Documents considered by the Committee on 21 July 2015 - European Scrutiny Contents

15 Food and Agriculture Organisation

Committee's assessment Legally and politically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared from scrutiny; further information requested
Document detailsCommission Communication on the updated declaration of competences and new working arrangements in the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)
Legal base

Document numbers

International Development

(34975), 10368/13, COM(13) 333

Summary and Committee's conclusions

15.1 As a UN agency, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) coordinates the efforts of governments and technical agencies in the development of agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and land and water resources. When the European Community joined in 1991, a general division of competences between the EU and Member States in areas under the FAO's mandate was agreed by the Commission and Council, as well as the process for coordinating joint positions ahead of the FAO meetings.

15.2 The Commission proposes a new declaration of competences (Annex 1 to the Communication) to better reflect the Lisbon Treaty and to replace the agreement of specific declarations for each agenda item in advance of FAO meetings. This sets out "EU competences" and "EU and Member States competences" relevant to the FAO's activities by subject area. The Commission also proposes new arrangements for participation in the FAO (Annex 2) with the aim of improving coherence, unity and efficiency of representation. It wants to ensure that EU positions to be presented from behind the "EU nameplate" and agreement of common positions between the EU and Member States (where agenda items are not covered by EU competences alone) can be established in advance of meetings.

15.3 The previous Government told our predecessors that it opposed:

·  the general nature of the updated declaration of competences;

·  the preference for "lines to take" rather than fully agreed statements;

·  the proposed enhancement of the co-ordinating "spokesperson" role of EU delegation and/or Commission at the expense of Member States;

·  national "voices" supporting EU positions no longer being delivered from behind the "national nameplates";

·  Member States having to inform each other as well as the EU Delegation and the Commission about their draft positions and voting intentions in respect of agenda items not covered by EU or common positions; and

·  the annexes being endorsed by the Council in their original form, as they risked undermining Member State competence in FAO and setting an unhelpful precedent for other international organisations.

15.4 Since then some progress has been made. Competences in the updated declaration are now more clearly and accurately defined. It has been confirmed that the annexes will be agreed by consensus (and not just by the Council "taking note" as originally proposed). Despite this, outstanding matters remain on the working arrangements. The new Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for International Development (Baroness Verma) now updates us on the latest developments. She indicates that the Commission is responsible for a lack of progress on the relevant texts.

15.5 We thank the Minister for her very detailed update.

15.6 We are reassured by the continued determination of the UK and other likeminded Member States to protect their lawful roles and competences when participating in an international organisation such as FAO. We note that the ball is now firmly in the Commission's court in terms of making the concessions necessary for agreement of the current texts. We look forward to receiving a further update from the Government on any significant progress from September onwards.

15.7 Pending that next update, we retain this document under scrutiny.

Full details of the documents: Commission Communication: The role of the European Union in the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) after the Treaty of Lisbon: Updated Declaration of Competences and new arrangements between the Council and the Commission for the exercise of membership rights of the EU and its Member States: (34975), 10368/13, COM(13) 333.


15.8 A full background to and account of the current document, together with the previous Government's initial view are set out in our Twelfth Report of 2013-14.[ 156]

The Minister's letter of 3 July 2015

15.9 The Minister says that since her predecessor's letter of 27 February 2015, the Commission:

·  had not provided written comments on the draft text for new working arrangements as requested by the Latvian Presidency; and

·  was ready to support agreement on the updated declaration on competences based on the Presidency compromise if compromise could be reached on the new arrangements (the position set out in non-paper circulated on 27 February on the post-Lisbon role of the EU in the FAO jointly authored by the Commission and EEAS).

15.10 The Minister explains that Commission positions on outstanding institutional issues relevant to the working arrangements were highlighted in the non-paper and included that:

·  all interventions in FAO should be presented by the Commission and EU Delegations from behind the "EU nameplate";

·  Working Party meetings should take place only in Brussels, while local coordination meetings in Rome should be chaired by the EU delegation and "deal with unforeseen issues" in FAO;

·  there should be a move away from a competence-based approach, and information notes on the division of competence for each agenda item of FAO meetings need not be submitted (despite FAO rules requiring this); and

·  statements should be adopted by the Commission on the basis of existing EU positions, with the Working Party only being "duly and appropriately informed".

15.11 The Minister further recounts that the Presidency revised text (circulated on 15 April), based on a variety of sources including the joint paper submitted by the UK and 19 other Member States in December 2014, was discussed at a Working Party meeting on 22 April. Although Member States positively engaged with the text, the Commission "simply maintained that overarching institutional questions needed to be addressed".

15.12 To address this "impasse", the Minister says that the Presidency prepared a progress paper for the COREPER meeting on 21 May, with the UK and other Member States contributing background briefing to maintain "the unity and robust lines provided by the Working Party". The paper had the support of the UK and 19 Member States, on the basis that they would look at the detail of the Commission proposals but only in the context of a competence-based approach to representation and the current working arrangements. The Commission reiterated its concerns about the Presidency paper, but was prepared to suggest drafting amendments.

15.13 The Minister then sums up the current state of play. Following that meeting, the Presidency, noting the "near unity of COREPER", invited the Commission to submit "concrete, modest" written proposals to be taken forward in the Luxembourgish Presidency. She adds:

    "The UK has followed up with the incoming Luxembourg Presidency. In light of the clear message from COREPER, Luxembourg is unwilling to discuss this further in the Working Party unless some progress can be made. The first meeting of the semester is scheduled for 23 July but, as no comments have been received from the Commission yet, Luxembourg does not intend to place this item on the agenda. Any next steps will be considered as from September and I will keep the Committee apprised of further developments."

Previous Committee Reports

Thirty-fifth Report HC 219-xxxiv (2014-15), chapter 3 (4 March 2015); Twenty-eighth Report HC 219-xxvii (2014-15), chapter 4 (7 January 2015); Twenty-fourth Report HC 219-xxiii (2014-15), chapter 4 (3 December 2014); Twelfth Report HC 83-xii (2013-14), chapter 3 (17 July 2013).

156   Twelfth Report HC 83-xii (2013-14), chapter 3 (17 July 2013). Back

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