- The Annual Policy Strategy sets out the Commission's policy priorities for the forthcoming year and is a key element in the EU's annual Strategic Planning and Programming (SPP) cycle. One purpose of the SPP process is to ensure the right match exists between the agreed priority tasks and the human and financial resources made available through the annual budget-making process. The next stage of the SPP cycle is the production of a Legislative and Work Programme, which translates the political priorities into action plans and is expected to be provided to the European Parliament and Council at the end of October. Each service within the Commission will then establish its operational programming which links tasks and resources. The cycle is finally completed when the Director-General of each Service produces a report on the work carried out (in July of the year after) and the use made of the resources.
- On 24 April we considered the first stage of this process, the Annual Policy Strategy for 2003, but decided to leave it uncleared, pending further information on any revisions that may be made to it. We noted the Government's view that the three political priorities for 2003 (successful enlargement; stability and security; and a sustainable and inclusive economy) aimed to develop the four major strategic objectives established by the Commission: working towards anew economic and social agenda; ensuring a better quality of life; stabilising the continent and strengthening the role of Europe in the world; and promoting new forms of governance.
- The Commission subsequently produced a Communication, Stocktaking of the Follow-up to the Annual Policy Strategy for 2003, which reports on the results of dialogue with the European Parliament and the Council and sets out possible changes to the APS.
- The Minister for Europe (Mr Peter Hain) told us that the three political priorities set out in the APS for 2003 (document (a)) have been reaffirmed in the revised strategy (document (b)), i.e. successful enlargement; stability and security; and a sustainable and inclusive economy. He added that some of the initiatives under each priority have been modified or fleshed out:
"Enlargement: more prominence is now given to reinforcing the administrative and legal capacities of the candidate countries, in particular on food safety and managing Community funds. Nuclear safety issues are also given more attention, along with a proposal to develop a communication policy focussed on the reasons for, and advantages of enlargement.
"Stability and Security: the emphasis has shifted in favour of asylum and immigration issues. There is a new reference to a proposal to establish a European Public Prosecutor, and to the Commission's intention to follow up on the green paper on the protection of financial interests. There is also a new proposal for the establishment of an Erasmus World Programme;
"Sustainable and Inclusive Economy: there are new references to the implementation of the Contonou Agreement and establishing a solidarity mechanism for victims of natural disasters. There is also a reference to impact assessments, reflecting the importance that both the EP and the Council placed on their introduction to ensure a focus on the environmental, social and economic impact of new legislation. There are also a number of proposals relating to the internal market; efforts to improve economic policy co-ordination; and measures to ensure sustainability and coherence in policy areas such as agriculture, fisheries, structural funds and environmental legislation."
The Government's view
- The Minister says:
"The Government still agrees wholeheartedly with the three key objectives on which the Commission focuses; these reflect the Government's own commitments and priorities.
"On the changes introduced since the Commission's Annual Policy strategy for 2003 document in March this year, the Government particularly welcomes the increased focus on terrorism and the greater emphasis given to asylum and immigration, which now reflects better the conclusions of the Seville European Council.
"The Government has repeatedly and consistently taken the view that the establishment of a European Public Prosecutor is both unnecessary and undesirable. Rather, we support closer judicial co-operation within the EU to ensure that criminals cannot use the differences between Member States' legal systems to evade the law, and that British citizens can exercise their legal rights when they travel to other EU countries. We believe that the best way to achieve this is through measures such as the mutual recognition of court decisions. This is the way, for example, that the separate legal systems in Scotland, and in England and Wales, have successfully coexisted for centuries. Two competing agencies with competence to direct investigations or prosecutions one national and one EU with overlapping authorities would create more problems than it solved. At Amsterdam, EU governments agreed that member states should retain competence for the application of criminal law.
"The Government continues to fully support and encourage efforts to make the Commission more effective and transparent. The planning and programming cycle fits in well with the Government's efforts to introduce a more strategic and considered character to the activities of the European Union."
- The Annual Policy Strategy for 2003 and the follow-up document set out the political priorities for the EU as whole.
- While we broadly welcome the three political priorities, including enlargement, we are not convinced that the Commission's request for 500 temporary Commission staff to help with preparations for enlargement is justified. As the Government notes, the cost of this and the associated expenditure would exceed the limits set by the Financial Perspective on the administration category. We were pleased therefore to note that the European Parliament and the Council both rejected the Commission's proposal to use, on an exceptional basis, the flexibility instrument in order to meet the extra cost.
- We are pleased that the Financial Perspective limit on administrative spending was respected when ECOFIN established the Draft Budget for 2003 on 19 July. We also note the proposal by ECOFIN that expenditure and recruitment not related to enlargement should be frozen, leaving the Commission to make the necessary provision for enlargement through redeployment. However, we were less pleased by the Council's readiness to score expenditure in 2003 against the 2002 budget ("frontloading"). In our view, such accounting tricks weakens budget discipline. We urge the Government to examine closely any proposed increase in such spending and to resist any increase that does not fully respect the limits set out in the Financial Perspective.
- We share the Government's view that the establishment of a European Public Prosecutor is both unnecessary and undesirable, and repeat our view that these proposals amount to a breach of the principle of subsidiarity. We will consider the Commission's Legislative and Work Programme for 2003 when it is published later this year. Meanwhile we clear both documents.