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Written Statements

Wednesday 26 November 2014



The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr George Osborne): A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held in Brussels on 7 November 2014. Ministers discussed the following items:

State of play of budget negotiations

The Council recognised the unprecedented scale of this year’s revisions to VAT and GNI balances and invited the Commission to propose a revision to the regulation on own resources enabling member states concerned to defer the required payment, without incurring any interest.

Parent subsidiaries directive

The Council discussed the proposal for a Council directive amending directive 2011/96/EU on the common system of taxation applicable in the case of parent companies and subsidiaries of different member states. The Council will aim to agree the text at the Council meeting on 9 December 2014.

Financial transaction tax

The Council held a state of play discussion on the proposal for a Council directive implementing enhanced co-operation in the area of a financial transaction tax.

Standard VAT return

The Council held a state of play update on the proposal for a Council directive amending directive 2006/112/EC on the common system of value added tax, as regards a standard VAT return.

EU statistics

Ministers adopted the annual set of Council conclusions on EU statistics.

Preparation of the 20th conference of parties to the United Nations framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC)

Ministers agreed a set of Council conclusions in preparation of the 20th conference of parties to the United Nations framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC), which will take place in Lima from 1 to 12 December 2014.

Culture, Media and Sport

Telecommunications Council

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): The Telecommunications Council will take place in Brussels on 27 November 2014. The deputy permanent representative to the EU, Shan Morgan,

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will represent the UK at this Council, and below are the agenda items and the positions the UK intends to adopt on each of them.

The first item is a progress report from the presidency on proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the accessibility to public sector bodies’ websites (First reading EM 16006/11). While no formal debate is scheduled on the agenda it is expected that some member states may wish to intervene. In this instance the UK’s intervention will strongly support the presidency’s progress report.

The second item is a report on state of play on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down measures concerning the European single market for electronic communications and to achieve a connected continent. (First reading EM 13562/13 and 13555/13 +ADDS 1-2).

I intend to indicate the UK’s continued support for a simplified regulation and in particular an outcome that leads to the cessation of mobile roaming charges by 2016, along with increased consumer protection. I will also signal our support for a principles-based and outcome-focused net-neutrality regulation. Finally, we will reiterate our stance, whereby we do not support an outcome that would give the Commission further competency over spectrum management.

These items will be followed by a debate on the mid-term review of the Commission’s EU 2020 strategy EU2020 preparation of mid-term review. (EU 2020 is the 10-year strategy proposed by the European Commission on 3 March 2010 for advancement of the economy of the European Union. It aimed to produce “smart, sustainable, inclusive growth” with greater co-ordination of national and European policy). The questions in the main focus on the way forward for the digital agenda for Europe (DAE), which is one of the seven flagship initiatives under the EU2020 strategy. The UK’s intervention will include: the UK welcomes the Commission’s decision to prioritise actions to boost the digital economy; and the UK believes the Commission’s plan should focus on five aspects of the digital economy as a coherent package: commerce, data, competition and protection, copyright and telecommunications.

There will then follow discussion on draft council conclusions on internet governance. We are expecting these conclusions to be discussed in detail and it is not clear whether or not they will be agreed. The current text goes into a great number of detailed policy questions and consequently there are a number of unresolved differences of view. The UK has argued that the conclusions should not undermine the role of key organisations in the multi-stakeholder model of internet governance, should not seek to enlarge the role of Governments in that model and should not call on European member states to speak with one voice on these issues. Unless these issues are adequately resolved, the UK will not be able to accept Council conclusions. Other member states may also block consensus, if their own detailed concerns are not addressed.

This will be followed by two items under AOB, the first being information from the presidency on a proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning measures to ensure a high level of network and information security across the Union. (First reading EM6342/13). We do not intend to intervene on either of these items.

