Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


EUROPEAN ANTI-CORRUPTION NETWORK (15629/05)

Letter from the Chairman to Fiona Mactaggart MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Home Office

  Thank you for your Explanatory Memorandum of 27 March relating to the proposed Council Decision to establish a European anti-corruption network (EACN). The proposal has been considered by Sub-Committee E (Law and Institutions). The Committee has decided to retain the proposal under scrutiny.

  We share the concerns expressed in your Explanatory Memorandum. There would seem to be little merit in the establishment of an EACN which might duplicate, and possibly detract from, the work of GRECO and the WGB. It is therefore imperative, if an EACN is to be established, that its role and activities should be clearly identified and, as you say, that it should add value to the existing network (EPAC).

  Like you, we find it somewhat surprising that there is no reference in the proposal to EPAC. As you may recall EPAC, in its Vienna Declaration 2004, welcomed "the idea of a European anti-corruption network (EACN) based upon the existing structures" and "appropriate steps in this direction by incoming Presidencies of the European Union". It is possibly no coincidence that Austria is one of the Member States promoting the proposed Decision and that EPAC's address is given as: c/o BIA Federal Bureau for Internal Affairs, Austrian Federal Ministry of the Interior. What stance did those representing the United Kingdom in Vienna take in relation to this Declaration?

  We also share your concerns relating to the extent to which the EACN should be involved in training and whether it would be appropriate for the EACN to define minimum standards and make proposals setting up data bases and public-private partnership initiatives. However, we are somewhat perplexed about your references to language skills, given that the Goverenment have accepted similar provisions in the context of the European judicial network in civil and commercial matters.

  Finally, we would be grateful to have some clarification of the financial implications. It would appear that EPAC is presently funded, at least in part, by the European Commission through the Aegis Programme. You say that the financial implications for Member States would not be substantial. What sort of figures are involved? If OLAF is to be a member, as is presently envisaged, should there not also be a contribution from the EC budget?

  We look forward to your response to the above points.

24 April 2006

Letter from Gerry Sutcliffe MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Home Office to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 24 April, relating to the proposed Council Decision to establish a European Anti-corruption Network (EACN). You have outlined four areas of concern, which I shall endeavour to respond to in the order in which you have raised them.

  Firstly, you have shared our concerns over the potential duplication that could occur with the establishment of the Network. However, the intention of this proposal, clarified by the Presidency, is that the Network should legitimise and build upon existing anti-corruption work. The presidency has stated that the proposal will add definite value in three main respects: firstly, it obliges EU Member States to nominate and designate an Asset Recovery Office (or two) as a contact point; secondly it provides for an obligation to ensure cooperation regardless of the internal status of the Asset Recovery Office; and thirdly it provides that Asset Recovery Offices should exchange information on the basis of the (draft) Framework Decision on simplifying the exchange of information and intelligence between law enforcement authorities of the EU Member States. In addition, its establishment will formalise current EU-level work—meeting every six months, producing solid reports and outlining specific objectives that the Network will work towards. Moreover, creating arrangements for staff exchanges, and the setting up of and constant updating of a "content catalogue" are undoubtedly benefits that will arise from the Network. I am satisfied that the Network will add value to the existing EU anti-corruption effort.

  Following negotiations, it has been made clear that the Network will have a remit to address corruption in a range of areas, and not solely on police corruption. However, in having a wider remit the Network will be able to cover police corruption as part of its overall work.

  The text still does not mention the relationship with the existing network (EPAC) and whether or not the EACN will compliment the work of EPAC or if it will replace it. It is our opinion that although not essential it would still nonetheless be helpful if the relationship between the networks was mentioned specifically in the text, and we will continue to push for this in negotiations.

  You shared the Government's view about the appropriateness of the Network taking on a training role. The text as amended following working group negotiations no longer provides the Network with this function, Article 3(2)(b) having been amended in order to reflect our and others' concerns. The text also no longer outlines the necessity for contact points to have language skills, with Article 2(5) having been removed. We are still of the opinion that first and foremost, when dealing with an issue such as corruption in a criminal context, contact points should be experts in their field above having language skills.

  Finally, you have asked for clarification as to the financial implications of the Network. We previously indicated that any such costs were not expected to be substantial, and still believe this to be the case. The Presidency has stated that they would envision two or three members of staff working for the Network. Who should host the Secretariat will be discussed at future working group meetings. Possibilities suggested include OLAF and Europol. As long as OLAF is not distracted from focusing on its own remit the Government is content to support whichever solution is the most practical. However we shall be seeking from the Commission a detailed financial statement, regardless of who will be hosting the Secretariat.

