EU Afghanistan Cooperation Agreement on Partnership and Development - European Scrutiny Contents

Meeting Summary

The Committee considered the following documents:

UK Government's renegotiation of EU Membership

At our evidence session on 10 February, the Foreign Secretary suggested that the Committee should share its own legal advice. The Committee has received further advice from legal experts which it publishes today together with the note it has received from its own Legal Adviser on the actual outcome of the renegotiation. In the interests of transparency it does so without any gloss or spin.

Proposed Directive on procedural safeguards for child suspects and defendants

This proposed Directive aims to establish common minimum standards on the treatment of child suspects and defendants, defined as under 18, in criminal and European Arrest Warrant (EAW) proceedings. It comprises one of three draft Directives in the 2013 Procedural Rights Package: the other two Directives being on the presumption of innocence (which we also report on this week) and the draft Directive on provisional legal aid. The UK Government has not opted into any of those proposals and now reports that although this particular proposal has been agreed, subject to final adoption at a future Council meeting, it will not be considering a post adoption opt-in as problematic issues remain in the text (in particular, but not limited to its application to the under 18s). We ask that the Government update us when the text is finally adopted.

Cleared. Drawn to the attention of the Justice Committee.

Proposed Directive on the presumption of innocence and EU law

This proposed Directive would establish minimum rules on the presumption of innocence for those suspected or accused of criminal offences and the right of those accused to be present at their trial. The UK did not participate in negotiation of the Directive and we previously issued a reasoned opinion complaining that it breached the principle of subsidiarity. A text has now been informally agreed by the European Parliament and the Council and is waiting formal adoption.

The Minister (Mr Dominic Raab) has indicated that the Government will not opt into this Directive once it has been adopted. In doing so he outlines the various aspects where the Directive would, if it applied to the UK, require a change in the law — including inferences that can be drawn from an accused silence in the UK, instances where the burden of proof does not fall on the prosecutor in the UK and the requirement for the accused to be present even in minor summary cases.

It is drawn to the attention of the Justice Committee because of its inherent importance and to inform that Committee of the reasons why the Government have decided that this Directive should not apply to the UK.

Cleared. Drawn to the attention of the Justice Committee.

Exchanging information on criminal convictions

Since April 2012, Member States have been able to use the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS) to exchange information on the previous convictions of EU nationals so that they can be taken into account in criminal proceedings throughout the EU. ECRIS operates on the principle that a single Member State — the offender's Member State of nationality — is the repository for all criminal record information relating to any of its nationals convicted in another Member State. A complete record of previous convictions can provide important background information on criminal suspects, their suitability for bail, and the appropriate sentence if convicted. ECRIS can also be used to run criminal record checks against individuals where required under national law, for example to screen individuals seeking a firearms licence or applying for a job involving vulnerable groups, such as children.

One of the weaknesses of ECRIS is that there is no single repository for criminal record information concerning third country nationals involved in criminal proceedings in the EU. The Commission proposes to address this weakness by requiring each Member State to establish a national index filter containing anonymised information on third country national offenders (including fingerprints) which would be shared with all other Member States. These index filters could be searched to identify Member States holding criminal record information on a particular third country national — there would be no exchange of personal data at this stage. Following a "hit" or match, ECRIS would be used to request further details. The UK participates fully in ECRIS and the Government supports its extension to third country nationals, but some Member States have raised "constitutional concerns" and identified practical obstacles. The Committee asks the Government to provide further details and to explain how much the changes are likely to cost in the UK. As the proposal is subject to the UK's Title V (justice and home affairs) opt-in, the Committee also asks the Government to notify it promptly of the Government's opt-in decision.

Commission report cleared from scrutiny. Proposed Directive not cleared, further information requested, and drawn to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee.

A voluntary humanitarian admission scheme for Syrian refugees in Turkey

Turkey hosts more than 2.5 million Syrian refugees and is an important transit route for those seeking entry to the EU. This non-binding Commission Recommendation invites Member States to participate in a voluntary humanitarian admission scheme with Turkey. The scheme has a dual purpose: to encourage a sustainable reduction in the number of irregular border crossings from Turkey to the EU by offering "an orderly, managed, safe and dignified" passage to the EU for up to 80,000 displaced Syrians in Turkey each year. Syrians entering the EU under the humanitarian admission scheme would be entitled to remain in their host Member State for at least one year. Although Member States are under no obligation to participate in the scheme, the Commission envisages that there should be an equitable distribution which takes into account each Member State's capacity to receive and integrate individuals in need of protection, as well as population size, GDP, unemployment rate and past asylum efforts. The Government pours cold water on the initiative and says that the EU has no competence to act. The Committee asks the Government to expand on its disappointingly thin legal and political analysis of the Recommendation and to provide further information on the viability of the scheme and the likely participation by other Member States.

