which comprises all 15 Member States, is the central forum for economic policy co-ordination in the EU as a whole. Co-ordination by ECOFIN is based on Broad Economic Policy Guidelines (BEPGS), consisting of Community-wide and country-specific guidelines, which are agreed each year by the European Council. The UK is normally represented in ECOFIN by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or occasionally by another Treasury Minister. ECOFIN has one formal meeting per month and additional informal meetings twice a year hosted by the Presidency.

The document

13.3  The Communication seeks to strengthen economic policy co-ordination within the euro area. The Communication states that such co-ordination is based on consensus and that the aim is not to impose a decision on a particular Member State, but to convince it to apply the policy deemed to be desirable. The Communication adds:

"The meetings of the Eurogroup since June 1998 have been a forum for discussions between economic policymakers in the euro area that would not otherwise have taken place. Similarly, the improvements made since the summer of 2000 to the way in which this forum operates (wider range of topics discussed, better organisation of meetings and higher visibility) have undoubtedly helped to enhance its operational nature."

13.4  The Communication sets out a number of proposals. First, it proposes the following measures to improve the understanding of the economic situation in the euro area:

  • improving the availability of euro area statistics and economic analysis;

  • undertaking a twice-yearly assessment of the euro area policy mix, especially budgetary policies; and

  • publishing a regular report on the euro area's economic situation, including analysis of trends.

Secondly, it proposes the following measures to improve procedures:

  • setting common rules of conduct for economic policy in the euro area, especially when dealing with economic shocks;

  • having the Commission make suggestions on economic policy to Eurogroup, where necessary;

  • establishing a Eurogroup working party within the Economic and Financial Committee (EFC);[19]

  • having the Commission prepare six-monthly work programmes for Eurogroup;
  • having Member States inform each other of proposed economic policy decisions;

  • having Member States submit Stability Programmes to the Commission in advance of national budgets being set for the Commission's observations and suggestions;

  • having Member States produce a general outline of euro area budget guidelines and priorities;

  • having Eurogroup meet more frequently; and

  • having the Eurogroup President meet regularly with the European Central Bank's President and the Commission and that this triumvirate be responsible for the external representation of the euro area.

Thirdly, it proposes the following measures by the Commission to improve the transparency of the euro area:

  • publishing a regular report on the euro area;

  • holding regular Eurogroup press conferences; and

  • publishing Eurogroup communiqués on particular issues when necessary.

13.5  The Communication also refers to proposals to strengthen co-ordination of euro members through the procedures under Article 99(4) and (5), which were used recently when ECOFIN presented an Opinion on Ireland's Stability programme. The Communication states:

"When the circumstances allow, the strengthening of co-ordination implies the effective use of available co-ordination instruments. For example, as indicated by the Helsinki European Council and as just done by the Commission, the recommendation procedure provided for in Article 99(4) of the Treaty will have to be applied where there is manifest inconsistency between a Member State's economic policies and the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines.

"Lastly, other co-ordination instruments could be put into place, in particular on the basis of Article 99(5) of the Treaty, for the Member States of the euro area. If the case arises, they could be introduced by way of the reinforced co-operation procedures laid down in Articles 43, 44 and 45 of the Treaty of the Union and Article 11 of the EC Treaty."

The Government's view

13.6  As regards the relative importance of Eurogroup and ECOFIN, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Miss Melanie Johnson) says in her Explanatory Memorandum of 20 March 2001:

"The Luxembourg Resolution states: 'By virtue of the Treaty, the ECOFIN Council is the centre for the co-ordination of the Member States' economic policies and is empowered to act in the relevant areas. In particular, the ECOFIN Council is the only body empowered to formulate and adopt the broad economic policy guidelines which constitute the main instrument of economic co-ordination. The defining position of the ECOFIN Council at the centre of the economic co-ordination and decision­making process affirms the unity and cohesion of the Community'.

"The Luxembourg Resolution then goes on to establish the role of Eurogroup within this framework: 'The Ministers of the States participating in the euro area may meet informally among themselves to discuss issues connected with their shared specific responsibilities for the single currency¼Whenever matters of common interest are concerned they will be discussed by Ministers of all Member States. Decisions will in all cases be taken by the ECOFIN Council in accordance with the procedures laid down in the Treaty'.

"In December 1999, the Helsinki European Council concluded: 'Cooperation related to the shared responsibilities for the single currency should be further developed within Euro 11, respecting the conclusions of the December 1997 Luxembourg European Council'.

"The ECOFIN Report to the Helsinki Council said, 'The ECOFIN Council, which is competent for the application of the Treaty provisions on economic policy, has a key responsibility for improving the process of economic policy co-ordination and making it consistent with the BEPGs.'"

13.7  As regards the proposals to strengthen economic policy co-ordination within Eurogroup, the Minister says:

"The Government is in favour of developments in the Eurogroup that are about better informal organisation, and about better visibility — including better communications between Eurogroup, the ECB and the markets.

"But it is quite clear that the Treaty assigns the central role in economic policy co­ordination to ECOFIN. The Commission proposals contained in this Communication should be seen in the context of agreements reached at successive European Councils, which have the full support of the Government."


13.8  Economic policy co-ordination is important for Governments regardless of whether they have adopted the euro. It is perhaps inevitable when a new co-ordinating group is established, or strengthened, that questions are raised about its purpose and relative importance. For our part, we note that arrangements for economic policy co­ordination fully respect subsidiarity and that the EC Treaty assigns the central co-ordinating role for all 15 Member States to ECOFIN. We also note that such co-ordination is based on Broad Economic Policy Guidelines, consisting of Community-wide and country-specific guidelines.

13.9  In our view, the interests of those Members States that have not adopted the euro are best protected by ECOFIN remaining the central body for economic policy co-ordination. However, even with ECOFIN's central position intact, the fact remains that the strengthened Eurogroup comprises all but three Member States. We clear the document, but we request to be kept informed of any further developments in respect of Eurogroup, and we regard the document as relevant to any future debate on Economic and Monetary Union.

16  The Food and Agriculture Organisation. Back

17  "Horizontal Directive" concerning sectors and activities excluded from the Working Time Directive: (21010) - ; see headnote to this paragraph. Back

18  (21120) - ; see headnote to this paragraph. Back

19  The tasks of Economic and Financial Committee are defined by Article 109c(2) and include monitoring the economic and financial situation of each Member State, regardless of whether or not they have adopted the euro.  Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 12 April 2001