The Committee looks at the significance of EU proposals and decides whether to clear the document from scrutiny or withhold clearance and ask questions of the Government. The Committee also has the power to recommend documents for debate.
The Committee is now looking at documents in the light of the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU. Issues are explored in greater detail in report chapters and, where appropriate, in the summaries below.
These three documents are linked by EU action on the Rule of Law. The two Council Decisions concern the activation by the Commission of the Article 7 TEU process against Poland in December 2017 and then separately by the EP against Hungary in September 2018. The Communication addresses how the EU could improve the operation of the established Rule of Law mechanisms within the EU. Separately the Committee also has a proposed Regulation on the Rule of Law and the EU budget under scrutiny.
Even if either of the proposed Decisions against Poland and Hungary were forced to a vote, voting thresholds in both the Council/EP and political sensitivities and alliances make it very uncertain that there would be a negative outcome for either country. In any event, further steps would need to be taken for Hungary or Poland to be sanctioned, for instance by losing voting rights in the Council. This would involve the separate triggering of a two stage “sanctions mechanism” set out in Articles 7(2) and (3) TEU.
The Government has consistently adopted a neutral approach to the Rule of Law processes. It considers that Member States should respect the Rule of Law, but that constitutional arrangements are a matter for national governments. It intends simply to voice any UK concerns about Rule of Law to Poland and Hungary on a bilateral basis.
The Government provides a good update relating to both the Hungary and Poland situations. These include developments in the CJEU. In particular, in April the Advocate General (AG) has opined in related infringement proceedings against Poland. This concerns the Polish law lowering the retirement age of its Supreme Court judges which would force about a third of existing judges to retire and open the way for Government-friendly appointments. The AG has found that the law breaches the principle of the irremovability of judges and judicial independence under Article 19(1) TEU and Article 47 of the Charter (right to an effective remedy and fair trial).
We ask the Government to give its view on the increased activity of the CJEU in this area, how this might affect UK policy and the UK’s decision not to engage on the proposed intergovernmental dialogue initiative mentioned in the Communication because of UK exit. This latter question prompts our wider concern about when the Government will be choosing to exercise its discretion during the extension of the Article 50 process not to exercise EU treaty rights as a “withdrawing Member State and in the light of the duty of sincere cooperation”.
Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Justice Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights
The European Commission and European Court of Auditors have both published reports on the implementation of the EU Fund for Aid to the Most Deprived. Agreed in 2014, the Fund targets those who are furthest from the labour market and at risk of material deprivation and/or social exclusion. It provides for the delivery of aid (such as food, clothing and basic consumer goods) and social inclusion projects. Both reports note that the UK is the only EU Member State in which implementation of the Fund has yet to start. The delay in developing a national programme to utilise the UK’s allocation of funding means that the UK has lost £600,000 out of a total of €3.96 million for the period 2014–20. The latest information provided by the Government indicates that there has been some slippage in the timetable for securing Commission approval of the UK programme which may, once again, put funding for the UK at risk. The European Scrutiny Committee says it will continue to hold the European Commission report under scrutiny until the Government is able to provide a clear assurance that the UK’s operational programme for the remaining €2.9 million has been approved and is on track to begin before the end of the year. The Committee anticipates that the Government will by then be better placed to explain how the UK’s exit from the EU—with or without a deal—will affect the UK’s eligibility for the Fund which runs until the end of 2020. The Committee is clearing from scrutiny the Court of Auditors Report as the recommendations it makes to strengthen the impact of the Fund once it is merged into a revamped European Social Fund(“ESF+”) during the next EU budgetary period from 2021–27 have largely been accepted by the European Commission.
European Court of Auditors report cleared from scrutiny; Commission report not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Education Committee, Home Affairs Committee and Work and Pensions Committee
These proposals for four Council Decisions would authorise the EU to sign and conclude Agreements with Liechtenstein and Switzerland enabling them to take part in EU measures providing for the automated exchange of DNA profiles, fingerprints and vehicle registration data (“the Prüm package”) to assist in the investigation of cross-border crime. The Government informed the Committee in March that it had decided to opt into the proposals and reiterated its commitment to implement the Prüm measures fully and to continue the international exchange of biometric data with the EU post-exit as part of a future security agreement. The European Scrutiny Committee notes that extending participation in Prüm is likely to have operational benefits for the UK (increasing the pool of data its law enforcement authorities will be able to access) and may also strengthen the UK’s case for a continuing relationship with Prüm and other EU data sharing instruments after leaving the EU. The Committee clears the proposed Council Decisions from scrutiny but makes clear that it expects the Government to provide regular updates on any progress made in fleshing out arrangements for a new (post-exit) EU/UK security treaty.
Cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee and Justice Committee
Education Committee: EU Fund for Aid to the Most Deprived [(a) Commission Report (NC); (b) European Court of Auditors Special Report (C)]
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee: Brexit-preparedness: Fisheries [Proposed Regulations (C)]
Foreign Affairs Committee: Rule of law in the EU [(a)(b) Proposed Decisions; (c) Commission Communication (NC)]
Home Affairs Committee: EU Fund for Aid to the Most Deprived [(a) Commission Report (NC); (b) European Court of Auditors Special Report (C)]; Cross-border police cooperation: Third country participation in the Prüm framework for exchanging DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration data [Proposed Decisions (C)]
Joint Committee on Human Rights: Rule of law in the EU [(a)(b) Proposed Decisions; (c) Commission Communication (NC)]
Justice Committee: Rule of law in the EU [(a)(b) Proposed Decisions; (c) Commission Communication (NC)]; Cross-border police cooperation: Third country participation in the Prüm framework for exchanging DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration data [Proposed Decisions (C)]
Work and Pensions Committee: EU Fund for Aid to the Most Deprived [(a) Commission Report (NC); (b) European Court of Auditors Special Report (C)]
Published: 14 May 2019