Documents considered by the Committee on 5 September 2018 Contents

3European Territorial Cooperation (Interreg)

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

Document details

(a) Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on a mechanism to resolve legal and administrative obstacles in a cross-border context; (b) Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on specific provisions for the European territorial cooperation goal (Interreg) supported by the European Regional Development Fund and external financing instruments

Legal base

(a) Article 175 TFEU, Ordinary legislative procedure, QMV (b) Articles 178, 209(1), 212(2) and 349 TFEU, Ordinary legislative procedure, QMV

Department

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Document Numbers

(a) (39809), 9555/18, COM(18) 373; (b) (39811), 9536/18 + ADD 1, COM(18) 374

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

3.1The European Territorial Cooperation (ETC) goal of the EU structural funds (otherwise known as “Interreg”—inter-regional cooperation) is a long-established strand of the EU structural funds, designed to promote regional cooperation across borders within the EU. It includes the PEACE Programme, specifically designed to support cooperation across the Irish border.

3.2We are reporting separately on the Commission’s wider proposals for the future of structural funds. The Interreg proposal (document (b)) is distinct, as both the UK and the EU committed in the December 2017 Joint Report10 to examine future PEACE and border-relevant11 Interreg programmes favourably. The proposal includes a new “PEACE PLUS” programme and provides the option for the UK to participate in the 2021–27 ETC programmes.

3.3The existing arrangements for the PEACE programme have been retained to a large extent. Under the proposal, the existing Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) could act as the Managing Authority for the PEACE PLUS programme (as it does for the current PEACE programme). Beneficiaries from the border counties of Ireland and Northern Ireland will be eligible for EU funding. Provisions have also been adopted to allow the UK, Ireland, and the Commission to be parties to a specific financing agreement to fund PEACE PLUS.

3.4There are five components to the wider ETC (Interreg) programmes: (1) Cross border (covering land borders only); (2) Transnational and maritime; (3) Outermost regions; (4) Interregional cooperation; and (5) Interregional innovation investment. The UK is named as an eligible third country for the land border, transnational and maritime and interregional cooperation components. A separate Chapter covers the terms of participation of third countries. This sets out that the normal Interreg rules will usually apply, with the exception of provisions on programme authorities, management methods, eligibility, large infrastructure projects, procurement and financial management. A financing agreement must be reached between third countries and the European Commission.

3.5Following past experience that the effectiveness of Interreg projects has been undermined by the lack of a power to address conflicting legal and administrative rules affecting a cross-border region, document (a) proposes a voluntary mechanism to help resolve those obstacles. It would allow for the application in one Member State of the legal provisions12 from another Member State, where conflicting national rules constitute a legal obstacle13 to the delivery of a joint project.

3.6The potential significance of the proposal to the UK outside the EU is, first, the link to Interreg and possible UK involvement in that programme. Second, the proposal explicitly allows for the mechanism to be applied to external borders of the EU. It could therefore be applied between the UK and Ireland.

3.7The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Lord Henley) draws attention in his Explanatory Memorandum (EM) on the Interreg programme (document (b)) to the joint UK-EU commitment to examine future PEACE and Interreg programmes favourably, but notes that decisions on future UK participation in ETC programmes will be taken in due course. He adds that the overall Government position is to continue to take part in those specific policies and programmes which are greatly to the UK’s joint advantage. If the UK chose to participate in future EU programmes, it would make contributions to cover its fair share of the costs involved.

3.8In his EM14 on document (a), the Minister makes only passing reference to the possibility that the mechanism be applied to third countries. He notes simply that the proposal has no implications for the UK, assuming that the UK is no longer a Member State at the time the legislation comes into force.

3.9We note that the Interreg proposal is of particular significance to Northern Ireland. The UK and EU agreed to look favourably at future UK participation in this programme, particularly with a view to supporting cooperation across the Irish Border. It is therefore with interest that we detect a neutral tone by the Minister rather than one aligned with considering involvement favourably. This may be due to the need to negotiate an acceptable financial agreement rather than any misgivings about the benefits of the Programme. It would be helpful if the Minister would set out the elements that need to be clarified in order that the Government can be assured that participation would be “greatly to the UK’s advantage”.

3.10We would also welcome further analysis from the Government on the proposed arrangement for third country involvement and what amendments, if any, the UK might propose.

3.11We were surprised that the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum on document (a)—the proposed mechanism to resolve legal and administrative obstacles in a cross-border context—made only passing mention of the fact that the new mechanism could be applied to external borders of the EU. We ask therefore whether:

3.12We look forward to a response, including an update on the progress of negotiations, within three working weeks. The documents remain under scrutiny. We draw them to the attention of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

Full details of the documents:

(a) Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on a mechanism to resolve legal and administrative obstacles in a cross-border context: (39809), 9555/18, COM(18) 373;

(b) Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on specific provisions for the European territorial cooperation goal (Interreg) supported by the European Regional Development Fund and external financing instruments: (39811), 9536/18 + ADD 1, COM(18) 374.

Background: The PEACE Programme

3.13The PEACE Programme was initially created in 1995 as a direct result of the EU’s desire to make a positive response to the paramilitary ceasefires of 1994. The current Programme (PEACE IV), covering the period 2014–20 provides opportunity for continued EU assistance to help address the peace and reconciliation needs of the region. In total, 85% of the Programme, representing €229 million (£203 million) is provided through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The remaining €41 million (£36 million), representing 15% is match-funded by the Irish Government and the NI Executive. The eligible area for the PEACE IV Programme for 2014–20 is Northern Ireland and the Border Counties of Ireland (including Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan and Sligo).

3.14The content of the PEACE IV Programme has been agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive, the Irish Government and the European Commission. It has four core objectives where it will make real and lasting change in terms of Shared Education initiatives, Support for marginalised Children and Young People, the provision of new Shared Spaces and Services, and projects that will Build Positive Relations with people from different communities and backgrounds.

Previous Committee Reports

None.


10 Joint report on progress during phase 1 of negotiations under Article 50 TEU on the UK’s orderly withdrawal from the EU, 8 December 2017, paragraph 55.

11 Interreg Programme V(A) involves programmes across the West of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Irish border counties.

12 ‘Legal provision’ means any legal or administrative provision, rule or administrative practice applicable to a joint project.

13 ‘Legal obstacle’ means any legal provision with regard to the planning, development, staffing, financing or functioning of a joint project that obstructs the inherent potential of a border region when interacting across the border.

14 Explanatory Memorandum from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, dated 13 June 2018.




Published: 11 September 2018