Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs



  1.  We expect the main issues for Laeken to include: Afghanistan and follow up to the events of 11 September; Western Balkans; the Future of Europe; EU Enlargement; European Defence; Justice and Home Affairs; Social Issues; Better Regulation; Services of General Economic Interest; Euro Notes and Coins; Tax; Galileo; and the Sites of European Agencies.


  2.  The focus of discussion of Afghanistan will depend on developments on the ground and in the political process aimed at establishing a new and broadly based Afghan government. The Government's broad objective at Laeken will be reaffirmation of the EU's support for the efforts of the United Nations Secretary General and his Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi to devise political arrangements for the future of Afghanistan acceptable to all the people of Afghanistan, including through the provision of humanitarian aid and reconstruction assistance to underpin a post-Taliban political settlement.

  3.  The European Council will take stock of progress on developing relations with the other countries in the region. The Government believes that more active engagement by the European Union with the countries of Central Asia, Pakistan, India and Iran has an important role to play in strengthening wider regional stability.

  4.  On internal EU action against terrorism, we will want the European Council to focus in particular on four points:

    (i)  approval of a common European arrest warrant, a common definition of terrorist offences, and a framework agreement on freezing of assets and on evidence;

    (ii)  increased co-operation between the operational services responsible for fighting terrorism;

    (iii)  the speedy ratification by all member States of the UN Convention for the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism and commitment to strengthen national legislation against the financing of terrorism; and

    (iv)  approval without delay of Commission proposals to improve air transport security.


  5.  Heads of State and Government are likely to welcome progress towards peace and stability in the Balkans, particularly the consolidation of democracy and reform in Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). We hope they will reaffirm support for the EU's policy framework for the region—the Stabilisation and Association Process. Countries of the region have been offered the incentive of EU membership in return for democratic reforms and better regional co-operation. Tailored Stabilisation and Association Agreements (SAA) provide a path towards EU membership and are backed up by practical help through technical assistance and trade liberalisation. Croatia signed its SAA in October 2001, following Macedonia in April. Negotiations on an SAA for Albania—and perhaps the FRY—should start in 2002.

  6.  Depending on events on the ground, the most likely subject for discussion at Laeken under this agenda item is Macedonia. There has recently been better news, with adoption of constitutional changes in line with the August 2001 Framework Agreement (secured with extensive EU involvement). It remains unclear whether the Agreement will produce long-term stability, but the risk of civil war has, for now, been averted.

  7.  The European Council may also discuss the FRY. The government in Belgrade supports European integration, but there are serious internal problems, notably separatist pressures in Montenegro, which may lead to another referendum, and in Kosovo, following the 17 November elections. Our policy on both issues is to push for dialogue between those concerned, and to discourage unilateral actions—particularly as regards a possible referendum on independence for Montenegro.


  8.  Discussion of other international issues will depend on events in the interim. The European Council is likely to address developments in the Middle East Peace Process. It is also likely to welcome the successful outcomes to the negotiations in Marrakech from 29 October to 10 November on climate change and at Doha from 9 to 14 November on an agreement to launch a new WTO Round of trade liberalisation talks.


  9.  At Nice, EU leaders called for agreement at the Laeken European Council on "appropriate initiatives" to continue the debate on the Future of Europe leading up to the next Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) in 2004.

  10.  Member States are already debating the issue at national level. The General Affairs Council and the Ghent Informal European Council agreed that a Convention involving Member States' national Parliamentarians and MEPs would be the best mechanism to take forward collective debate on how best to prepare for the IGC.

  11.  Final decisions on the composition and mandate for the Convention will be taken at Laeken. We want the European Council to agree a mandate which asks fundamental questions about the future of the EU but which does so in a way which allows full and open discussion of all possible solutions to the challenges the EU faces, and addresses the concerns of EU citizens. We want the Convention's report to present a range of options.

  12.  Some questions are already settled:

    —  the Convention will comprise one Government representative and two parliamentarians from each member state; 16 MEPs; and one representative of the college of Commissioners;

    —  candidate states will participate fully;

    —  the President of the Convention will head a Praesidium representing each of the main groups in the Convention to direct its work; and

    —  the President will produce a report to the IGC which records the options discussed in the Convention.

