Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


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

  I am writing to provide an initial Government view of the four recent Commission Communications that relate to the review of the Hague Programme. More detailed Explanatory Memoranda will follow within the usual timescale but I am conscious that recess is almost upon us and wanted you to have an opportunity to begin to consider the issues covered by the Communications before the summer.

  The four European Commission Communications cover: the future direction of the Hague Programme, including the option of using Article 42 TEU (the passerelle clause); reviewing the implementation of the Hague Programme to date (the scorecard); options for better evaluation of the impact of EU policies in the area of Justice and Home Affairs (JHA); and a legislative proposal based on Article 67(2) TEC adapting the remit of the European Court of Justice in Title IV (immigration, asylum and civil law matters).

  Interested Departments have been consulted in formulating the Government's initial view of these communications and broadly welcome the package and its aim of assessing progress made under the Hague Programme and providing options for future evaluation of JHA policies. It will also be a useful tool for supporting discussion over the remainder of this year about the future direction of JHA priorities and whether the current institutional and decision making arrangements in this area can be improved upon.

  As regards the Hague Programme, it is a matter of record that this has already led to some useful measures, for example on information exchange and an Action Plan to combat human trafficking. However, a number of difficult projects aimed at harmonising sensitive aspects of domestic criminal law have also been brought forward under the Hague Programme, for example on procedural safeguards for suspects, the presumption of innocence and pre-trial custody/bail. As the Programme itself indicates, assumptions were made about implementation of the Constitution treaty and about agreement between the Member States regarding binding legislation on criminal procedural law which have not been borne out by events. We need to reflect upon these issues. The Commission Communication on the way forward for the Hague Programme is intended to review priorities and examine the need for policies in JHA. The Government broadly welcomes the relatively modest proposals for new policies, in particular the emphasis on extending the external dimension of JHA and improving the exchange of information including on criminal convictions. However, there are other areas such as asylum, internal security and criminal procedural law which the Government will want to look at very carefully before endorsing the line the Commission appears to be taking. Above all we want to ensure that what is done under the Hague Programme delivers tangible benefits to citizens.

  Also central to this Communication is the proposal to use Article 42 of the Treaty on European Union to move police and judicial co-operation from intergovernmental arrangements in Title VI TEU, where unanimity and limited ECJ oversight apply, to Community arrangements under Title IV TEC, where ECJ oversight and Community rules apply. It could also mean that QMV and co-decision with European Parliament (EP) would apply. These proposals represent the Commission's response to the June 2006 European Council's request for the incoming Presidency to explore means of improving decision-making and action in the EU's JHA work, on the basis of the current treaties. We are giving careful consideration to the potential consequences of using Article 42 but the Government is clear that the final position will reflect our national interests.

  The Commission Communication on the implementation of the Hague Programme in 2005 is a largely factual record of JHA measures adopted and implemented last year. But the Communication also raises concern at the level and quality of implementation by Member States. The Government is committed to effective and timely implementation of EU measures and will look closely at the conclusions the Commission draws from its findings, in particular the assertion that transposition of Title VI measures is particularly deficient.

  The third communication looks at how JHA measures are assessed and implemented, including the variety of tools and methods available to ensure that measures adopted work as intended and have been implemented properly. The UK has long called for proper evaluation of EU measures but we will want to ensure that the best evaluation methods are applied to each type of measure and that any extension of the role of the Commission is both necessary and consistent with principles of proportionality and subsidiarity.

  The fourth communication is on adapting the Jurisdiction of the ECJ in relation to immigration, asylum, and civil law measures (Title IV TEC) and seeks to align European Court of Justice (ECJ) rules with those used for other Community business. Currently, in the UK, a case may only be referred to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling from the House of Lords. The Commission's proposal would allow preliminary references from national courts at any level. The Government will be making a full analysis of the implications of this proposal before deciding whether and how far we can support it.

13 July 2006

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