Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


Letter from the Chairman to Meg Munn MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Women and Equality, Department of Trade and Industry

  Thank you for your letter dated 8 December 2005[205] which was considered by Sub-Committee G on 12 January.

  We are grateful to you for bringing us up-to-date on moves at the European Parliament which you say are likely to pave the way for a Council decision before the end of this month. We understand from your officials that the EP plenary voted last month in favour of all the amendments proposed by the Civil Liberties Committee and that the First Reading deal envisaged would include increasing the budget for the Year from €13.6 million, as proposed by the Commission, to €15 million.

  We also understand from your officials that you are anxious for a decision on whether to release this Proposal from scrutiny before a COREPER meeting on 25 January which is intended to prepare for the General Affairs Council meeting on 30 January.

  Before reaching that decision we would be grateful if you could summarise the amendments accepted by the European Parliament and explain the justification the Government has for the proposed increase in the budget from €13.6 million to €15 million.

  We will continue to retain this document under scrutiny pending your reply.

12 January 2006

Letter from Meg Munn MP to the Chairman

  I am writing to update you on the progress made during negotiations on this proposal since I last wrote on 8 December 2005.

  The UK Presidency has successfully led negotiations in Council Working Groups, making good progress on this dossier since it emerged in July 2005. The UK worked closely with the Commission and the rapporteur of the European Parliament Civil Liberties (LIBE) Committee to reach a compromise on the text. As President, the UK considered that our negotiating position was not compromised by this text. The Plenary voted in favour of the Year on 13 December 2005. They adopted 50 compromise amendments to the proposal (see attached annex). The decision is now scheduled to go to Coreper on 25 January as an I point and Council on 30 January for agreement as an A point.

  Out of the 50 amendments, I should highlight that the Council agreed to accept the EP's amendment (38) to increase the budget for the Year from €13.6 million to €15 million. This was seen as a fair compromise to accept by both the Council and the EP, as previous draft amendments made it clear that some MEPs wanted to double the budget. The EP feels that this is an important issue for Europe and therefore the budget needed to be increased in order for MS to raise awareness adequately. The Year of Disabled People in 2003 was allocated €12 million by the European Commission, which covered just the one strand of Article 13 and took place before the recent enlargement (27 MS will be participating in the Year of Equal Opportunities, including Bulgaria and Romania). We therefore consider €15 million to be a reasonable amount of money to carry out the activities under the Year of Equal Opportunities.

  The EP accepted the Council's amendments, including a simpler administrative procedure (amendments 29, 30, 32, 34, 44, 45) and textual changes such as language on gender mainstreaming, multiple discrimination and social inclusion, in return for a modest 10 per cent increase in the budget. The CION suggest that the money would go on additional EU level activities in 2007 so it would not have an impact on the amount of money to be allocated to MS or the corresponding amount of national co-financing required. Apart from the budget, and Council simplifying the administrative processes, the majority of amendments are textual and do not cause the UK great concern.

  As I mentioned in previous letters, it is important that the decision is agreed in January 2006 in time for Member States to make preparations for the Year to start in 2007. The UK is now the only Member State to have a reserve on this dossier, and after all the progress made by the UK Presidency on negotiations, the UK would be in a difficult position not to lift its reserve at Coreper on 25 January.

12 January 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Meg Munn MP

  Thank you for your letter dated 12 January which crossed with my letter to you of the same date. It was considered by Sub-Committee G on 17 January.

  We are grateful to you for giving some more information about the proposed increase in the budget from €13.6 million to € 15 million. We agree that this increase is not unreasonable in the circumstances.

  We are also grateful for your description of the Council's amendments. We welcome the simplified administrative procedures and note that the majority of the amendments are textual. Although your letter says that most of these amendments do not cause the UK "great concern", we are assured by your officials that none of them cause the UK any concern at all. On that understanding, we are prepared to lift scrutiny as requested to enable you to support the proposed First Reading deal at Council on 30 January.

  Nevertheless, we still have doubts about the clarity of this proposal and what it may achieve in practice. We therefore expect the Government to press the Commission for a thorough evaluation of the achievements of the Year and will want to consider that evaluation very carefully when it is submitted for Parliamentary scrutiny in due course.

18 January 2006

Letter from Meg Munn MP to the Chairman

  I am writing to inform you that a first reading deal has been achieved between the European Council and the European Parliament on this proposal. I am attaching a copy of the text for your information (not printed). As you know, your Committee lifted its scrutiny reserve of this proposal by letter on 18 January.

  The proposed European Year responds to the need, identified in the 2004 Green Paper on Non-Discrimination, for further awareness raising initiatives. The Year builds on the success of the 1997 Year Against Racism and the 2003 Year of People with Disabilities. The objective of the proposed Year of Equal Opportunities in 2007 is to raise awareness of the benefits of a "just cohesive society where there is equality of opportunity for all, irrespective of sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation", as well stimulate debate and exchange of good practice.

  Negotiations (led by the UK Presidency) of the European Year of Equal Opportunities had been prioritised to ensure that Member States have time to make necessary preparations and to reach a first reading deal.

27 April 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Meg Munn MP

  Thank you for your letter dated 27 April reporting that, as expected, a First Reading deal has been achieved between the European Council and the European Parliament on this Proposal on which we lifted the scrutiny reserve by my letter to you dated 18 January.

  Your letter was notified by the meeting of Sub-Committee G on 11 May. We are glad that you are satisfied with the outcome and hope that the Government will make the most of the opportunities presented by the Year.

12 May 2006

205   Correspondence with Ministers, 45th Report of Session 2005-06, HL Paper 243, pp 616-617. Back

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