  9.  We expect the themes identified by Laeken to include:

    —  Union objectives and policies;

    —  -demarcation of powers between the Union and its Member States;

    —  democratic legitimacy;

    —  the Union's capability to decide and conduct its policies; and

    —  simplification and presentation of EU action.

  15.  The Convention will be launched during the Spanish Presidency in the first half of 2002, and is likely to continue until the spring or early summer of 2003.


  16.  Heads of Government are likely to welcome the progress made in the accession negotiations during the Belgian Presidency. The Presidency has so far reached agreement on EU positions for all but one of the chapters allocated to their Presidency under the "road map" for negotiations endorsed at Nice. We hope to agree positions on the remaining chapter, Transport, before Laeken. The EU has also continued to make progress in closing chapters with candidates. All but Poland have now accepted the EU position on Free Movement of Persons. And the ten candidates with target accession dates of 2004 or earlier have all closed at least 18 chapters. This means that four of the candidates which began negotiations in 2000 (Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta) have now caught up with those which began in 1998.

  17.  The Commission's 13 November Enlargement Strategy Paper and its annual reports on the candidates' progress will set the backdrop for discussion. The strategy paper confirms that the Gothenburg timetable for accession remains on track: ending negotiations with the first candidates by the end of 2002 so they can join before the 2004 European Parliament elections. The Commission will propose membership of the first wave in next year's reports. The strategy paper also concludes that there is enough money in the 2000-06 Financial Perspective to finance an enlargement of up to 10 candidates within the ceilings agreed at Berlin. The UK welcomes these conclusions, although we will continue to press for more detail about the financing assumptions. The Prime Minister was the first EU leader to call for the first candidates to join the EU before the next European Parliament elections.

  18.  Heads of State and Government may welcome the Commission's increased emphasis on the candidate countries' performance in implementing and enforcing the acquis. The Commission's strategy paper sets out plans to enhance its monitoring of implementation through increased use of peer review involving existing Member States, and monitoring to continue between the signature of accession treaties and their ratification. The UK supports the view that effective implementation will play an important role in the remainder of the accession process. And we endorse the priority areas identified by the Commission: protection of EU citizens through border security, consumer protection, food safety, environmental safety, health and safety in the workplace, and transport safety; effective implementation of the Single Market; and transparent management of Community funds. The Commission strategy paper earmarks

250 million to help the candidates to build institutional capacity. The UK also continues to work closely with the candidates, both through EU programmes and bilaterally, to support the administrative and judicial reforms that underpin effective implementation.

  19.  On Cyprus, we would like the Council conclusions to reflect the messages of the Commission's annual progress report, in particular, the clear statement that the provisions of a settlement can be accommodated within Cyprus's accession arrangements. As the Helsinki European Council concluded, a political settlement would facilitate Cyprus's accession; it cannot be a precondition for it.

  20.  The Commission's report on Turkey welcomes recent constitutional reforms, but emphasises the importance of their full implementation. It concludes that Turkey does not yet meet the political criteria for membership and that, confronted with two financial crises, has been unable to make further progress towards achieving a "functioning market economy". However, the report proposes that the pre-accession strategy for Turkey should move into a more intense phase, with detailed scrutiny of Turkey's legislation. We agree.


  21.  The European Council should adopt a Presidency report on the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). In line with the mandate given at Nice (December 2000) and reinforced at the Special European Council in the wake of 11 September (Brussels, 21 September), the report should state that the EU already has a limited capacity to act in civilian and military crisis management. The EU will be in a position to take on increasingly demanding operations as the assets and capabilities at its disposal increase. The UK would support this assessment: it is realistic, and signals the need for further progress to enhance European military capabilities.

  22.  The Presidency report will also note efforts, in particular by the United Kingdom, to finalise an agreement between NATO and the EU on assured access to NATO planning and presumed access to NATO capabilities and common assets for EU-led operations.

  23.  The Laeken Council will welcome the declaration issued at the 19 November Capabilities Improvement Conference. The Conference noted EU Member States' on-going commitment to meet the Headline Goal targets. Progress has been made in the past 12 months to close some capability shortfalls. Member States have agreed an action plan to close the remainder. The UK remains the leading proponent of practical steps to enhance military capability in Europe.

