Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report

COMITOLOGY (9087/04)

Letter from the Chairman to Rt Hon Geoff Hoon MP, Minister for Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

  The proposal is currently held under scrutiny in Sub-Committee E (Law and Institutions). As you may know the proposal was put on the backburner on the conclusion of the Constitutional Treaty but the rejection of that Treaty by the French and the Dutch caused the matter to be put back on to the order of business and during the UK Presidency the Government took the opportunity to reignite discussion of the Commission's proposal.

  Your predecessor wrote to the Committee on 21 November 2005[139] advising that a "Friends of the Presidency" Group had been established and that discussions were being taken forward in that context. I replied on 8 December 2005 expressing the interest of the Committee in hearing the outcome of the work of that group.

  We note that in its recent paper, "Institutional improvement based on the framework provided by existing Treaties", the French Government have taken the view that the conclusion of the review of Decision 1999/468 would help to improve the position of the European Parliament by providing it powers of scrutiny over implementing measures taken on the basis of acts adopted under the co-decision procedure. We also understand that comitology may be discussed at next month's European Council.

  We would therefore be grateful if you could provide the Committee with a note setting out the current position in the negotiation including a statement of the outcome of the work of the Friends of the Presidency Group and explaining how it is proposed to take forward the initiative of the French Government.

18 May 2006

Letter from Rt Hon Geoff Hoon MP to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 18 May. I am writing to update you on the negotiations to reform Comitology Procedures and to request that your Committee release this proposal from scrutiny in light of the latest developments. I apologise for not writing sooner.

  As you know, the UK Presidency set up a Friends of the Presidency working group last September to discuss reform of comitology procedures. The working group took as its starting point the Commission's proposal of 2002, revised in 2004, to amend the 1999 Comitology Decision. Our main aim was to reach a reform that would give the European Parliament more of a say in implementing co-decided legislation.

  The Austrian Presidency has taken forward negotiations, assembled a compromise text and discussed it with MEPs. In summary, the main points of the new "regulatory with scrutiny" procedure are as follows:

    —  It shall apply when the implementing measures are amending non-essential elements of the basic instrument.

    —  The scrutiny procedure differs depending on whether the Committee has approved these measures.

    —  If it has, the draft measures go to the Council and the Parliament and either institution can oppose them on certain grounds within three months.

    —  If the draft measures are not approved, the measures are sent to the Council and Parliament at the same time but the Council must first decide whether it has any objection to them within two months. If it has no objection, the Parliament has four months from receipt to oppose the measures on certain grounds.

    —  There is provision for the time limits to be extended by one month or to be shortened.

    —  The Council and Parliament can make provision for implementing measures to have provisional application on grounds of urgency.

  I believe this text meets the UK's principal objectives for comitology reform, namely:

    (a)  There is no change to the management procedure. The Member States agreed early in the negotiation to a limited reform dealing with quasi-legislative measures which are to be found in the current regulatory procedure.

    (b)  To prevent the Commission going ahead with a proposal over the objections of the Council or the European Parliament. Under the Presidency proposal, the Commission will need to submit an amended draft or a legislative proposal if either the Council or Parliament objects to its draft. It is possible, however, for the Council and Parliament to provide for application of an urgency procedure where the time limits for scrutiny cannot be met. This would allow the Commission to give the measure provisional application and also to maintain it in force after objection by either the Council of Parliament until replaced by a definitive instrument. The safeguards on this latter power are that the Committee must have approved the draft and keeping the measure in force has to be justified on health protection, safety or environmental grounds.

    (c)  To allow the European Parliament to be able to object to measures on the grounds of their substance and not just on the grounds that proposals may be "ultra vires". The Presidency proposal provides that the Parliament and Council can oppose draft implementing measures on the grounds that the measures exceed the implementing powers, or are not compatible with the aim or content of the basic instrument or do not respect proportionality or subsidiarity. We understand from the Presidency that the Parliament is content with this which is our primary objective.

  In addition, the amended Decision provides for the European Parliament to be informed by the Commission of committee proceedings on a regular basis following arrangements which ensure that the transmission system is transparent. The Presidency has also negotiated a minutes statement to be made jointly by the Council, Parliament and Commission. The current draft indicates that implementing powers will normally be conferred on the Commission without time limit and so sunset clauses should no longer be routinely included in Lamfalussy measures (which are related to EU directives on financial services). It will also list those existing measures which should be adjusted to the new procedure as a matter of urgency although the content of this list has not yet been settled.

  There is general agreement among Member States on the text of the proposal and the details of the minutes statement are close to being finalised and agreed with Parliament and the Commission. However, one Member State has raised an issue concerning the voting requirements in the Council in that it wants a simple majority of Member States to be in favour of the implementing measures before they can be adopted. This would overturn the current practice that the Council requires a qualified majority to oppose the Commission's proposal. We are content to keep the current practice and believe such concerns are best addressed by ensuring that the most politically sensitive matters are dealt with through the normal co-decision procedure rather than through comitology.

  I hope that this outstanding issue can be resolved shortly so that Parliament can be re-consulted on the text and agreement reached.

  In your letter of 18 May, you refer to a French paper "Institutional improvement based on the framework provided by existing Treaties". We agree that the reform meets our objective of giving the EP more of a say in implementing co-decided legislation.

  I shall update you further when the outstanding issues are resolved.

