Select Committee on European Communities Second Report


Letter from Baroness Blackstone, Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  My colleague, Malcolm Wicks, submitted an explanatory memorandum on the above document on 15 November 1999. The Commons cleared the EM (Report No 1, 24 November 1999). Since then the Culture Committee of the EP has made a number of draft (pre-first reading) amendments under the co-decision procedure, and I am therefore writing to keep you in touch with the flavour of discussions which have been taking place at EU level.

  As you know under the new co-decision procedure (Article 251 of the treaty) the Council signals an informal view of the first draft of the EP amendments, and reaches agreement on its view of the amendments in order to give a mandate to the President of the Council to discuss the amendments with the EP on behalf of the Council.

  The EP Culture Committee put forward 105 amendments, some of them as late as 13 March, the day the Presidency tabled discussion of the proposal at the Education Committee. None of these represent major changes to the text of a policy nature, but their cumulative effect would be to water down the aims of the year if they were all adopted.

  As you know the Year of Languages has already been adopted by the Council of Europe, and it is hoped the European Year will be adopted by the Education Council in June, so that the two years can run in parallel during 2001, with close co-operation in matters of organisation.

  The draft amendments put forward by the EP fall broadly into seven groups:

    (1)   Amendments seeking to focus the year on regional, minority, frontier, or less widely used languages. We are opposed to this because it will reduce the popular appeal of the year and detract from its main aim, which is to promote language learning per se, and not particular languages or types of language. There was near unanimity in the Committee and from the Commission that references to focusing on these languages should be removed.

    (2)   Amendments seeking to stress the cultural aspect of language learning, and the usefulness of Latin and classical Greek in learning other languages. It was agreed that the Presidency should try to get the EP to agree to include these references in the recitals. We fail to see the full relevance of including these elements, but acknowledge that accepting these amendments will not detract from the purpose of the year.

    (3)   Amendments referring to the equality of languages, the adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights and on "linguistic harmony". There was a majority in favour of rejecting these amendments and we fully support this line.

    (4)   Amendments seeing to widen research activity which can be funded during the year. There was broad agreement that this was too ambitious, and not tenable given the budget. The Presidency suggested that as a compromise the EP might include these suggestions as a second order priority. We can support this compromise.

    (5)   Amendments suggesting that working groups or national co-ordinating bodies should reflect linguistic diversity. There was broad agreement that these amendments were not acceptable. The Presidency agreed to seek their removal, and we fully support this line.

    (6)   Amendments seeking to oblige the Council to include issues set out in the annex in the body of the decision. The Presidency agreed to have these amendments deleted. We have no strong views on this.

    (7)   Amendment seeking to extend the period of the programme to cover both the preparatory year 2000 and year 2001, with a budget of 10 million euro[10] over the two years. We can accept this amendment as it does not represent an increase in the total budget for the activities associated with the Year of Languages. We would not support any further increases in the budget, which we believe to be sufficient.

  I would propose to submit a further EM to the Committee following formal adoption by the EP of a revised set of amendments.

24 March 2000

Letter from Baroness Blackstone, Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  I wrote to you on March 24 summarising the flavour of informal discussions which had been taking place in Brussels between the Council and the European Parliament on the draft amendments proposed by the European Parliament Culture Committee under the new co-decision procedure (Article 251 of the treaty). I explained that this seemed the best way of keeping the Scrutiny Committees abreast of the informal process, and undertook to submit a further Explanatory Memorandum once the European Parliament had adopted a revised set of amendments.

  We have now reached this stage, and text which is acceptable to the UK will be presented as an "A" point for adoption at the Education Council on 8 June. However the official text will not be available until it is adopted by the European Commission later this month. Therefore instead of submitting an Explanatory Memorandum when the official text becomes available, I am writing a further letter to update the Committees on the current position, based on the attached informal text.

  The UK negotiating aims outlined in my letter of 24 March were largely achieved, and are reflected in the text of the decision adopted by the European Parliament after the first reading on 13 April 1999. The European Parliament adopted 37 amendments to the proposal which broadly correspond to the package of compromise amendments agreed to at the informal meetings of the Parliament, the Commission and the Council.

  The amendments seeking to widen research activity which can be funded during the year which the UK considered too ambitious for the proposed budget, remain in the text adopted by the European Parliament. However they have been curtailed and are qualified by the phrase "surveys and studies... with the possible aim . . ." This goes some considerable way towards the compromise aim of including these suggestions as a second order priority to which the UK agreed, and on balance the UK considers the text is acceptable.

  The proposed budget of 8 million euro[11] to be spent in 2001. This does not represent an increase over the figure to which the UK was able to agree.

31 May 2000

10   £6.13 million at £1 = 1.6303 euro. Back

11   £4.64 million at £1 = 1.7259 euro. Back

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