Documents considered by the Committee on 6 January 2016 - European Scrutiny Contents


3   Ports

Committee's assessment Politically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared from scrutiny; recommended for debate on the floor of the House (decision reported on 21 July 2015)
Document details(a) Proposed Regulation establishing a framework on market access to port services and financial transparency of ports; (b) Proposed Regulation establishing a framework on market access to port services and financial transparency of ports: General approach
Legal baseArticle 100(2) TFEU; ordinary legislative procedure; QMV
DepartmentTransport
Document Numbers(a) (34955), 10154/13 + ADDs 1-5, COM(13) 296
(b) (36373), 13764/14, —

Summary and Committee's conclusions

3.1  With a proposed Regulation, published in May 2013, the Commission sought to establish a regulatory framework to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of all EU ports. The predecessor Committee noted the significant concern of the UK ports industry and recommended the proposal for debate on the floor of the House before the October 2014 Transport Council. But, the Government refused that request and a debate by European Committee A in September 2014 was adjourned without substantive discussion.

3.2  Very shortly before the October 2014 Transport Council meeting the then Presidency presented a revised text of the proposed Regulation for the Council to resolve the outstanding issues and to adopt a general approach at its meeting on 8 October. The Government explained to the predecessor Committee the substance of the general approach agreed by the Council and why it thought this a relatively good outcome for the UK. However, the ports industry and Unite, on behalf of port workers, confirmed that they remained opposed to the proposed Regulation.

3.3  The predecessor Committee commented that it was very regrettable that the Government had not arranged for this matter to be debated before the Transport Council meeting. However, it recommended that both the original document and the new one be debated, not as an exercise in pointless retrospective scrutiny of Government activity in Council consideration of the proposal, but in order to determine the appropriate Government approach to trilogue negotiation of the Council's general approach. It emphasised again that, given the importance of the issues, the debate should be on the floor of the House. In July 2015 we endorsed that debate recommendation, including that it should be on the floor of the House. A debate in European Committee A is now scheduled for 12 January.

3.4  In addition to expressing its concerns about the substance of the proposals, the predecessor Committee noted that there had been problems in the scrutiny of them because highly relevant Council documents were subject to Limité restrictions. It recognised that on this occasion the Government had made an effort to ensure that some Limité documents were made available to it. But it commented forcibly that it remains a fact, which the Government seems incapable of understanding, that the Council, whether at Ministerial or working group level, is a legislature, as recognised by the frequent references to it and the European Parliament as the "co-legislators". The predecessor Committee emphasised that, as a legislature in a democratic society, the Council should operate transparently, in particular abandoning the constant resort to Limité markings, and should be very vigorously urged to do so by any UK Government.

3.5  The Government now outlines to us, in advance of the scheduled debate, developments in the European Parliament's consideration of the proposal and seeks to justify its continued refusal to have this matter debated on the floor of the House.

3.6  We are grateful for the information now provided to us and note that the web links provided will help Members preparing for the European Committee debate.

3.7  However, we are greatly concerned that the Government has continued to deny the House a floor debate on such an important issue and find the comment that "there will be some disappointment that it has again been scheduled in European Committee A", to put it mildly, disingenuous.

3.8  As for the Limité issue, while we do not suggest that this should be a major focus of the debate, we think Members might wish to remind the Government of this aspect of the EU's democratic deficit.

Full details of the documents: (a) Proposal for a Regulation establishing a framework on the market access to port services and the financial transparency of ports: (34955), 10154/13 + ADDs 1-5, COM(13) 296; (b) Proposal for a Regulation establishing a framework on market access to port services and financial transparency of ports (First reading): General approach: (36373), 13764/14, —.

Background

3.9  With the proposed Regulation, document (a), published in May 2013, the Commission sought to establish a regulatory framework to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of all EU ports. The predecessor Committee considered the proposal several times, noted significant concern of the UK ports industry and recommended it for debate on the floor of the House before the Transport Council of 8 October 2014. But, the Government refused that request and a debate by European Committee A on 3 September 2014 was adjourned without substantive discussion.

3.10  With the paper, document (b), the then Presidency presented a revised text of the proposed Regulation for the Transport Council to resolve the outstanding issues and to adopt a general approach at its October 2014 meeting. After that meeting the predecessor Committee was able to consider the Government's description of the substance of the general approach agreed by the Council and its explanation of why it thought this a relatively good outcome for the UK. However, The Committee noted that the ports industry and Unite, on behalf of port workers, had confirmed that they remained opposed to the proposed Regulation.

3.11  The predecessor Committee said that it was very regrettable that the Government had not arranged for this matter to be debated before the October 2014 Transport Council. However, it recommended that both the original document and the new one be debated, not as an exercise in pointless retrospective scrutiny of Government activity in Council consideration of the proposal, but in order to determine the appropriate Government approach to trilogue negotiation of the Council's general approach. It emphasised again that, given the importance of the issues, the debate which it was recommending should be on the floor of the House. In July 2015 we endorsed that debate recommendation, including that it should be on the floor of the House. A debate in European Committee A is now scheduled for 12 January 2016.