  24.  On Civilian Crisis Management, the Laeken Council will endorse the declaration issued at the 19 November Police Capabilities Commitment Conference. The Conference noted that the EU had met the Feira target (agreed in June 2000) of having 5,000 police officers available by 2003 for deployment on peacekeeping operations of international organisations (and for 1,000 to be available for deployment within 30 days) and welcomed the progress on the Police Action Plan (adopted at Gothenburg in June 2001).


  25.  The current work programme on Justice and Home Affairs in the EU was set by the 1999 European Council at Tampere, which set the EU the task of creating by 2004 an "area of freedom, security and justice". The Tampere conclusions called for a full European Council debate on progress in December 2001. The Government hopes that Laeken will re-affirm that all Member States share the political will to implement the Tampere conclusions, and that Heads of State and Government mean to deliver what they signed up to at Tampere. There have been some notable achievements in past two years, but we believe that overall progress has not been fast enough.

  26.  On judicial cooperation, Tampere stated clearly that mutual recognition should become the cornerstone of judicial co-operation in both civil and criminal matters in the European Union. The United Kingdom attaches the utmost importance to implementation of mutual recognition in both civil and criminal matters. The Government hopes that Laeken will approve the abolition of dual criminality, acknowledge that approximation of criminal law is not required as a prerequisite for mutual recognition and resist unnecessary bureaucratic or substantive impediments which delay mutual recognition. On civil law cooperation, mutual recognition has the potential to deliver significant practical benefits to citizens.

  27.  In the area of criminal law approximation, Tampere agreed to work on common definitions and sanctions for certain types of crime. The Government hopes that Laeken will take steps to ensure the swift completion of work in the priority areas agreed at Tampere.

  28.  As for law enforcement structures, the Tampere Conclusions envisage a comprehensive set of European Union law enforcement structures, comprising joint investigative teams, the European Police Chiefs' operational Task Force, a strengthened Europol, and Eurojust. We want Laeken to give a fresh impetus to the development of the Task Force, making it more operational and accountable to the Council. We want Europol's work to be given greater priority. It is also vital that the Council Decision to establish Eurojust is completed before Laeken.

  29.  Action against drugs is an integral part of the Tampere agenda. Laeken is an opportunity to set concrete goals for delivery and action and to set the parameters for the review of progress on the EU Action Plan against Drugs by the Council in mid 2002. We want more visible operational activity, maximising the use of European law enforcement machinery, which has a real impact in tackling drug trafficking. We also want a commitment to tough common penalties for serious cases of drug trafficking.

  30.  The Government wants Laeken to give a new push to the work on the development of common asylum and immigration policies and the fight against human trafficking. Tampere called for the establishment of a common asylum system. We want to make real progress on the establishment of common definitions, minimum standards, and agreed procedures for handling asylum seekers.

  31.  Finally, we want Laeken to endorse some essential changes to working methods to ensure that we are equipped to deliver the rest of the Tampere agenda on time. In particular, we would welcome more frequent one-day meetings of the Council with shorter and more focussed agendas, concentrating on key policy issues, as well as a clearer articulation of the respective roles of the supporting committees.


  32.  The Laeken European Council will focus on a number of the social policy and employment issues that have featured prominently under the Belgian Presidency. The Belgian Presidency is keen to approve indicators on Quality in Work at Laeken as part of the remit agreed by the Stockholm European Council. Taken together with the Joint Employment Report for 2001 and the draft Employment Guidelines for 2002, both due to be endorsed at Laeken, agreement on Quality in Work indicators will represent further progress towards the Lisbon goal of full employment. The Government wishes to be satisfied that all of the indicators proposed genuinely measure quality and will contribute to the goal of creating more and better jobs.

  33.  The Lisbon and Stockholm European Councils also agreed on the need to make a decisive impact against social exclusion, using an open method of co-ordination, including national action plans and EU-wide commonly agreed indicators. The Employment and Social Policy Council on 3 December will consider a limited number of commonly agreed indicators on social exclusion. The agreed indicators will pass to Laeken for endorsement. Laeken will also be asked to endorse a joint Inclusion Report. We support both these processes. We believe that the Laeken European Council should represent a milestone in developing a European dimension to the fight against social exclusion.