  The Presidency had hoped to have completed negotiations on this measure in time for the June JHA Council, which now cannot be achieved. We believe that subject to some minor text amendments and some clarification, the UK can continue to offer qualified support for this proposal.

  I hope that this response has gone some way towards answering your questions. Please do not hesitate to contact me if there are any outstanding issues.

30 June 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Gerry Sutcliffe MP

  Thank you for your letter of 30 June which was considered by Sub-Committee E (Law and Institutions) at its meeting on 12 July. We are grateful for the further information you have provided but as is clear from your letter a number of questions remain unanswered and therefore the Committee had decided to retain the proposal under scrutiny.

  We agree that it is important that the relationship between the new Network and the EPAC is quite clearly understood and, as you say, preferably set out in the text of the Decision. It would be helpful if you could provide the Committee with a note setting out the Government's understanding of what the relationship would be and how you see the present text being amended.

  You refer to the discussions in the working group which have led to the amendment of Article 3 which now "reflect our and others' concerns". We would be grateful for sight of the new text. As you will appreciate it is impossible for us to assess the position without it.

  We note that you are seeking from the Commission a detailed financial statement regarding the Network. We hope that you will press for this to be made available at the earliest opportunity.

  Finally, it would be helpful to have a statement of the arguments as to whether the Secretariat should be situated within OLAF (in effect the Commission) or Europol (a body which is independent of the Commission and may be more answerable to Member States).

  As mentioned, the Committee decided to retain the proposal under scrutiny. We look forward to receiving the further information requested above.

13 July 2006

Letter from Joan Ryan MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Home Office to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 13 July, to my colleague Gerry Sutcliffe, regarding the Proposal for a Council Decision on the setting up of a European Anti-corruption Network. I have reviewed your queries and will attempt to respond to them accordingly.

  The Austrian Presidency of the EU was keen to emphasise that the relationship between the proposed Network and EPAC was a complementary one. Far from duplicating the work of EPAC, the new Network would build upon this work and add to it—as mentioned in the letter to which you are responding. I agree that it would be beneficial to clarify this in the text, and at the next official Council working group meeting in which this proposal is discussed, the UK would like to table a proposal to add a paragraph into the recital to explain that the Network will build upon the work of EPAC and shall not duplicate its duties.

  You have asked to see the new text of Article 3, which I have annexed to this letter. I hope that you find this satisfactory.

  I agree that a financial statement would be a useful tool. When one is made available I will ensure that it is sent to your Committee. I would reiterate that the running costs of the Network are not expected to be substantial.

  The location of the Secretariat is still uncertain. The most recent discussions took place at the MDG meeting in June. At this meeting four Member States spoke out against OLAF hosting the Secretariat whilst the Presidency believed that OLAF hosting would be the best solution. The Commission refused to be drawn into making a decision either way. No consensus was reached on where the Secretariat should be hosted and the question remains open. The UK is open to the suggestions that are being put forward and is following the debate closely.

  The Austrian Presidency had hoped to have the proposal signed by the end of its Presidency. Now that the Presidency has been passed over to Finland it is not clear when the proposal will be discussed next. However, I feel that we should be able to support the proposal and I hope that the UK's scrutiny position will be able to reflect that.

1 August 2006

Annex A

ARTICLE 3

TASKS OF THE NETWORK

  1.  The Network shall contribute to developing the various aspects of the fight against and the prevention of corruption at Union level and shall support anti-corruption activities at national level.

  2.  In particular, the Network shall, in accordance with existing international arrangements and subject to national legislation:

    (a)  facilitate cooperation, contacts and exchanges of information and experience between the national organisations and servies of the Network, as well as between these and OLAF, and groups of experts and networks specialising in anti-corruption matters;

    (b)  promote further enhancement of international cooperation by various practical measures. These may include the following:

    —  regular working meetings of member organisations and services of the Network;

    —  arrangements for, and organisation of exchanges of staff between the relevant organisations and services in the Member States to encourage learing and sharing of information and experience;

    —  conferences, seminars, meetings and other activities designed to promote international consideration of anti-corruption matters, and to disseminate the results thereof;

    —  collect and analyse information on anti-corruption activities, the evaluation thereof and the analysis of best practices;

    —  setting up and constant updating of a "Contact Catalogue" covering data and Points of Contact of all the member organisations and services of the Network;

    (c)  provide its expertise to the Council and to the Commission, where necessary and upon request, with a view to assisting them in all matters concerning the fight against corruption;

    (d)  submit to the Council and the European Parliament a report on its activities every two years, and indicate the areas for priority action in its work programme for the following two years; and

    (e)  develop cooperation with anti-corruption organisations and services of candidate countries, third countries with international anti-corruption organisations and services.


 
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