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Finally, under AOB, the Latvian delegation will inform the Council of their priorities for their forthcoming presidency before Council adjourns until the next meeting in summer 2015.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign Affairs Council/General Affairs Council

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, attended the Foreign Affairs Council on 17 November, and the Minister for reserves, the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), attended the Defence Foreign Affairs Council and the European Defence Agency steering board on 18 November. Ivan Rogers, UK permanent representative to the European Union, attended the General Affairs Council on 18 November, and Lord Ahmad, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government, attended the General Affairs Council on 19 November. The Foreign Affairs Council and Defence Foreign Affairs Council were chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, and the General Affairs Council was chaired by the Italian presidency. The meetings were held in Brussels.

Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Christos Stylianides, Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management and EU Ebola Co-ordinator, Elzbieta Bienkowska, Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs and Neven Mimica, Commissioner for International Co-operation and Development were in attendance for some of the discussions at the FAC.

Foreign Affairs Council

A provisional report of the meeting and Conclusions adopted can be found at:



Ministers welcomed Ukraine’s parliamentary elections on 26 October and looked forward to the formation of a new Government. There was broad agreement that the EU should continue sending a concerted message to Ukraine about the importance of seizing the opportunity of a new pro-reform Rada to accelerating work on deep-rooted, economic and political reforms. The EU should continue to make it clear that its financial support was linked to progress on a credible, concrete reform agenda. Commissioner Hahn noted that he planned to visit Ukraine before the end of November to meet the newly-formed Government.

The Foreign Secretary was joined by his EU counterparts in making clear that the separatist “elections” on 2 November were illegitimate, illegal under Ukrainian law, and in breach of the Minsk protocol. Ministers called on all parties to implement the Minsk agreements in full, stressing Russia’s responsibility in particular. The Foreign Secretary argued that EU must take action

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to respond to the worsening situation and separatist elections. Ministers agreed to task the EEAS and Commission with presenting for decision by the end of November a proposal on additional sanctions listings targeting separatists as well as further work on implementing the EU policy of non-recognition of the annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol.

Ministers agreed conclusions which, inter alia, reaffirmed their support of the Minsk agreements and called on Russia to implement its commitments under Minsk. Ministers also expressed concern about the humanitarian situation and welcomed the recent OSCE brokered access to the MH17 crash site and underlined that those responsible for the downing of MH17 would be held accountable.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Germany set out the rationale behind the UK-German initiative, noting that previous reform attempts had failed and that a new approach was needed. The Foreign Secretary set out the mechanics, being clear that constitutional and institutional reform, as elements of conditionality, remained. He also urged partners to help create momentum by focusing on getting the economy moving and creating jobs—this would create pressure from within for reform.

Many Ministers spoke in favour of the initiative, the need for change, and the good timing. Commissioner Hahn and HRVP Mogherini both took up the initiative enthusiastically. Ms Mogherini concluded that she now had a mandate to take this forward as an EU process, that there was agreement that conditionality would not be reduced and that the initiative would create no precedent. She would visit the region before the December FAC and ask for a written commitment to be included in Bosnian Government programmes and agreed by Parliament.


EU Ebola Coordinator and Humanitarian Commissioner Christos Stylianides, just returned from west Africa, praised the UK’s “outstanding job” in Sierra Leone. C Stylianides committed to: follow up with member states to assess needs, support rapid deployment of staff via the ERCC, and organise a high-level meeting in the next few weeks, followed by a bigger conference with the region in due course to look at “the day after Ebola”. The Foreign Secretary debriefed on his recent visit to Sierra Leone, and underlined the urgency of delivering on commitments already made. Longer term, we would all need to step up again to help rebuild the economies of the region. Conclusions were adopted without comment.

Middle east peace process

Ministers agreed conclusions responding to recent tensions by calling for calm in Jerusalem, deploring settlement expansion, and urging a durable ceasefire in Gaza. The conclusions pledge an EU role, through the reactivation and possible expansion of the EU’s CSDP missions in Gaza.


