Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Seventh Report


5 Promotion of "active European citizenship"

(26556)

8154/05

COM(05) 116

+ ADD 1

Draft Decision establishing for the period 2007-2013 the programme "Citizens for Europe" to promote active European citizenship

Commission staff working document — Impact assessment

Legal baseArticles 151 and 308 EC; co-decision; unanimity
DepartmentCulture, Media and Sport
Basis of considerationMinister's letter of 29 September 2006
Previous Committee ReportHC 34-iv (2005-06), para 6 (20 July 2005)
Discussed in Council25 September 2006
Committee's assessmentPolitically and legally important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information requested

Background

5.1 In 2004, the Council adopted a Decision to establish a Community action programme to promote active European Citizenship.[8] The programme provides:

  • Operating grants to co-finance expenditure associated with the permanent work programme of bodies (such as European think tanks and the Association of Councils of State) pursuing an aim of general European interest in the field of active European citizenship; and
  • grants to co-finance specific action to promote active European citizenship, such as town-twinning.

The programme will expire on 31 December 2006. Its legal base is Article 308 of the EC Treaty.

5.2 In April 2005, the Commission proposed this draft Decision to renew the programme and to add a cultural dimension to it. The programme would run from 2007 to 2013 with a total budget of €235 million. The Commission cites two legal bases for the measure:

  • Article 151 of the EC Treaty, which authorises the Council to adopt measures to give incentives to Member States to co-operate with each other to promote knowledge and dissemination of Europe's culture and history and encourage cultural exchanges; and
  • Article 308 of the Treaty, which authorises the Council to adopt measures if they are necessary to attain, in the course of the operation of the common market, one of the objectives of the Treaty and the Treaty has not provided the necessary powers.

5.3 The programme for 2007-13 would have three general objectives:

  • encouraging involvement of citizens in forming "an ever closer Europe, united in and enriched through its cultural diversity";
    • "forging a European identity, based on common values, history and culture"; and
  • "enhancing mutual understanding between European citizens respecting and celebrating cultural diversity, while contributing to intercultural dialogue".

5.4 The programme would also have four specific objectives:

  • bringing people together from local communities across Europe;
  • fostering "action, debate and reflection" related to European citizenship;
    • making the idea of Europe more tangible for its citizens by celebrating its values and achievements; and
    • encouraging balanced integration of citizens and civil-society organisations from all Member States.

5.5 The new programme would :

  • support activities such as town-twinning;
  • give grants to think tanks and civil-society organisations at a European level or with a European dimension; and
  • provide financial support for high-visibility events such as commemorations, awards and conferences; studies, surveys and opinion polls; and the collection and dissemination of information.

5.6 The Commission says that Article 151 of the EC Treaty would provide the legal base for the cultural element of the draft Decision and Article 308 would provide the legal base for the rest of it.

5.7 The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell) told us that EC funding for the types of activity covered by the draft Decision was well established. There was widespread support among Member States for the main aims of the proposal. She also told us that, although Article 308 was cited as the legal base for the 2004-06 programme, the "additional provisions in the proposed new programme will necessitate a further look at the argument for 308 as part-legal base in this case". However, she said that the use of Article 151 and 308 together was acceptable to the UK because the procedure under each Article requires the Council to act unanimously.

5.8 When we considered the draft Decision on 20 July 2005,[9] we noted that the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office (Caroline Flint) had told previous Committee in her letter of 1 March 2004 that the Government had obtained an assurance from the Commission that an evaluation of the 2004-06 programme would accompany any proposal to renew it. (We were subsequently promised that Departments would provide full explanations in any case where such an evaluation was not carried out.) We concluded that it was unacceptable that the Commission had failed to honour the assurance, and had presented this draft Decision without an evaluation of the existing programme and without providing evidence about the effectiveness of the proposed expenditure.

5.9 We also considered it unacceptable that the Government had not provided an explanation of the reason for the absence of an evaluation. We asked the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport why she had not provided the explanation and to find out from the Commission why it had not honoured the assurance it had given the Government.