  34.  A joint Social Protection Committee/Economic Policy Committee report on identifying objectives and working methods in the area of pensions is being prepared for presentation to the Laeken European Council. This report provides a follow-up to the Commission communication on pensions discussed by EU social policy Ministers at Liege in July. The report focusses on identifying key objectives for pension systems and the most appropriate way to apply the open method of co-ordination for future work. It places this work in the context of the conclusions of the Gothenburg European Council, which agreed that any results will be integrated into the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines.

  35.  As requested by the Stockholm Conclusions, Laeken will consider parameters for the modernisation of Regulation 1408/71, the EU regulation that co-ordinates Member States' social security schemes. The draft parameters are still under discussion but are likely to be agreed by the Employment and Social Policy Council in advance of Laeken. The key areas for discussion are unemployment benefits and healthcare and the extension of co-ordination to nationals of third countries, which the Belgian Presidency has chosen to put on a parallel track. We welcome setting parameters in this area. We had difficulties with parts of the Commission's original proposal, particularly over the increased bureaucracy and costs that some of these proposals would bring. But we believe it is important to modernise this legislation to make it clear, simple and user-friendly.


  36.  Improving the regulatory environment in the EU is a key priority for the UK. Bad quality or inappropriate legislation can reduce firms' competitiveness by increasing costs or distorting markets. The UK strongly supported the Lisbon European Council's call for a strategy "to simplify the regulatory environment" to be set out by 2001.

  37.  A report by the Mandelkern Group on Better Regulation was presented to the 26 November Internal Market Council. The UK has been an active participant in the group and welcomes the report and its conclusions, including the need for better consultation and full consideration of alternatives to legislation. We hope this report, together with a strong contribution from the Commission, will be the basis for discussion at Laeken on implementing a co-ordinated better regulation strategy.

  38.  Better regulation is also an important domestic issue. A recent European Commission survey suggested the UK had a poor record on reducing the regulatory burden facing business. We will look carefully at the results of the survey. But other indicators do not support this conclusion. The UK is the biggest recipient of inward investment in Europe, by some distance. And an Arthur Andersen report concluded the UK was the most lightly regulated of all the major economies.


  39.  The Nice European Council called on the Commission to present a report to the Laeken Council on Services of General Economic Interest (SGEI). The report looks at how EU rules governing state aids, competition and public procurement are applied to public services where they are provided by the market.

  40.  The UK believes there is a balance to be struck between the freedom of Member States to deliver public services as they see fit, and ensuring respect for state aid rules and the integrity of the Single Market. We do not wish to see SGEI removed from the state aids and competition regimes. But there is a need to clarify what counts as state aid. And there may be a case for tightly drawn block exemptions from the state aid regime, where it is clear there has been a transparent tendering process.

  41.  So the UK welcomes the Commission's report as a first step in the clarification process, although we continue to be concerned by their wide interpretation of the scope of the state aid rules. We will also encourage the Commission to work up authoritative guidelines on the role of the private sector in the delivery of services to the public.


  42.  The Laeken Council will review preparations for the changeover to euro notes and coins on 1 January 2002. The Government wants to see the changeover go well.


  43.  We expect that Laeken will receive a progress report on the Tax Package. The Council may also receive updates on discussions regarding VAT invoicing and e-commerce and the Energy Products Directive.


  44.  We do not anticipate substantive discussion of Galileo, the proposed Satellite Navigation System, at Laeken. Whether it is discussed at all is likely to depend on the outcome of the 7 December Transport Council. The UK welcomes the Commission's work on this subject but has raised concerns about the costs, funding, likely benefits to users, those of Public-Private Partnership, and aspects of security and project management. The April Transport Council undertook to reach a decision at its December meeting, following further cost-benefit analysis from PriceWaterhouse Coopers (PWC). Finance Ministers will consider the PWC report at ECOFIN on 4 December.


  45.  The Presidency is likely to seek an agreement at Laeken on a number of sites for EU agencies. The legislative framework for the European Food Authority to start operation may be agreed by the end of the Presidency, by which time it would be helpful also to have agreement on a site, to enable the Authority to start operating in the New Year. We will support this. The UK has offered to accommodate the Secretariat of the European Police Training College at Bramshill, where UK senior police training takes place.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

27 November 2001

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