Ms Mogherini provided a brief update of the situation in Libya and promised to revert to the issue in full, most likely in December. Member states emphasised concerns over the humanitarian situation, irregular migration flows, energy instability and the rise of extremists.

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Other business

Ministers agreed without discussion a number of other measures:

The Council adopted conclusions on the action plan on visa liberalisation for Georgia;

The Council approved the EU position for the first meeting of the EU-Georgia Association Council following the signature of the EU-Georgia Association Council and the start of its provisional application;

The Council adopted the EU’s position within the Association councils with Georgia and the Republic of Moldova;

The Council updated information concerning a person targeted by EU restrictive measures in connection with action against Ukraine’s territorial integrity;

The Council adopted the EU position for the thirteenth meeting of the EU-Kyrgyz Republic Co-operation Council on 18 November.

Defence Foreign Affairs Council

The Foreign Affairs Council in Defence Ministers formation was preceded by the European Defence Agency (EDA) steering board. The UK welcomed the work of the EDA on the policy framework for long term defence co-operation but raised reservations over the proposal by the European Parliament to commission and directly fund CSDP projects in the EDA. The Council discussed three agenda items: the EDA 2015 budget, CSDP missions and operations, and the security situation in the broader neighbourhood. The UK blocked an increase to the budget of the EDA for the fifth year in succession and highlighted support for CSDP operations in Bosnia and the horn of Africa. On Ebola, the UK pushed for a greater contribution to the international effort from member states. This was followed by an informal session over lunch on the prospects for CSDP where member states renewed calls for a revised European security strategy. Council conclusions were amended, following a French request, to call for the development of a crisis management concept for a follow on EU mission in the Central African Republic.

General Affairs Council

A provisional report of both meetings can be found at:


18 November

The General Affairs Council (GAC) on 18 November focused on: the preparation of the European Council on 18 and 19 December; strengthening inter-institutional annual and multi-annual programming; rule of law; the follow-up to the strategic agenda for the EU agreed at the June European Council; and under any other business, the third meeting of the friends of the presidency group on improving the functioning of the EU.

Preparation of the December European Council

The GAC prepared the 18 and 19 December European Council, which the Prime Minister will attend. The December European Council agenda is expected to cover: economic policy, including further efforts to foster growth, jobs and competiveness; and external relations issues, such as Ebola.

The UK welcomed the strong focus on the economy, and emphasised the need for long-term, sustainable economic growth. Key drivers for achieving this will be the digital economy and the single market in services.

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The full range of tools should be used to stimulate growth, and the planned EU investment package should include private capital in the mix and be accompanied by ambitious structural reform.

Strengthening inter-institutional annual and multi-annual programming

The Italian presidency updated the GAC on its plans for a political declaration setting out the working arrangements between the institutions on inter-institutional legislative planning.

The GAC also discussed the priorities being considered for inclusion in the Commission 2015 Annual Work Programme, which are drawn from the strategic agenda agreed at the June European Council and Commission President Juncker’s 10 priority points. The UK stressed the importance of completing the internal market, especially in the digital and services sectors. The UK also cautioned that the GAC should not rush in to formalising arrangements on legislative programming for future years, but should first see how arrangements this year have worked in order to ensure the council has the role it needs.

Rule of law

The GAC held an exchange of views on the rule of law and the Council’s role in upholding it, based on an Italian presidency discussion paper. The UK emphasised the need to avoid unnecessarily complex processes and to ensure that any proposals are consistent with the treaties. The presidency agreed to return to the subject at the December GAC.

Follow-up to the June European Council

The GAC held its third discussion of the implementation of the “Strategic Agenda for the Union in times of change” as agreed by leaders at the June European Council this year, focusing this time on energy and climate policy. GAC Ministers debated progress so far on energy union and noted the important steps needed to prepare for the UN climate change summit in Paris next year.

Any other business

The presidency updated the Council on the third meeting of the friends of the presidency group on improving the functioning of the EU which took place on 7 November 2014.

