Legally and politically important
Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; scrutiny waiver granted for the Council meeting of 8 December
Proposal for a Regulation establishing a European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) and repealing Regulation (EEC) No. 337/75
Articles 149, 165(4) and 166(4) TFEU
(38026), 11532/16, COM(16) 532
3.1The European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) aims to provide the evidence on which to base European Vocational Education and Training (VET) policy. The Commission proposes to update Cedefop’s objectives and tasks in the light of changing circumstances and changes that have been agreed for all EU Agencies.
3.2When the Committee first considered the proposal—at its meeting of 19 October—the Committee sought confirmation that the Government was content with the proposed legal base. The Committee also sought the Government’s view on other aspects of the proposal, including changes suggested in order to align the Cedefop Regulation with the Common Approach on Decentralised Agencies. We asked too about the progress and nature of any Commission evaluation of Cedefop and we asked how the Government intended to fill the potential knowledge gap in this area created by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
3.3The Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, (Robert Halfon), responded to the Committee on 2 and 28 November. In his most recent letter, he explains that the proposal is scheduled to be agreed by Ministers on 8 December. He asks for the Committee’s agreement to clear the proposal from scrutiny in order that the Government may support the General Approach. Several changes have been made to the text to address the concerns that the UK and other Member States had about subsidiarity and the legal base.
3.4Details of the Minister’s letter of 2 November are set out below. In summary, he told us that:
3.5The Minister has largely addressed the queries raised by the Committee. We were surprised to read, though, that changes were negotiated in order “to address the concerns that [the UK] and other Member States had about subsidiarity and the legal base”. In his original Explanatory Memorandum, he told us “This proposal does not raise concerns on subsidiarity”. While we are unable to publish the compromise text which the Minister has helpfully shared with us, our interpretation of the changes suggests that the concerns to which the Minister refers pertain to competence and legal base rather than to subsidiarity. We would ask that—once the Council has agreed the text—the Minister write to us with more detail on the changes agreed and how they have addressed the concerns of the Government. We expect the Minister to distinguish clearly between concerns about competence, subsidiarity and legal base.
3.6The Minister makes no comment on the parallel discussions taking place in the European Parliament, which is a co-legislator on this proposal. We are not prepared to accede to his request to clear the document from scrutiny as there could well be further developments in negotiations once the position of the European Parliament has become clear. We do not, however, wish to fetter the Government’s negotiating position at the Council and we therefore waive the proposal from scrutiny in order that the Government may give its agreement to a General Approach at the 8 December meeting of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council. We look forward to an update on that Council and on developments in the European Parliament in due course.
3.7The reasons for the proposed revision of Cedefop are twofold. First, the revision will align certain provisions of the existing Regulation governing Cedefop with the Common Approach on Decentralised Agencies. These guiding principles for all EU agencies were adopted in 2012 to make the agencies more coherent, effective and accountable. Second, the revision also offers the opportunity to update the objectives and tasks of Cedefop to reflect developments since its establishment in 1975. Further details on the background to Cedefop and on the Commission’s proposal were set out in our Report of 19 October.
3.8We raised the following issues in our earlier Report:
3.9On the legal base, the Minister said:
“The UK Government shares the Committee’s view that the general ‘flexibility clause’ is not the correct legal base. We would prefer a specific legal base because of the focus on vocational training. The Commission and the Council Legal Service share this view.”
3.10On the timing and nature of any evaluation, he explained:
“The proposal is not a deviation from the Common Approach for Decentralised Agencies. It proposes to bring the Cedefop regulation into alignment with the Common Approach. There is no explicit requirement in the founding regulation of Cedefop to conduct an evaluation of the agency. However, the Commission’s Better Regulation Guidelines and the Financial Regulation require periodic evaluation of EU interventions of over €5 million, which is applicable to Cedefop, as its annual core budget is above that threshold. Moreover, the Common Approach foresees that each agency’s founding act should provide for a periodic overall evaluation, to be carried out by the Commission every five years and on the occasion of every second evaluation, a sunset/review clause should be included. Although the Cedefop founding act is yet to be aligned with the Common Approach, the Commission considers that latter could serve as a basis for the forthcoming evaluation.
“The evaluation is due to begin in December 2016, with a planned completion date of December 2017. The evaluation period will cover the activities from 2011 to 2016. The other three agencies falling under the remit of the Directorate-General for Employment—the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working conditions (EUROFOUND), the European Training Foundation (ETF) and the European Agency for Safety and Health and Safety at Work (EU-OSHA) are also to be reviewed.”
3.11As to how the potential knowledge gap in this area created by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU might be filled, the Minister wrote:
“The United Kingdom will need to consider its future relationship with Cedefop as part of the overall exit negotiations. The Agency already works with countries outside of the EU. It is therefore possible that we could continue to have a relationship with it. Equally, Cedefop’s primary purpose is to monitor, evaluate, disseminate and forecast developments in vocational education policy and practice across its member countries. Much of its work is published and openly accessible. Comparable information is also readily available from other sources such as host Ministries, think tanks, academia etc.”
3.12On the direction of negotiations, he said:
“Member States are forming their views but we detect little opposition so far. There are concerns in some Member States about steady expansion of EU involvement in education policy, an area where EU competence is limited. In this context, Cedefop is a tool used by the Commission for enhanced monitoring of national policies. Some Member States also have doubts about the proposals for Cedefop to have a greater role in managing the Europass Framework (Europass is an instrument that allows individuals to document and share information on their skills and qualifications). They will argue that the primacy of national responsibility in this area this area should be reflected in the revised Regulation. We will support this position.”
3.13In his most recent letter, the Minister updates the Committee in the following terms:
“Since I wrote, the negotiations have progressed more quickly than expected and a general approach on this proposal is scheduled to be agreed at the Employment Council on 8 December. I am writing to ask for the Committee’s agreement to clear the proposal and allow the Government to support the general approach.”
3.14 On the content of the agreement, he says:
“During the negotiations several changes have been made to the text to address the concerns that we and other Member States had about subsidiarity and legal base. I am content that the revised text addresses our concerns and will also be acceptable to the majority of Member States.”
Fourteenth Report HC 71-xii (2016–17),(19 October 2016).
5 The principle of “competence” applies to the EU’s right to act in a particular area. A right to act requires a clear provision (“legal base”) in the Treaty. The principle of “subsidiarity” concerns whether it is appropriate in a particular instance for action to be taken at the EU level even if the EU has the competence to do so.
6 Fourteenth Report HC 71-xii (2016–17), (19 October 2016).
9 December 2016