Documents considered by the Committee on 5 April 2011 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

6   European Heritage Label



COM(10) 76

+ ADDs 1-2

Draft Decision to establish a European Union action for the European Heritage Label

Commission staff working document: impact assessment and summary of impact assessment

Legal baseArticle 167 TFEU; co-decision; QMV
Document originated9 March 2010
Deposited in Parliament15 March 2010
DepartmentCulture, Media and Sport
Basis of considerationMinister's letters of 22 February and 1 April 2011
Previous Committee ReportHC 428-i (2010-11), chapter 10 (8 September 2010)
To be discussed in Council4 May 2011
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared

Background and previous scrutiny

6.1  The draft Decision would establish a new, voluntary EU scheme (building on an existing intergovernmental arrangement) to select heritage sites which have "a symbolic European value" and which would be eligible for the attribution of an EU European Heritage Label. Any Member State would be eligible to participate in the scheme but none would be bound to do so. The draft Decision would specify the criteria for obtaining an EU European Heritage Label, the application and selection procedure, and the financial provision to implement the scheme for 2011-13.

6.2  We first considered the draft Decision last September, and expressed doubt about the need for an EU European Heritage Label. We said that, if other Member States supported the scheme, it would be vital to ensure that participation was entirely voluntary.[15] We asked for progress reports on the negotiations and kept the draft Decision under scrutiny.

6.3  The Minister for Tourism and Heritage (John Penrose) told us last October that the Government's position on the draft Decision was clear:

"Whilst we have not opposed the scheme in principle, we have actively supported the voluntary nature of the scheme — which has been agreed; opposed any additional cost burdens to the current proposal; supported sensible changes to make the scheme as light touch as possible and limited our intervention during the negotiations to these key policy areas."[16]

6.4  He also highlighted two outstanding issues of concern for the UK. The first, and most important, concerned funding for the EU European Heritage Label. The Commission indicated that appropriations required to fund the EU European Heritage Label in 2011 and 2012 would be found by reprioritising existing resources from the EU's Culture Programme budget. However, funding for 2013 would be drawn from the margins of the EU budget.[17] This, the Minister explained, would increase the actual spend within the ceiling established for the Culture Programme budget and thus constitute additional funding from the EU budget which Member States would be required to meet. Although the sum involved in this case was likely to be low — with the UK contribution amounting to approximately £66,000 in 2013 — the Minister said that an important point of principle was at stake because the approach advocated by the Commission (and supported by most other Member States) would increase the size of the EU budget.

6.5  The second issue concerned the institution responsible for officially designating sites to be awarded an EU European Heritage Label and for withdrawing the Label. The original proposal entrusted this task to the Commission, acting on the advice of an independent panel of experts. Most Member States wanted some degree of Council involvement. The Minister indicated that the draft Decision was likely to be amended to include provision for a comitology procedure whereby a Committee of Member State experts would oversee the Commission's actions.

The Minister's letter of 22 February 2011

6.6  The Minister's letter describes the amendments to the draft Decision proposed by the European Parliament and says that there is broad agreement within the Council that they have improved the text. Discussions would continue with a view to reaching an agreement at First Reading.

The Minister's letter of 1 April 2011

6.7  In his latest progress report, the Minister tells us that the Council is likely to accept the vast majority of the amendments proposed by the European Parliament. He continues:

"[...] discussions are due to continue at the informal trialogues on a few points, notably the participation of third countries in transnational sites, the rhythm of selection and quotas for transnational and national thematic sites. On these points the UK continues to support any endeavour to minimise the administrative burden and counter a rapid proliferation of sites with the EHL attribution."

6.8  The Minister provides further information on the funding proposed for the EU European Heritage Label in 2013 and on the institution competent to award and withdraw the Label. On the first, he says that the UK will retain a reserve on the financial provision for 2013 for the following reason:

"We continue to believe that the funds allocated to the action for 2013, however small, should as a matter of principle, come from the Culture Programme rather than from the margin of the budget as suggested by the Commission. The text itself does not specify the source of funding for the Programme. However the Commission's accompanying financial fiche suggests that the EHL should be funded by the Culture Programme in 2012, and onwards from 2014, but leaves the possibility open that funding for 2013 could be taken from the margins. Therefore in the absence of any clarification on this point in the text itself I propose that the UK retains our reservation on the basis that we will abstain in the final vote."

6.9  He explains that the second issue has been resolved and that the Commission will be responsible for awarding or withdrawing the designation of the EU European Heritage Label, an outcome which he says the Government supports.

6.10  The Minister anticipates that there will be further "trialogue" discussions between the Commission, Council and European Parliament during April and that the Presidency will seek to reach agreement on a Common Position in early May which will provide the basis for a First Reading deal with the European Parliament. He asks for our views on "the potential for scrutiny clearance" before then.


6.11  We note that a First Reading deal on the draft Decision is imminent and that the Government is broadly satisfied with the outcome. The Minister tells us that there remains a risk that funding for the EU European Heritage Label in 2013 will be taken from the margins of the EU budget and that, for this reason, the Government intends to abstain when the draft Decision is put to the vote in the Council.

6.12  We share the Government's concern about drawing funds from the margins of the EU budget and agree that there is an important point of principle at stake. However, it seems that most Member States are willing to acquiesce in the use of funding from the budget margins, in light of the relatively small sums involved, and that there is little prospect of securing a blocking minority on this issue. We therefore think that it is appropriate for the Government to register its objection by abstaining when the Presidency seeks approval for a Common Position in May and, on that basis, we are content to clear the draft Decision from scrutiny.

15   See HC 428-i (2010-11), chapter 10 (8 September 2010). Back

16   Minister's letter of 26 October 2010. Back

17   The margin is the difference between projected spend for each budget heading and the ceiling set for that budget heading. Using the margin increases the actual spend and so constitutes additional expenditure.  Back

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