Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 1157 - 1159)




  1157. Good afternoon, gentlemen.
  (Mr Oldeman) As you know, we are not the European Commission, we are the Council Secretariat. My name is Rudi Oldeman. I am charged with the direction in industry and telecommunications. As you know, we in the Secretariat follow the work of proposals by the Commission from the working groups of officials until the decision by the Council and the European Parliament.

  1158. I am Lord Brooke and this is my fellow team from the House of Lords, representatives of the Sub-Committee which looks at industry, transport and energy issues which are coming out of scrutinising European legislation. We are in the final stages of an enquiry into e-commerce with a particular line to have a look at how policy is formulated in Brussels and how the present structure is coping with staying abreast of the fast changing scene. Is it managing to stay abreast with it? In particular to have a look to see whether the established structure is appropriate for ensuring proper co-ordination across different Directorates, as they used to be called. We will probably be concluding our evidence taking within the next couple of weeks and then producing a report in June. We have been at this since January and we have taken a lot of evidence from industry, from consumer organisations. We have had a short trip to the States as well to have a look at what they are doing there, using that as a benchmarking starting point for us and here we are coming towards the end. This morning has been very useful indeed and I am sure the afternoon is going to be equally helpful. Thank you for giving us your time in the midst of what I know is a very busy work schedule for you. We have been looking particularly at the ad hoc arrangements which have been devised between Commissioners Liikanen and Bolkestein to bring the grouping together to look at e-commerce issues which span the boundaries of their traditional areas of operation. We have been trying to establish whether this is working well and it is going to become a permanent feature, whether it is fully accountable in the eyes of others and what implications it has for other Commissioners elsewhere, whether maybe some of them ought to be joining in in different ways. My colleagues and I would like to follow through and see the nature of the relationship with the Councils. Is the structure changing within the Councils or is there a need for change in the structures there? Perhaps if I throw a few of those questions at you there for starters.
  (Mr Oldeman) Maybe I have to disappoint you a little bit because, as I told you, we are only following the process within the Council so the Committee you refer to by Bolkestein and Liikanen is not something that we follow, we have nothing to do with that. The only point is this is the decision-making process in the Council itself, negotiations between Member States, and at the end we follow how it develops in relations with the Parliament.

  1159. I follow that and we will not be disappointed because we will follow it through, we will follow the trail. We have had some views, and other people do have views, whether we finalise or formalise our views remain to be seen, as to what the structure is like within the Commission, that it is often very difficult indeed to effect changes there because you have a chicken and egg situation where you go back to the nation states and the way in which they are structured and the way in which over the years they have established traditional machinery for dealing with the Commission and the industry area means they are not prepared to change back there, so even if they wanted to change in the Commission, in the middle we have the industry structure which does not change easily. There is a link between all of you, is there not, you do not operate in entirely separate entities?
  (Mr Oldeman) No. In the first place we are not merely a Secretariat. Our main task, the interesting part of it, is to help the Presidency. We have a very close co-operation with the Presidency and with the Commission because it is absolutely necessary that during the Presidency if the Presidency wants to achieve something they work together with the Commission. This starts at a very early stage even before the Presidency takes over. For instance, the Swedish delegation that takes over the Presidency next year are already preparing, they have already contacted the Commission and us at the Secretariat. At a certain stage at working party level with officials we try to define what are technical problems and more or less they are solved at group level and then the political problems go to COREPER and to ministers. At that stage the Presidency with us, or even with the Commission, they formalise compromise proposals and at the end we reach an agreement with a qualified majority or unanimity in the Council.

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