Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

  When the Foreign Secretary, supported by Mr Kim Darroch, gave evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee on the Seville European Council on 19 June, there were three questions which arose on which the Committee was promised further information in writing. These related to:

    —  the EU's policy at Seville on the relationsip between its policies on development and asylum and illegal immigration;

    —  the effect on UK law and obligations of Directives on asylum and on parental responsibility; and

    —  whether Treaty change would be required for the changes to the internal organisation of the Commission recently proposed by Mr Romano Prodi.

  This letter takes each point in turn. I am replying since both of the witnesses are travelling; and I understand the Committee would appreciate a response today.


  As was subsequently made clear in the conclusions of the Seville European Council, the EU wants to stress enhanced cooperation with third countries as a crucial part of achieving our policy objectives in relation to immigration and asylum. There is no intention to punish or target individual countries, and no country is specifically mentioned in the Seville Conclusions. The Conclusions make clear that any EU action would respect our development policy objectives and existing contactural commitments. But the European Council also wanted to make clear that persistent non-compliance by third countries would adversely affect their relations with the Union.

  So, the Seville Conclusions send a strong signal to third countries about the need to co-operate in combating illegal immigration and returning their own nationals. Seville states, for example, that any future EU co-operation agreement with third countries should include clauses on migration and readmission.

  At the Justice and Home Affairs Council in Luxembourg on 13 June, the Home Secretary spoke of the need to set up rapid operations to remedy weaknesses identified involving national border guard services in joint operations with other services to target, arrest and disrupt trafficking gangs. Turkey, Lebanon, Albania, Poland and countries of the former Yugoslavia were suggested as priority countries to work with in this respect.


  The witnesses were asked whether an EU Directive on asylum would override UK domestic legislation and UK obligations under the 1951, and whether the proposed instrument on parental responsibility would affect UK obligations under the 1951 UN and 1980, Hague Conventions.

  It might be helpful to recall that Seville agreed the following timetable for moving towards a common EU asylum policy; adoption of the Dublin II Regulation by the end of 2002; of minimum standards on refugee status; family reunification and long-term residence status by June 2003; and of common standards for asylum procedures by end 2003.

  Article 63 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC) provides that the EC can adopt measures on asylum in certain areas. These measures are to be "in accordance with the Geneva Convention of 28 July 1951 and the protocol of 31 January 1967 relating to the status of refugees and other relevant treaties". The Community is not a party to those instruments. All of the Member States are party to those instruments and their obligations as a matter of international law as parties thereto are unaffected by any internal Community measures.

  Measures under Article 63 TEC may be in the form of Directives or Regulations. Directives are binding on the Member States as to the result to be achieved, but leave to the national authorities the choice of form and methods of implementation. Provisions contained in Directives may also, in certain circumstances, have directly effect in the Member States. Regulations have general application, are binding in their entirety and are directly applicable in all Member States. The principle of the supremacy of Community law over conflicting national law is well established.

  With regard to the proposed Regulation relating to Parental Responsibility, the Government agrees that there is a need to avoid undermining the 1980 Hague Convention on Child Abduction, while supporting the opportunity to improve mutual recognition of custody and access orders within the EU member states. We are currently working in discussions with partners to ensure that any instrument does not depart fundamentally from the basic philosophy of the Convention. Legally, the internal measure would not override the Hague Convention which is any instrument of international law.


  The situation is complicated by the fact that the Nice Treaty has not yet entered into force. Article 217 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC) presently states that "The Commission may appoint a Vice-President or two Vice-Presidents from among its members." Until Nice is formally ratified, Article 217 TEC would need to be amended to allow more than two Vice-Presidents to be appointed, if that remained their formal designation.

  The Nice Treaty would replace Article 217 to enable the President "to decide on its [the Commission's] internal organisation in order to ensure that it acts consistently, efficiently and on the basis of collegiality." It would also state that "After obtaining the approval of the College, the President shall appoint Vice-Presidents from among its members." There is no other article in the existing Treaties which would preclude Mr Prodi's proposals form being implemented.

European Union Department

Foreign and Commonwealth Department

19 July 2002

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