1 June 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Rt Hon Geoff Hoon MP

  Thank you for your letter of 1 June which was considered by Sub-Committee E at its meeting on 15 June. We are grateful for the description of the compromise text being proposed by the Austrian Presidency, which appears to confirm the accounts that have appeared in the press.

  It is clear that the proposal has undergone substantial change and we find it difficult to understand why you have not provided a copy of the text for examination by this Committee and also by our sister Committee in the Commons. As soon as we receive that text we will examine it carefully and sympathetically. I say "sympathetically" because, as you know, this is a matter on which there is a large degree of coincidence in views between the Government and this Committee, not least as regards the increased involvement of the European Parliament.

  You say nothing about the role of national parliaments and in particular how you see the proposal affecting the scrutiny work of the Select Committee and its Sub-Committees. As you will recall, it has been a matter of long standing concern that the Government have not provided sufficiently for parliamentary scrutiny of comitology measures. In practice all we have received are proposals which, having failed to be approved in the Committee, have been referred to the Council for decision. We question whether these are the only measures which have political significance and merit scrutiny in this Parliament. Accordingly we would be grateful if, when you provide the Austrian Presidency text, you would let us have a note as to how you see the new procedure impacting on the work of the Scrutiny Committees.

  The Committee have decided to retain the proposal under scrutiny.

16 June 2006

Letter from Rt Hon Geoff Hoon MP to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 16 June. As requested, I am writing to provide you with the final text of the proposal, agreed at Coreper on 8 June subject to a UK Parliamentary reserve, for a Council Decision amending Commission Decision 1999/468/EC on Comitology. I also attach associated statements which were agreed at Coreper on 22 June (not printed). Although the text of the amended proposal is not yet publicly available, I am depositing an Explanatory Memorandum so that your Committee may consider lifting your scrutiny resrve on this item. I will of course formally deposit the document next week once it becomes publicly available.

  For the reasons set out in my letter to you of 1 June, I believe that the agreement of a revised Comitology Decision meets all the UK's principal objectives for comitology reform, chiefly giving the European Parliament more say in implementing co-decided legislation. The outcome represents a major success for the Austrian Presidency on an initiative launched during our Presidency last autumn.

  In your letter of 16 June you requested information on how I saw the new "regulatory with scrutiny" procedure impacting on the work of the Scrutiny Committees. The Government will of course want to work with Parliament's Scrutiny Committees to determine the best approach to ensure the effective scrutiny of implementing measures under the proposed new arrangements.

  As I indicated in my letter of 1 June, the scrutiny procedure differs depending on whether the comitology Committee has approved the draft implementing measures. If it has, the draft measures go to the Council and the Parliament and either institution can oppose them. If they do not, the Commission can adopt the draft measures. I realise that some of these measures would potentially be policitally significant and would thus merit scrutiny by your committee. In these cases, one approach might be to take a light touch and have the proposals sent to the Committee staff informally for them to examine. If the Committee staff felt there were issues to explore they could do so, initially with the lead department concerned and then, if necessary, request that the proposal be deposited with an Explanatory Memorandum for scrutiny in the usual way. This would keep the volume of issues down to a manageable level for both the Committees and the Government. It should be noted, however, that the Council has only three months to object to the measures under this procedure and, after that period, the Commission can adopt them assuming the European Parliament has not opposed them.

  In the case of measures under the regulatory with scrutiny procedure where the Committee has not reached agreement, the draft implementing measures would be automatically deposited for examination by your Committee. This would be consistent with the current arrangements although, in these cases, the period for Council consideration is reduced to two months. If you think that it would be helpful I would be happy for officials to meet with your staff to consider this approach more fully.

  In my letter of 1 June, I mentioned that one Member State wanted a simple majority of Member States to be in favour of the implementing measures before they can be adopted. The Member State in question was particularly concerned about sensitive areas such as GMO authorisations. These concerns have now been addressed by means of the statements in the Draft summary record of the Coreper meeting at Annex III of document 10125/1/06.

  Following agreement in Coreper, the text of the amended Decision is now subject to re-consultation of the European Parliament on 6 July. If approved, it would then go to 17-18 July GAERC for adoption: I would be grateful if your Committee would consider lifting your scrutiny reserve before this date.

29 June 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Rt Hon Geoff Hoon MP

  Thank you for your letter of 29 June and for providing copies of the draft amending Decision and the accompanying statements to be adopted by the Council. They provide very useful clarification of the points made in your letter of 1 June and I can confirm that the Committee has now decided to clear the proposal from scrutiny.

  On the important question of the role of national parliaments and in particular how the Scrutiny Committees of this Parliament can be more closely involved in monitoring and scrutinising comitology measures, we agree with your suggestion that it would be useful to try and find a way in which, without burdening officials in Departments or the Clerks here, comitology proposals which have political or other significance can be identified and then deposited for scrutiny. As you indicate, at present we receive only a handful of comitology measures for scrutiny, namely those which, in the absence of agreement in the comitology committee, are referred to the Council for decision. We are therefore pleased to see that the Government now recognise that there may be other measures which should be deposited for scrutiny. What we have to do, as you suggest, is to find a practical way forward. Subject to the agreement of our sister Committee I propose the Clerks get in touch with your officials so that work on your suggested approach can be taken forward as soon as possible.

13 July 2006

139   Correspondence with Ministers, 45th Report of Session 2005-06, HL Paper 243, pp 379-380. Back

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