The Minister's letter of 5 January 2016

3.12  The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill) first reminds us of the Government's view that the changes it secured in the Council general approach adopted in October 2014 represented a very significant improvement compared with the Commission's original proposal. He says that there has been no further discussion in the Council since the adoption of the general approach and that the main focus has been on the European Parliament's consideration of the dossier.

3.13  Recalling that the predecessor Committee was told in February 2015 that there was no timetable set for consideration of the proposal by the European Parliament, the Minister says that since then, progress in the European Parliament has been protracted, with the dossier attracting a high number of proposed amendments, both from the Rapporteur in his draft report and from members of the TRAN Committee. He does not attach the Rapporteur's draft report and the proposed amendments, as they total more than 400 pages, but he does draw attention to the TRAN Committee website and three relevant TRAN links, which we footnote.[8]

3.14  The Minister tells us that he understands that in recent weeks the Rapporteur has been working to create proposed compromise and composite amendments, which have not yet been formally published, for consideration by the TRAN Committee. He says that:

·  the latest position is that the TRAN Committee is due to vote on these on 25 January (which is also our understanding); and

·  following this, it is expected that the Dutch Presidency will open trilogue negotiations with European Parliament representatives in the second half of its Presidency, ahead of a European Parliament plenary vote currently scheduled for 7 June.

3.15  Noting that the European Parliament's first reading is based on the Commission's original proposal rather than any general approach reached by the Council, the Minister says that:

·  in practice, however, the Rapporteur and MEPs have clearly taken note of the general approach on the proposed Regulation;

·  many of their proposed amendments also tend towards lighter regulation of procurement and access to port service provision, in particular, regarding the scope of services covered, the reduction of regulatory burdens in Article 7 (that is, procurement requirements) and the restriction of some of the provisions to ports operated in accordance with Public Service Obligations;

·  the Government can therefore welcome many of the amendments proposed by TRAN Committee members, and also many of the proposed compromise amendments that he understands that the Rapporteur has prepared; and

·  in many cases these amendments, like the Council's general approach, would reduce administrative burdens as compared with the original proposal, while retaining the desirable requirements for financial transparency of public funding.

3.16  The Minister continues that:

·  consideration by the European Parliament and the subsequent stage of trilogue discussions will be vital to the final outcome;

·  for this reason he has made working with the European Parliament his top priority during its consideration of the dossier to date and in the stages that are still to come;

·  there is considerable overlap between the views of the Government and the Opposition on the proposal, and safeguarding the UK's competitive ports sector is a priority for both parties;

·  in light of this, he is most grateful to shadow Maritime Minister, Richard Burden, for joining him in a recent visit to Brussels to lobby some of the most influential TRAN Committee MEPs on this dossier, including the Rapporteur; and

·  they were able to present a united position on those provisions where there was a broad degree of agreement (while recognizing a few areas on which they take different views), and he believes that MEPs were receptive to this unusual approach.

3.17  Turning to the forthcoming debate the Minister says that:

·  he looks forward to discussing these developments in more detail and hearing Members' views, which will help to inform further negotiations on the proposed Regulation;

·  the previous debate was adjourned so that the Limité documents which Members wished to see could be provided, initially to the predecessor Committee in confidence and later publically once the Government had succeeded in having the Limité markings lifted;

·  these documents are to be included in the debate pack for completeness, and there have been no further Limité documents issued since the adoption of the general approach;

·  he recognises that our preference has been that the debate on this proposal should take place on the floor of the House, and that "there will be some disappointment that it has again been scheduled in European Committee A"; and

·  on consideration, however, and bearing in mind the level of detail that Members may wish to discuss on the negotiation of this dossier in both the Council and the European Parliament, the Government believes that a debate in European Committee A, with its allotted question time of up to an hour, will provide the most appropriate means of scrutinising the proposal, allowing for a longer and more structured debate which he believes will be particularly helpful in this instance.

Previous Committee Reports

Fourteenth Report, HC 219-xiv (2014-15), chapter 1 (15 October 2014), Twelfth Report, HC 219-xii (2014-15), chapter 2 (10 September 2014), Tenth Report HC 219-x (2014-15), chapter 1 (3 September 2014), Fifth Report HC 219-v (2014-15), chapter 2 (2 July 2014), Twenty-third Report HC 83-xxi (2013-14), chapter 9 (20 November 2013) and Sixth Report HC 83-vi (2013-14), chapter 2 (19 June 2013).





8   TRAN Committee website. Rapporteur's draft report. Amendments 99-409. Amendments 410-712. Back


 
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