Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report

CITIZENS FOR EUROPE 2007-2013 (8154/05)

Letter from Shaun Woodward MP, Minister for Creative Industries and Tourism, Department for Culture, Media and Sport to the Chairman

  I am writing to bring your Committee up to date with the proposal for the Citizens for Europe programme: I apologise for not having responded sooner to your letter of 28 June 2005.[193]

  Political agreement for this programme was reached at the Education, Youth and Culture Council meeting on 18 May 2006.

  While the programme is a continuation of current initiatives and not problematic in substance, your Committee had raised a concern about the programme, that the Commission has yet to provide an evaluation of the current programme, The UK therefore maintained a scrutiny reserve and abstained at the Council meeting (I set out the reason for our abstention to the Commission).

  The Commission has still not produced an evaluation, and the UK has thus maintained its scrutiny reserve.

  However, the Finnish Presidency decided unexpectedly that they wished to take a final decision on the Citizens for Europe programme on 25 September at the Competitiveness Council. We were unaware that this decision was to be raised at the Competitiveness Council until the week prior to the meeting. One of my officials tried to contact the Clerk of your Committee on Thursday and Friday of last week, as soon as we knew this was going to arise, to discuss the UK's approach going into the 25 September Council. However, as Parliament was in recess they were unable to do so.

  As you know the programme requires unanimity and was supported by all other Member States. If the UK had blocked the programme by voting against it because the scrutiny process had not been completed we would have been in a minority of one holding up a programme which Member States, including the UK, believe will bring benefits.

  As a result of the sudden decision by the Finnish Presidency to proceed with a final decision I took the decision that the UK should abstain.

  Of course I recognise that in abstaining on the programme—and not blocking the programme—this inevitably could appear to you that the scrutiny of the Committee has been overridden. This was not my intention and I regret the sequence of events which brought about this difficult decision for the UK Government, I can only apologise that no other practical way forward seemed to be available and therefore we took this course of action. However, we felt that as the UK favours the substance of the programme in general and had we blocked it the UK would have caused considerable irritation to other Member States, including those with whom we are seeking alliances on a number of wider issues. This course of action seemed the best way forward out of a difficult situation.

  An interim evaluation is due to be published very shortly. When the Commission produces its evaluation I will formally seek your clearance of the programme.

  Of course both myself and officials will continue to address the concerns you have expressed.

  The European Parliament (EP) has now approved the Common Position adopted at the Competitiveness Council. The confirmed version of the Citizens for Europe proposal will now come back to the Council for final adoption and I anticipate this to be early next month. I will write to you again in order to update you on the outcome of this.

  I again apologise for not updating your Committee sooner on this proposal. I have asked officials at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to review the scrutiny procedures to ensure outstanding questions raised by the Committee are dealt with more promptly.

29 September 2006

193   Correspondence with Ministers, 45th Report of Session 2005-06, HL Paper 243, pp 564-565. Back

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