5.10 We said that we expected the Government to oppose the draft Decision until such time as an external evaluation of the existing programme demonstrated its effectiveness.

5.11 We expressed concern about the citation of Article 308 as part of the legal basis for this proposal since it did not appear to us that the proposed programme would be necessary to attain one of the Community's objectives "in the operation of the common market". We asked the Government to re-examine the argument for the use of Article 308 and to explain to us the concerns raised by other Member States about combining Articles 151 and 308.

5.12 We also asked the Secretary of State to provide us with the full Regulatory Impact Assessment of the proposal.

The Minister's letter of 29 September 2006

5.13 The Minister for Creative Industries and Tourism at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Shaun Woodward) begins his letter with an apology for the Government's failure to reply, until now, to our report of 20 July 2005; he adds that he has asked the Department's officials to ensure that our questions are dealt with "more promptly".

5.14 The Minister tells us that the Council reached a political agreement on the draft Decision at its meeting on 18 May 2006. He says:

"While the programme is a continuation of current initiatives and not problematic in substance, [the] Committee had raised a concern about the programme, that the Commission has yet to provide an evaluation of the current programme. The UK therefore maintained a scrutiny reserve and abstained at the Council meeting (I set out the reason for our abstention to the Commission)."

He adds that the Commission has still not produced the evaluation and the Government has continued to maintain its scrutiny reserve.

5.15 The Minister tells us that the Finnish Presidency decided unexpectedly that it wished the Competitiveness Council to reach a final decision on the Citizens for Europe programme at its meeting on 25 September. He says that:

"If the UK had blocked the programme by voting against it because the scrutiny process had not been completed we would have been in a minority of one holding up a programme which Member States, including the UK, believe will bring benefits.

"As a result of the sudden decision by the Finnish Presidency to proceed with a final decision I took the decision to abstain.

"Of course I recognise that in abstaining on the programme — and not blocking the programme — this inevitably could appear to you that the scrutiny of the Committee has been overridden. This was not my intention and I regret the sequence of events which brought about this difficult decision for the UK Government. I can only apologise that no other practical way forward seemed to be available and therefore we took this course of action. However, we felt that as the UK favours the substance of the programme in general and had we blocked it the UK would have caused considerable irritation to other Member States, including those with whom we are seeking alliances on a number of wider issues. This course of action seemed the best way forward out of a difficult situation."

5.16 The Minister tells us that an interim evaluation of the 2004-06 programme is due to be published "very shortly" and that he will then seek our clearance of the draft Decision.

5.17 The European Parliament has approved the common position adopted by the Competitiveness Council on 25 September. The Minister expects the draft Decision to be put to the Council for adoption in October.

Conclusion

5.18 We are grateful to the Minister for his apology. But he has failed to explain:

  • the reason for the gross delay in providing the information for which we asked in our report of 20 July 2005; and
  • why the Government did not tell us that the draft Decision was to be discussed at the Council on 25 May 2006 and why it did not tell us until 29 September that it had decided to abstain from the political agreement reached at that meeting.

5.19 The Minister tells us that the Government "favours the substance" of the proposed programme. It is not clear on what basis the Government satisfied itself that the proposals represent good value for money when the report of the evaluation of the 2004-06 programme is not yet available.

5.20 The Minister's letter is silent about the legal base for the proposed Decision. We raised the point well over a year ago and so we ask for the Minister's answer without further delay.

5.21 We consider that the Government's failure to respond promptly and adequately to our report of 20 July 2005 is discourteous to the House and reflects very badly on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

5.22 We also await the Government's Regulatory Impact Assessment of the proposal.

5.23 We shall keep the draft Decision under scrutiny until the Minister has provided the information for which we have asked.




8   Decision 2004/100/EC: OJ No. L 30, 4.2.04, p.6. Back

9   See HC 34-iv (2005-06), para 6 (20 July 2005). Back


 
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