Not cleared. Further information requested. Drawn to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee.

The European Globalisation Adjustment Fund

The European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF) is designed to provide support for workers made redundant as a result of major structural changes in world trade patterns due to globalisation. We have had before us an application, from Belgium, for EGF assistance. The Government has reminded us of its continued opposition to the existence and use of the EGF. On the understanding that the Government is continuing to oppose EGF applications (albeit unsuccessfully), whilst ensuring that the eligibility criteria are strictly enforced, we have cleared this document from scrutiny.

However, we recalled that we have drawn to the attention of the Work and Pensions Committee the Commission's own disturbing review of the efficacy of the EGF, as relevant to any monitoring of the Government's approach to the EGF Mid-Term Review that it might undertake. We have also drawn a number of EGF applications, most recently from Finland and Ireland, to the attention of the Work and Pensions Committee as examples of the use made by other Member States of an EU financial instrument of apparently little efficacy, and for which the Government finds UK redundancy cases to be ineligible. We now draw this further example to the attention of the Work and Pensions Committee.

Cleared. Drawn to the attention of the Work and Pensions Committee.

EU-Afghanistan Cooperation Agreement on Partnership and Development

One of many outstanding debate recommendations is one, in European Committee, on a Joint Communication: Elements for an EU Strategy in Afghanistan 2014-16, which dates from February 2015 (and which was endorsed by the Committee at its first meeting last July). At that time, i.e., a year ago, the EU Cooperation Agreement on Partnership and Development (CAPD) had been held in the sidings since spring 2014 while the Afghans agreed a constitution, had elections and chose a new President, and the latest major donors' conference had taken place in London in November 2014.

These events having taken place, the Committee was presented last month with the CAPD. The Committee accordingly recommended that it should be debated together with the EU Afghanistan Strategy; and asked the Minister to provide additional information about the CAPD, prior to the debate being held. From the further information now provided, it would seem that, both politically and legally, the CAPD is far from the finished article, particularly with respect to how much and in what ways the Member States will participate in its operation. The Committee maintains its recommendation that both the Strategy and the CAPD be debated.

Not cleared. Previously recommended for debate in European Committee.

Single Market Strategy

The Commission's Single Market Strategy (SMS) of October 2015 is a non-legislative document that sets out a strategy for 'upgrading' the Single Market. It proposes a mix of legislative and non-legislative initiatives to be tabled in 2016 and 2017, which are based on three main areas: 'creating additional opportunities for consumers, professionals and businesses'; 'encouraging modernisation and innovation'; and 'ensuring practical benefits for people in their daily lives'.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Neville-Rolfe) supports the SMS and considers that the Commission's priorities (including on services and better implementation and enforcement) broadly reflect UK priorities.

At its meeting on 9 December 2015, the Committee considered that the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum lacked sufficient detail on the extent to which the Commission's ambitious programme may represent challenges and what the Government is doing to address these, including on: potential duplication with other strategies (notably the Digital Single Market Strategy); whether enough is being done to ensure transparency of the policy formulation process and that all stakeholders' (and not just businesses') interests were being reflected in forthcoming proposals; and whether the proposed compliance and enforcement tools (including the proposed 'services passport') are likely to get the necessary buy-in from Member States and not impose disproportionate burdens on businesses. The Minister has provided comprehensive responses to each of the Committee's information requests.

The Committee is now content to clear the Communication — one of policy intent — from scrutiny, in order to focus attention on forthcoming individual legislative proposals that implement the SMS. Given the importance of successful implementation of this Strategy for EU competitiveness (and noting the recent European Council declaration on competitiveness), the Committee urges the Minister to provide the Committee with detailed updates on forthcoming proposals early on in, and throughout, the legislative process and set out how progress on implementation of individual SMS initiatives sit within the broader strategy and work alongside Digital Single Market Strategy actions.

Cleared. Drawn to the attention of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee and the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2016
Prepared 2 March 2016