B. CASES WHERE EFFECTIVE SCRUTINY HAS NOT BEEN POSSIBLE |
35. MID TERM REVIEW OF DECISION 91/482/EEC: OVERSEAS COUNTRIES
& TERRITORIES (OCTs)
Letter from Doug Henderson MP, Minister of State, Foreign
and Commonwealth Office, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee
I am writing to let you know about a Council Decision agreed
at the 24-25 November GAC (for which I attach an Explanatory Memorandum)
[not printed] and to explain why, regrettably, it was not
possible in this case to fulfil the normal scrutiny procedures.
The OCT Decision governs relations between the EU and the
overseas territories of its Member States. All UK Dependent Territories
(except Gibraltar and the Sovereign Base Areas) are covered by
it. A mid term review of the Decision has been underway since
1996. Movement has been blocked for the past year because of Netherlands
intransigence about changes to the trade aspects of the Decision.
As a result, safeguard measures have been imposed on rice
from OCTs (Explanatory Memoranda on safeguard action were submitted
in February and June this year). This directly affected the rice-milling
factories in Turks & Caicos Islands and Montserrat (the latter's
economy had already been severely disrupted by the volcanic activity).
The disbursement of aid funds allocated to OCTs has also been
delayed, causing difficulties for our Dependent Territories awaiting
funds, notably St Helena. Resolution of the issue was therefore
urgent to avoid further damage to the interests of our Dependent
At the 6 October GAC, agreement was reached on a political
compromise covering the trade and aid elements of the mid term
review, thus allowing for final discussions of a definitive text.
But a case brought in the Dutch courts by a sugar-processing firm
from the Netherlands Antilles prevented the Netherlands government
from implementing the agreement, pending a ruling from the ECJ.
On 20 November, the Dutch higher court over-ruled this judgment
and the Dutch Cabinet, meeting on 21 November with ministers from
Netherlands OCTs, agreed to implement the outcome of the mid term
This unexpected development left the way open for agreement
at the GAC yesterday. A faxed version of the final text of the
mid term review was received on 18 November but it was not certain
at that time that the Netherlands would not seek to reopen it
until the outcome of the court case. Unfortunately, the court
ruling when it came and the subsequent Cabinet decision did not
leave sufficient time for the usual scrutiny procedures.
In these circumstances, I felt that to maintain the scrutiny
reserve after so many months of pushing the Dutch government to
agree the mid term review would have sent the wrong signals about
our commitment to our own Dependent Territories. Moreover, a further
delay of the agreement beyond 1 December would have led to the
reimposition of safeguard measures against OCT exports (including
rice from Turks & Caicos Islands).
I recognise that this procedure is unsatisfactory for you
and for us. However we had no way of influencing the judicial
timetable in the Hague nor of being sure of the outcome. In the
circumstances, I hope that you will understand why we felt it
necessary to agree the Decision.
25 November 1997
Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee,
to Doug Henderson MP, Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth
Affairs, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Thank you for your letter of 25 November with which you enclosed
an Explanatory Memorandum about the Council decision on the association
of the Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) with the European
Your account of events leading to the Council Decision makes
interesting reading. I accept that, in the circumstances, you
had good reasons for not maintaining the scrutiny reserve; and
I am glad to receive your assurance that you have taken action
to try to prevent this sort of situation arising again. However,
I do wonder whether you might not have thought it prudent to submit
an Explanatory Memorandum following agreement on the political
compromise reached at the 6 October General Affairs Council.
3 December 1997