Select Committee on European Union Forty-Ninth Report


Letter from the Chairman to Brian Wilson MP, Minister of State for Energy and Construction, Department of Trade and Industry

  Thank you for your Explanatory Memorandum dated 23 January 2003 which Sub-Committee B considered at its meeting on 10 February.

  I have already lifted the Scrutiny reserve on this document.

  Sub-Committee B has, nevertheless, looked at the Commission's Communication carefully. We share the Government's caution about many of the proposals. We understand the context of these proposals, particularly enlargement and the need for EU-wide proper regulation in nuclear safety. However, because of the importance of this subject, we would welcome your advice on the position being taken by HMG in any discussions at Working Group level. We note, for example, that the Government's own programme for dealing with the management of nuclear waste envisages a review that will only be completed by 2006. We wonder how this will be accommodated by the timetables which the Commission's proposals are expected to introduce. In short, there appear to be significant differences here between the UK position and that of the Commission, and we wonder how the Government expects the gap to be bridged.

  We should also like confirmation of the legal basis for the proposed draft Directives. Presumably, they will be subject to Qualified Majority Voting.

  It would be helpful to know what consultations you are undertaking with interested UK parties. We look forward to receiving full Explanatory Memoranda as soon as the draft Directives are presented to the Council.

12 February 2003

Letter from Brian Wilson MP

  In response to an Explanatory Memorandum I submitted, you wrote on 12 February requesting details about the Government's negotiating position, how the Government intended to bridge the gap between the Commission's proposals and the Government's position, the legal base for the proposals and details of consultations being undertaken with interested UK parties.

  As stated in the Explanatory Memorandum, the Government has a number of concerns with the proposed Directives on installation safety standards and on the management of radioactive waste. These Directives have now been adopted by the College of Commissioners and the Commission are currently seeking the opinion of the Economic and Social Committee before presenting the proposals to the Council. For both measures, my Ministerial colleagues have agreed that it would be desirable to press for a non-legally binding instrument (Council Recommendation or Resolution) rather than Directives. For radioactive waste management, such an instrument could, for example, require Member States to advise the Commission of their plans and then to report at regular intervals on what actions they are taking to carry forward these plans. This would avoid a legal conflict of the type you allude to in your letter.

  The draft Directives adopted by the Commission state that the proposals are being made under Articles 31 and 32 (Chapter 3) of the Euratom Treaty. Measures under this section are subject to Qualified Majority Voting. However, it is not clear as to how far the Community has competence in the area of the design, construction and operation of nuclear installations and a recent judgement of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the Case C29-99 Commission v. Council, has not clarified the issue. The Council Legal Services (CLS) will be asked to examine the judgement and report to the Council after the measures have been tabled. Some Member States have already put the Commission on notice that they believe Article 203/Euratom should be invoked either for both Directives in their entirety or at least the specific proposals on decommissioning funds and radioactive waste management. This requires unanimity from the Council.

  These proposals were only adopted by the Commission at the end of January. We have not yet commenced consultations with interested parties although there have been discussions on the proposed safety Directive with some of the key players who will be affected. Officials from my Department and DEFRA are now preparing to consult interested bodies informally. Formal consultation will be carried out once the proposals have been presented to Council.

10 March 2003

Letter from the Chairman to Brian Wilson MP

  Thank you for your letter dated 10 March which Sub-Committee B considered at its meeting on 24 March.

  We note that the draft Directives have now been formally adopted by the Commission and will be put to the Council in due course. We note, too, that you and your colleagues will be pressing for non-legally binding instruments (Council Recommendation or Resolution) rather than the Directives. We agree with the Government that this would be preferable. Because these Directives would be subject to qualified majority voting, we should very much like to know what sort of support you think the Government's position will attract in the Council.

  We note from your letter that there is some uncertainty about the extent of Community competence in the area of design construction and operation of nuclear installations, and also in the matter of decommissioning funds and radioactive waste management, and that these areas will require unanimity in the Council. These are important issues, and we remain concerned to know how a Community approach would impact on HMG's own plans for the above matters.

  We should also be grateful for an account of the informal consultations that are currently taking place, and also of the formal consultations when they have taken place.

26 March 2003

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003