19 November

The session of the GAC on 19 November was dedicated to cohesion policy. Ministers discussed Council conclusions on the sixth cohesion report; the contribution of cohesion policy to EU2020; and the treatment of those operational programmes which are not adopted by the end of 2014.

On the conclusions, the UK emphasised the importance of proportionality in governance and audit, supported by Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands; the UK also argued against an extension of the eligibility period for the 2007-13 period to 2016.

On Europe 2020, the UK stressed that structural reform and the contribution of the private sector was central to delivering the strategy’s objectives.

On the late adoption of operational programmes, the UK stressed the importance of proper management of EU budgetary pressures.

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Electoral Commission Committee

Confirmation Live Run (Scotland)

Mr Gary Streeter (Representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission): The Electoral Commission has today published a report containing an analysis of the confirmation live run (CLR) exercise that took place in Scotland in September 2014, and which forms the first stage in the transition to individual electoral registration (IER). The report also summarises general progress with the implementation of IER in Scotland to date. The Commission reported separately on progress with the transition in England and Wales in October 2014.

The transition to IER in Scotland began in September 2014, following the referendum on independence. The transition is therefore taking place against a background of unprecedented levels of public engagement and participation, which led to a welcome increase in registration levels in Scotland.

Confirmation is the process of matching existing electors’ details against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) database as well as against locally held data to identify which electors could be transferred automatically to the new IER registers, and which ones could not and therefore need to re-register. However, no existing elector will be removed from the registers ahead of the general election as a result of the change to IER.

Overall, the report finds that the results of the live run are largely in line with the results from the test of the confirmation process in 2013 and are broadly consistent with the results in England and Wales.

In Scotland approximately 3.6 million electoral register entries were matched, the majority of which could be directly transferred onto the new IER registers. This corresponds to 86% of the total number of records on the electoral registers sent for matching. A total of 589,000 could not be positively matched with the DWP database or through local data matching and could therefore not be automatically transferred onto the new IER registers. EROs in Scotland will now be focusing their time and resources on targeting the 14% of existing electors who could not be matched, as well as those not currently on the registers at all.

Subsequent to the confirmation process, EROs have been writing out to all electors who could not be automatically transferred to the new IER registers and

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inviting them to re-register. The Electoral Commission ran a public awareness campaign between 16 October and 13 November to ensure that electors knew to expect a letter telling them how they were affected by the change and if they needed to take any action. This supported targeted engagement activity carried out locally by EROs.

The Commission’s analysis of the test of the confirmation process in 2013 indicated that there are particular groups who are less likely to be matched with DWP data including students, young people and those renting from a private landlord. This is likely to be because they change address more frequently than the rest of the population and their details held by DWP are therefore less likely to be up to date. Encouragingly, the Commission’s analysis of the live results suggests that local data matching helps to mitigate this problem to an extent, with some of these groups being able to be matched against local data sources such as council tax databases.

As part of the change to IER in Great Britain, for the first time, people have been able to register to vote online. The Commission reports that the take-up of online registration has been positive since the system launched in England and Wales in June and in September in Scotland. Over 2.4 million applications to register have so far been submitted through the online system across Great Britain.

The Electoral Commission will continue to monitor the transition to IER closely. The Commission will report again on progress in Scotland in April 2015 following the publication of the revised registers by 2 March 2015. A further report on progress across Great Britain will be published in the summer of 2015, which will include the Commission’s assessment of whether it would be appropriate to bring forward the end of the transition to IER from December 2016 to December 2015.

The Electoral Commission has also produced a data visualisation tool which is available on its website and will be e-mailed to all MPs. This allows Members of Parliament to see the confirmation rate for their constituency and for the electoral wards within it. It also includes data by local authority area. Copies of the Commission’s report have been placed in the Library of the House and it is also available on the Commission’s website at: www.electoralcommission.org.uk