Select Committee on European Scrutiny Second Report


COM(00) 593

Draft Council Decision establishing a Community mechanism for the co-ordination of civil protection intervention in the event of emergencies.

Legal base: Article 308 EC and Article 203 Euratom; consultation; unanimity
Department: Cabinet Office
Basis of consideration: Minister's letter of 10 September 2001
Previous Committee Report: HC 28-i (2000-01), paragraph 4 (13 December 2000)
To be discussed in Council: 16 October 2001
Committee's assessment: Legally and politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared, but further information requested


11.1 The proposal is intended to address disasters like the oil spill off the coast of Brittany and the dam failures in the Danube catchment area. It specifies key actions designed to improve communications and to provide for the identification and training of teams available for swift response in emergencies.

11.2 When the previous Committee considered the proposal (in December 2000), it raised a number of questions with the then Minister of State at the Home Office and left the document uncleared. Nine months later, we have received a response from the Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office (Mr Christopher Leslie), since during that period responsibility for Civil Contingency Planning was transferred from the Home Office to the Cabinet Office. We have learnt since that the document is likely to have been adopted already as an "A" point.

The Minister's letter

11.3 The Minister begins by apologising for the delayed response. He tells us that it was not felt appropriate to tackle our questions while the document was still subject to revision. The latest changes were made at the end of June, and there were still legal points to be checked after that.

11.4 The Minister then addresses our three questions. They all related to the issue of interventions outside the European Union. Firstly, we asked whether the Minister agreed that much sharper drafting was needed to spell out how the provisions would be implemented in respect of outside interventions. In response, the Minister says:

    "Article 5 of the draft Proposal has been revised and now includes a section, Article 5a, that covers requests for interventions outside of the European Community. Article 5a states:

      '— The provisions of Article 5 may also, upon request, be implemented in respect of interventions outside of the Community. Such interventions may either be conducted as an autonomous assistance intervention or as a contribution to an intervention led by an international organisation

      '— The co-ordination of Civil Protection assistance interventions conducted within the framework of this mechanism outside the Community is ensured by the Member State entrusted with the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.'

    "Given that the situation demanding international assistance is likely to be complicated and confused, I think we would not wish the document to be too specific and, as a consequence, preclude or restrict the options to deliver assistance. As it stands, if requested, help can be provided under an autonomous Community banner, via another international organisation, an NGO or a Member State's arrangements, any of which may already be on the ground and in a position to act more quickly. The Presidency will be able

to decide on the best course from among this range of options."

11.5 Our second question was how the proposed mechanism would "contribute to the Union's overall non-military response to crises in third countries under the Common Foreign and Security Policy" (a quotation from the Explanatory Memorandum). The Minister tells us:

    "The principle of mutual assistance between Member States has been recognised and practised for a number of years. In strengthening those arrangements, in the light of experience gained from internal operations, it was felt that the application of the Mechanism should be broadened to accommodate the civil requirements arising from the Common Foreign and Security Policy rather than devising separate and perhaps conflicting arrangements for that.

    "Specifically it is hoped that the proposed Mechanism will provide a well co-ordinated approach that could be made use of as a tool for facilitating and supporting actions undertaken by:

  • pre-identification of intervention resources;

  • developing a training programme to improve response capability;

  • provision of Assessment and Co-ordination teams; and

  • establishment of a common emergency communication system".

    "All of this should enable assistance intervention teams and the appropriate resources to be mobilised and deployed rapidly, flexibly and effectively. It is recognised that the Commission must seek to develop closer co-operation with the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) and the document acknowledges that more time is needed for this.

    "Furthermore non-military response to crisis in third countries will require close co-operation between the Commission and the Council, as provided for under Article 3 of the Treaty of the European Union."

11.6 Finally, we queried whether the proposed legal base could cover external interventions, and, in particular, activities connected with the Common Foreign and Security Policy. The Minister replies as follows:

    "Article 308 of the Treaty of the European Community forms the legal basis for intervention in third countries. It is not thought that any further or specific legal basis for such interventions is required. The current action programme (OJ L 327 of 21.12.1999, P.53 (Council Decision of 9 December 1999 establishing a Community Action Programme in the field of Civil Protection)) has foreseen the possibility under Annex 1, Item D for the 'Mobilisation of expertise to intervene in the event of an emergency situation to reinforce the system set-up by the authorities of a Member State or a third country facing natural or technological disasters'. This kind of intervention has been made in the past in Montenegro, Rwanda and Madagascar even before the adoption of the Action Programme."

11.7 The Minister attaches for our information a copy of the latest proposal (dated 29 June 2001) which includes recent amendments considered by the Council. He does not provide any information about the timescale for discussion of the document in Council.


11.8 Firstly, we must register our deep dissatisfaction with the performance of both the Home Office and the Cabinet Office in relation to this proposal. The delay of nine months in responding to our questions is quite unacceptable, even given a transfer of responsibilities. If it was felt that a definitive answer could not be provided within a reasonable timescale, a letter saying so should have been sent. The delay has apparently resulted in an overriding of the scrutiny reserve which might not have been necessary if a timely response had been received. In addition, the Minister should not simply have sent us a copy of the new version of the document: he should have formally deposited it with a new Explanatory Memorandum. We shall be taking up with the Cabinet Office this example of extremely poor practice with a view to preventing any repetition.

11.9 We do not find the Minister's answers very convincing. On the question of the legal base, the Minister does not make clear that the previous Council Decision of 9 December 1999 was limited to meeting the cost of an expert's mission in relation to an intervention in a third country. It does not appear to us to provide a precedent for reliance on Article 308EC in relation to the more general intervention in third countries foreseen in this Decision. We request a further response from the Minister on this point.

11.10 In our view, in its wish not to make the document over-prescriptive, the Council has left too many loopholes for confusion and crossed communications. However, since the proposal was expected to be adopted on 16 October, we see no point in retaining an overridden scrutiny reserve, and clear the document.

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Prepared 2 November 2001