Select Committee on European Scrutiny Nineteenth Report




COM(01) 669

Amended draft Decision on guidelines for Member States' employment policies for the year 2002.

Legal base:Article 128(2) EC; consultation; qualified majority voting
Document originated:9 November 2001
Forwarded to the Council:12 November 2001
Deposited in Parliament:7 December 2001
Department:Work and Pensions
Basis of consideration:Minister's letter and corrigendum of 28 January 2002
Previous Committee Report:HC 152-xi (2001-02), paragraph 3 ( 9 January 2002)
To be discussed in Council:Not applicable
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:Cleared


  13.1  When we considered this document in January, the guidelines for Member States' employment policies had already been agreed, along with the other components of the "Employment Package" (the Joint Employment Report for 2001 and the Recommendations on the implementation of Member States' employment policies), at the Employment and Social Policy Council on 3 December, and adopted at the Laeken European Council.

  13.2  Nonetheless, we raised some questions with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Education and Employment (Mr Malcolm Wicks) about his Explanatory Memorandum on the document. The Minister has now responded.

The Minister's letter and corrigendum

  13.3  Our first question related to the receipt of the Explanatory Memorandum. We asked why it had not been provided before 18 December, given that the document was forwarded to the Council on 12 November. The latter date would seem to have allowed for the Committee to have considered the amended proposal before the Council meeting on 3 December.

  13.4  The Minister explains:

"The reason for the delay was that the official document was initially only available in French and was not available in English in time for the Committee to consider. [The] Cabinet Office did not receive the document in English through official channels until 4 December 2001. An unofficial version in English was available earlier but we expected the official version to become available rather earlier than it did. When, by 23 November, we approached the Clerks to the Committee to see if an unofficial text would be acceptable, my officials were advised that the Committee could not consider this in time [for the Council meeting on 3 December] , since its planned meeting on 28 November 2001 would not take place [the Committee was in Spain on that date]. Therefore, the document was deposited to the standard timescale and the EM was prepared for the 18 December 2001 deadline as requested."

  13.5  We also asked for a fuller explanation of the Minister's comment about the document being "effectively overtaken by events", which implied to us that the Council took no account of the consultation with the European Parliament in coming to its agreement. The Minister assures us that he did not intend this implication. He outlines the sequence of events as follows:

"The European Parliament produced its Opinion on 24 October and the Employment (EMCO) and Economic Policy (EPC) Committees, following discussion with the Commission, produced a Joint Opinion on 29 October. The Council Working Group met on 6 and 12 November to consider all proposed amendments to the proposed decision. The group adopted the EMCO/EPC amendments en masse, and agreed a small number of minor amendments proposed by the Commission, based on the European Parliament Opinion.

"As to the remaining elements in the Commission's amended proposal these were overtaken by events in that the detailed discussions of the guidelines in EMCO and EPC had firmly established a consensus among the Member States against the idea of compulsory national targets."

  13.6  The Minister continues:

"I should also like to draw the Committee's attention to, and apologise for, an error which appeared in my Explanatory Memorandum of 18 December...which states that the agreement at the 3 December Council was based on the Commission's original proposal [(22669)]. In substance, the text agreed by the 3 December Council was, save for the three minor amendments mentioned above, identical to the revision of the Commission's original proposal which emerged from EMCO. However, in formal terms, that text was a revision of the Commission's amended proposal. The attached Corrigendum is for circulation to all recipients of the Explanatory Memorandum to rectify the error.

"Given the clear political consensus in the Council the practical and policy effect of the agreement would have been the same regardless of which Commission text had been taken as the starting point. I thought it important, however, to advise the Committee of this error once it had come to light."


  13.7  We thank the Minister for his response and corrigendum. We now understand the reason for the delay, and we are reassured to learn that account was taken of the European Parliament's proposed amendments (although few of them were adopted).

  13.8  The Minister's account of the meetings which took place before the Council fuels our growing concern about how we can properly discharge our duty when Council agreements are based on unpublished amendments to deposited texts. We shall be considering this problem further. Meanwhile, we ask for a copy of the final agreed text.

  13.9  We clear the current document.

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Prepared 22 February 2002