Select Committee on European Communities Report


Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Doug Henderson MP, Minister for Europe Foreign and Commonwealth Office

  Thank you for the explanatory memorandum relating to the proposed Council Regulation on assistance to the applicant countries in central and eastern Europe in the framework of the pre-accession strategy. There are three points arising out of your explanatory memorandum which I would like to raise.

  As you say in your explanatory memorandum, the proposed legal base of the Regulation is, as far as the European Community is concerned, Article 235. Unanimity is therefore required. But, as you go on to explain, Article 2 of the draft Regulation provides that the "principles, priorities and general conditions" governing each Accession Partnership will be the subject of a decision of the Council acting by qualified majority. The Committee would be grateful for the Government's view on the extent to which it is permissable under Article 235 for the Council to delegate to itself the ability to adopt, by QM voting, measures which are so substantial. Article 2 is an interesting constitutional device introduced, we can imagine, to avoid practical difficulties in reaching consensus on the terms of particular Accession Partnerships. But were this approach to be adopted more widely it would have the effect of enabling the Council, by an initial unanimous measure, to give itself power to act in the future by QM. Normally the movement of a measure from unanimity to QM voting is done by Treaty and therefore requires national Parliamentary authority.

  The second question relates to the practical effect of the proposed Regulation as regards the scrutiny process. Your explanatory memorandum does not make clear whether the Government intends to furnish for scrutiny the relevant decisions providing the detail (the principles, priorities and general conditions) of individual Accession Partnerships. The Committee would be grateful for your assurance that the practical effect of Article 2 of the proposed Regulation would not be to bypass the scrutiny process as regards the substance of the Accession Partnerships.

  Finally, I must raise with you the question of the delay in furnishing the draft Regulation for scrutiny. Your explanatory memorandum is dated 31 December 1997 but we did not receive it (and then only after enquiries from officials here) until very recently. It would be helpful if the Committee could have your comments on this and the two matters raised above.

11 February 1998

Letter from Doug Henderson MP, Minister for Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 11 February about the proposed Regulation on assistance to the Central European applicants for EU membership.

  The Luxembourg European Council agreed to create Accession Partnerships within the enhanced pre-accession strategy. Member States also agreed that the Council would decide unanimously on the establishment of the Accession Partnerships as the key element of the pre-accession strategy, and would then decide by a qualified majority on the principles, priorities, intermediate objectives and conditions of each individual Partnership. The proposed Regulation (13655/97) merely implements the Conclusions of the Luxembourg European Council which decided that the Council should approve by QMV the principles, priorities, intermediate objectives and general conditions of the Accession Partnerships.

  You ask about the use of Article 235 as the legal base. The Council Legal Service, and our own lawyers, see no legal impediment to establishing a QMV procedure under a Regulation adopted by unanimity. We also have an interest in ensuring that no single Member State can block proposals to refocus our assistance on the Central Europeans' preparations for accession. But I can assure you there are no plans to develop a common practice of using a unanimous measure to allow future Council action by QMV.

  You ask whether Article 2 of the Regulation will have the practical effect of by-passing Scrutiny. It will not. In order to be helpful to the Committee, I enclose with this letter an explanatory memorandum on these draft Council Decisions approving the principles, priorities and general conditions, and unofficial versions of the texts. You are aware of the timing constraints imposed by the Luxembourg Conclusions. Naturally, I hope that the UK as Presidency will be in a position to ensure that these documents are approved in time for the Accession Partnerships to be agreed by the deadline of 15 March. I therefore hope that it will be possible for your Committee, and the House of Commons European Legislation Committee to clear the texts to permit this.

  Finally, I understand that there was some confusion over the despatch of the explanatory memorandum after I signed it. This was the result of a slip in internal procedures here, owing to staff absences over the holiday period. I regret this, and apologise for the inconvenience it has caused your Committee. I should add that the confusion was prolonged by discussions between your officials and mine, initiated by mine, which suggested that the document had in fact cleared scrutiny in mid-January. As a result, I am afraid that the omission came to light only in early February. We have now taken steps to close this loophole.

25 February 1998

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