Select Committee on European Union Thirty-Seventh Report


Letter from Meg Munn MP, Deputy Minister for Women and Equality, Department of Trade and Industry to the Chairman

  Thank you for your report of 14 February 2006 on the proposed Institute for Gender Equality, which my officials and I found most interesting.

  Throughout the course of the past year we have exchanged views and positions on this issue several times (notably my letters to you of 17 July 2005[23] and 12 October 2005,[24] with your replies on 21 July 2005[25] and 31 October 2005),[26] including my appearance before your Committee on 24 November 2005 and the subsequent written report of that meeting.

  Recently negotiations have moved on, albeit slowly, at European level and we are now in the final phase of the decision making process. The European Parliament deliberated a Report by the European Parliament Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee (by MEPs Lissy Groner and Amalia Sartori), during their session from 13-16 March 2006. The European Parliament adopted 53 of the 55 recommendations contained in the report. The Council of Ministers Social Questions Working Group began consideration of the European Parliament amendments on Tuesday 28 March 2006. Further Council Working Groups are scheduled to discuss this dossier on 11 April and 3 May, with a view to reaching agreement at a meeting of the EU Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER I) on 17 May, in order to approve a Common Position at the European Employment and Social Affairs Council on 1 June 2006.

  Below, I have addressed each of the recommendations that you note in Chapter 5 (page 22) of your Report, I hope that this is helpful.

1.  Recommendation 100 (the need for the Institute)

  The Government takes the view that gender equality would be best served by a separate body able to address issues specific to gender equality in the European Union, such as employment discrimination and child care. The Government also considers that merging the proposal for a European Gender Institute with the proposal for a European Fundamental Rights Agency would result in a loss of focus in these areas. You will recall that the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) stated, in their evidence to you last year, that they believed that the EU was not ready to move to a combined non-discrimination agency at this moment in time, and that I commented to your Committee that the UK began by creating separate non-discrimination agencies and is only now beginning the process of integrating them together under the planned UK Commission for Equality and Human Rights.

2.  Recommendation 101 (administrative question—management board)

  The structure and composition of the management structure of the Institute is one of the key issues that is still under discussion between the European Parliament, European Commission and the Council of Ministers. The Government understands that each of the Member States of the European Union will wish to be involved in such institutions as the European Gender Institute, both for pragmatic reasons (to ensure that funds are spent efficiently and effectively) and for policy reasons (to ensure that their national ideas, innovations and experiences contribute to the European debate). It may be that each Member State ultimately has a place on the Board, or may be represented via other fora, such as an Advisory Forum. The Government will examine management structure proposals on their merit, with the core criteria being that structures should be efficient, cost effective and proportionate to the size of the Institute. We will continue to push for this to be the case in Council Working Groups in April and May.

3.  Recommendation 102 (administrative question—Director/equality organisations/NGOs)

  The Government agrees with the Committee that the Director should have adequate authority, with proper accountability and that equality organisations and NGOs will be key stakeholders for the Institute.

4.  Recommendation 103 (budget)

  An overall agreement on the EC budget for the period 2007-13 was reached at the European Council in December 2005. This now needs to be agreed with the European Parliament as part of the negotiations on the Inter Institutional Agreement. The Budgetary Authority will then have to decide the scope and level of funding available for the European Gender Institute. The UK continues to believe that the institute should have no additional impact on the existing EU budget and that the level of funding for, and scope of, the institute will have to be consistent with this.

5.  Recommendation 104 (legal base—incentive measures)

  The Government hopes that the judgment in the ENISA case (which is now expected to be delivered on 2 May 2006) will provide a clearer understanding of the legal position in respect of what constitutes an "incentive measure".

6.  Recommendation 105 (legal base—general approach)

  The Government agrees that it is important for departments to take a consistent approach towards legal bases for proposals which create agencies. Our current position, as stated in previous correspondence, is that we take the view that generally agencies should not be set up using incentive measures legal bases, though we recognise that there are respectable arguments to the contrary. We shall however review these arguments in light of the judgement in the ENISA case once it is delivered in early May 2006. We can also confirm that steps are being taken to provide guidance to departments in order to ensure that there is a consistent approach across the board in respect of these proposals.

  I note that your Committee has also taken an interest in the proposals for a new European Fundamental Rights Agency, which is a dossier led by the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA). DCA officials reported to Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) officials on my colleague, Cathy Ashton's Committee appearance on 1st March, to discuss this matter. I understand that there was some discussion on the relationship between the two new European Agencies under discussion. I believe that my reply to your recommendation number 100 deals with the issue of the merits of two bodies, rather than a single entity; and that my reply to your recommendation 101 deals with the structure of the management board. We agree that there should be good linkages between the two bodies. As for the location of the European Gender Institute, this issue has not yet arisen for formal discussion, although several EU Member States have begun campaigning to host the Institute.

  I do hope that we will be able to resolve our differences on the proposal for a European Gender Institute, upon your return from the Easter Recess (I believe that the next scheduled meeting of your Committee is on 27 April) and that your Committee will be able to lift Scrutiny. If the final phases of negotiations develop well in April and May, then the UK will wish to expedite agreement at COREPER on 17 May, in readiness for the Employment Council on 1 June.

6 April 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Meg Munn MP

  Thank you for your letter dated 6 April, constituting the Government's Response to the above Report, which was considered by Sub-Committee G on 27 April.

  We are sorry that the Government continues to favour the establishment of a separate European Gender Institute and do not see how we can "resolve our differences" on that point and lift scrutiny, as you ask, at this stage.

  As you know, the Gender Institute Inquiry Report concluded that the case for a separate Institute had not been demonstrated. It recommended that further consideration should be given to the alternative of incorporating the gender equality work with the activities of the proposed European Fundamental Rights Agency, on which the Committee was already carrying out an Inquiry.

  The Fundamental Rights Agency Inquiry Report, which was published on 4 April (HL Paper 155) included recommendations in favour of incorporating the work proposed for the Institute with that of the Agency. That remains our position. Moreover, since that Report has been recommended for Debate in the House, we regard the Gender Equality Institute Proposal as still being held under scrutiny by the Committee until the Debate takes place.

  We also note your comments on other aspects of the Gender Institute Report which may also be addressed in the Fundamental Rights Agency Debate.

27 April 2006

23   Correspondence with Ministers, 45th Report of Session 2005-06, HL Paper 243, pp 595-596. Back

24   Correspondence with Ministers, 45th Report of Session 2005-06, HL Paper 243, pp 598-599. Back

25   Correspondence with Ministers, 45th Report of Session 2005-06, HL Paper 243, pp 596-598. Back

26   Correspondence with Ministers, 45th Report of Session 2005-06, HL Paper 243, pp 599-600. Back

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