CONSUMER POLICY 2007-2013 (9909/06)
Letter from the Chairman to Rt Hon Ian
McCartney MP, Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry/Foreign
and Commonwealth Office
Your Explanatory Memorandum (EM) dated 14 June
was considered by Sub-Committee G on 6 July together with the
separate EM submitted by the DoH on the parallel amended Proposal
for the public health aspects (9905/06), about which I have written
separately to your colleague Rosie Winterton.
We note that the amended Proposal (reference
9909/06) replaces the earlier Proposal (reference 8064/05), about.
which I last wrote to Rosie Winterton on 19 May and which can
now be released from scrutiny.
So far as the amended Proposal (reference 9909/06)
is concerned, we note that the Government prefers the division
into separate public health and consumer protection programmes,
as now proposed. We also note that the new programme is less ambitious
than its predecessor, reflecting the reduced budget allocation.
At first sight, the amended Proposal does seem
to be an improvement on its predecessor but we welcome the Government's
assurance that specific programme proposals, as they emerge, will
be tested to ensure that they meet the requirements of subsidiarity.
We also note the Government's concern over the
focus on a "high level of consumer protection". We agree
that this should be clarified and that what matters is that the
programme should be effective, in-line with the better regulation
agenda and concentrated on those areas where action at EU-level
can have the most impact. We also agree on the need for rigorous
evaluation and monitoring of the programmes, so long as that does
not involve excessive bureaucracy.
Your EM does not say how long the Department
expect the new round of stakeholder consultations to take, but
we look forward to a revised RIA based on the results of that
consultation in due course.
We would also welcome an indication of the likely
timescale for Council consideration as soon as the Finnish Presidency
have made that clear.
The new document (reference 9909/06) will be
retained under scrutiny pending your reply.
6 July 2006
Letter from Rt Hon Ian McCartney MP to
Thank you for your letter of 6 July 2006 on
EM 9909/06. I am now writing to further update you and the Committee
on progress with this draft decision, on the clarifications we
have received from the European Commission and on the proposed
timetable that will reach political agreement at the 25 September
Since my Explanatory Memorandum of 14 June 2006,
there have been two Council Working Groups during which Member
States have expressed support for the amended draft decision and
welcomed the split of the consumer and health programmes. The
Finnish Presidency has announced they will seek to reach political
agreement on 25 September.
During the working groups, we have sought clarification
on the continued "better" consumer protection focus
of the programme. The Commission has reassured us that the focus
on "better" consumer protection, rather than a "high
level" of consumer protection, is retained throughout the
The reference to a high level consumer protection
is intended to be consistent with the relevant language in Treaty
Article 153 and to cover the wider range of actions that now sit
under two rather than four objectives.
Stronger evaluation measures have been included
in the amended programme and we will press for better regulation
principles to be taken into account as individual initiatives
come forward. Other Member States have supported us in highlighting
the importance of better regulation.
As stated in my Explanatory Memorandum of 14
June, we will also ensure that initiatives are tested against
subsidiarity principles in order that action is taken at the most
In December 2005 my Department conducted an
informal consultation of the original joint proposal with stakeholders.
In June, we repeated this one-month informal consultation in light
of the revised proposal. We received a small number of responses
from consumer, business and academic stakeholders who supported
the split of the programme and were generally supportive of the
measures. Consumer bodies expressed some concern about the reduction
in the proposed budget, and business pressed to be regarded as
a stakeholder in all consumer issues (which the Commission have
confirmed at our request). Those consulted supported the use of
the Public Health Executive Agency; on the basis that it will
not be a policy-making body. There was also support for, and against,
the development of a European Masters degree. A final regulatory
impact assessment will be produced once a final text has been
agreed in Council.
With reference to the Public Health Executive
Agency, the Commission have confirmed that this body will be used
solely for the administrative and technical implementation of
the programme. The Commission considers the use of the Public
Health Executive Agency to be a prudent use of resources, as investment
has already been carried out in setting up the agency. Using it
for the implementation of consumer policy would lead to greater
economies of scale. Given that the agency will not set policy
but rather implement it, we are satisfied that this is a sensible
use of current resources.
The development of three or four integrated
European Masters degrees, funded by the Commission, has been of
concern to the UK. This initiative falls within the actions related
to consumer education. Last year the Commission carried out a
study that concluded that there was a need for a European-focused
Masters degree. This degree would be offered by a consortium of
universities located in three different countries (one of which
must be in a new Member State).
The UK suggested that the Commission could use
their report's findings as a catalyst to encourage consumer organisations,
business and the academic sector to fund their own courses, rather
than relying on EU funding. The Commission responded that while
such an initiative might be commonplace in the UK, a different
culture persisted in other Member States where such alliances
in the field of education were difficult to achieve. The Commission
also stated that the modular nature of the Masters would mean
that business could pay to take advantage of particular courses,
widening the pool of those who would benefit. The imminent introduction
of the EU consumer protection cooperation regulation (creating
a network of authorities enforcing EU-wide consumer legislation)
would also mean that there would be a significant number of officials
increasingly enforcing Community legislation who could benefit
from the Masters degree courses (or its constituent modules).
While we remain to be fully convinced that this
is the most effective use of resources, we recognise that this
represents a small sum in the overall budget (800,000 per
year) and that many other Member States are in support of the
proposal. We are also sensitive to the fact that the UK has the
most university courses within the EU, where a consumer-related
focus is featured, covering issues such as management, law and
economics; and that other Member States offer fewer opportunities.
We are reassured that this funding is only planned for the first
three years of the Masters programme and that they are expected
to be funded independently, once they are established.
The UK is broadly supportive of the programme
as our main concerns, relating to the merged programme and the
need for improved evaluation techniques have been supported by
the Council, the European Parliament and accepted by the Commission.
On this basis, we would seek to support political
agreement at the September Competitiveness Council and I would
welcome your urgent agreement to clear this programme from scrutiny
before the summer recess. I would be happy to report to the Committee
any developments on this programme as it is implemented.
17 July 2006
Letter from the Chairman to Rt Hon Ian
Thank you for your letter dated 17 July which
was considered by Sub-Committee G on 20 July.
We are glad to see that the Government has secured
satisfactory clarification at Working Group meetings on most of
the items raised in our earlier correspondence.
We share the Government's doubts about the value
of the proposed European Masters Degrees in consumer protection
matters. Ideally, we would have wanted a fuller explanation of
the rationale and justification than we have been given so far.
But as you point out, only a relatively small part of the overall
budget has been earmarked for this element of the programme.
We also note that the Commission's view that
the degrees may be of more value to other Member States than to
the UK and that the modular nature of the course would make it
particularly useful for business personnel and Government officials.
You also point out that the degrees will only be funded for the
first three years in any case. That being so, we agree that it
is hardly a sticking point. But we remain sceptical and will want
to see a thorough evaluation of the results when the three funded
years are up.
We are therefore willing to release scrutiny
to enable the Government to support the political agreement expected
at the September Competitiveness Council. But we will expect you
to report on the outcome of the Council meeting in due course.
20 July 2006