INSTITUTE FOR GENDER EQUALITY (9195/06)
Letter from the Chairman to Meg Munn MP,
Deputy Minister for Women and Equality, Department for Communities
and Local Government
Your Explanatory Memorandum (EM) dated May 2006
was considered by Sub-Committee G on 25 May.
We note that the Commission's new Proposal is
due to be considered by the Employment, Social Policy, Health
and Consumer Affairs Council on 1 June when political agreement
is expected to be reached on a Common Position.
As I explained in my letter to you dated 27
April, the Commission's original Proposal on the Gender Institute
is held under scrutiny by the Committee until the debate in the
House on the Inquiry Report on that Proposal, and on the related
Report on the European Fundamental Rights Agency, takes place.
As I believe you know, that debate has now been fixed for the
afternoon of Thursday 8 June.
We note that the Commission's new amended Proposal
continues to favour a separate Gender Institute and that the Government
continue to support that proposition, which is contrary to the
view taken in our Inquiry Reports mentioned above. In these circumstances,
we are unable to lift the scrutiny reserve on the amended Proposal
pending the outcome of the debate on 8 June. We will want to take
careful account of everything that is said in that debate, including
any further information or statements provided by the Government
during the debate or in preparation for it.
Moreover, you will recall that our Inquiry Report
on the Gender Institute Proposal called for further consideration
of the proposed management structure if the Gender Institute were
to be set up. The Report also recommended that the practice of
automatically awarding seats on the Boards of such Institutions
to every Member State should be questioned.
It is not clear to us from your EM how this
aspect of the amended Proposal now stands. Your EM records that
the Commission has accepted the Parliament's proposal for a restricted
Management Board composed of 13 members. On the other hand, it
also reports that the Council supports a larger Board, with one
representative for each Member State, which is directly contrary
to the view taken by the Committee.
To add to the confusion, although your EM does
not say so, we understand that the Austrian Presidency may be
circulating a compromise text which includes support for every
Member State to have a seat on the Board. Your EM does not say
what attitude the Government intends to take if size of the Management
Board is discussed at Council. But we are very disappointed to
learn from your officials that Government would probably go along
with a consensus in favour of seats for each Member State.
Your EM also mentions that the Government has
"some concerns about the relative voting weights attributed
to the Commission and the Council" on the proposed Board,
although it does not explain what those concerns are or how they
might be resolved.
We also note from your EM that the question
of the legal base remains unresolved and that the Government has
placed a scrutiny reserve on that aspect to enable further investigations
to be undertaken. Your letter to me dated 6 April recorded that
the Government would review the legal base question in the light
of the ECJ ruling expected in the ENISA case, but we have heard
no more about that from you.
In the circumstances, we shall expect you to
record at the Council that the scrutiny reserve must remain on
the amended Proposal so far as we are concerned, for the reasons
given above. We will expect you to report on the result of the
Council meeting in time for the debate on 8 June.
It would also be helpful if you could explain
in time for the debate on 8 June precisely what is happening about
the Management Board proposal and the Government's attitude to
it, as well as reporting if there have been any further developments
in the Government's position on the legal base question.
25 May 2006
Letter from Meg Munn MP to the Chairman
I am writing with regard to an amended proposal
for a Regulation establishing a European Gender Institute, which
is scheduled to come before the 1 June 2006 Employment and Social
Policy Council for political agreement.
The amended proposal is for a regulation to
establish a European Gender Institute with the overall objective
of the Institute being is to assist in the fight against discrimination
based on sex and the promotion of gender equality and to raise
the profile of such issues across the EU, and in doing so to share
best practice across Member States.
An Explanatory Memorandum was prepared and submitted
on 19 May 2006 on the amended proposal. We have also exchanged
various correspondences on this issue relating the original proposal
EM 7244/05, prior to 19 May 2006. However, it has not been possible
to obtain scrutiny clearance from neither the Lords nor Commons
Scrutiny Committees ahead of the vote in Council on 1 June.
The Government's position on the European Gender
Institute has always been that it should be budget neutral, add
value and not duplicate work of existing agencies. The decision
on this proposal is subject to qualified majority voting, and
the position set out by many other Member States is one of keen
support for the establishment of a European Gender Institute.
It has been judged that it would therefore not be in the UK's
best interest to block a proposal that, in effect, it has little
control and no veto over. The UK's position has therefore been
to try and ensure that the Institute will be as effective and
efficient as possible, as well as budget-neutral. By voting in
favour of this proposal, the UK will be in a stronger position
to influence the more detailed budgetary and other discussions
on the structure of the Institutesuch as the composition
and voting mechanism of the Management Board, which will be discussed
at the second reading. The logic being that if the UK is deemed
a constructive voice, rather than adopt a negative stance on principle,
it will have more influence on the details as they are agreed.
It is unfortunate that scrutiny could not be
completed in time for Council, and as the Government feels that
it is desirable for the Commission's amended proposal to be adopted,
rather than for the UK to block it, I wish to inform your Committee
of the Government's decision to proceed.
25 May 2006
Letter from the Chairman to Meg Munn MP
Your letter dated 25 May crossed with my own
letter of the same date. It was considered by Sub-Committee G
at their first meeting after the Whitsun Recess today.
As you well know, our Reports on the European
Gender Institute and the Fundamental Rights Agency are due to
be debated in the House this afternoon. My letter to you dated
25 May pointed out that, as the scrutiny reserve on the original
Proposal was already retained pending the outcome of that debate,
the scrutiny reserve on the amended Proposal could not be lifted
in the meantime. In those circumstances, I said that we would
expect you to record at the Council that the scrutiny reserve
must remain on the amended proposal.
We are therefore very surprised and disappointed
to learn from your letter that, without even waiting for my response
to your Explanatory Memorandum on the amended proposal, the Government
had decided to override scrutiny and vote in favour of political
agreement on the amended Proposal at the Council on 1 June. Although
you have not so far reported on the outcome of the Council meeting,
we understand from your officials that this is what happened.
Overriding Parliamentary scrutiny is a very
serious matter indeed. It should only be contemplated where urgent
decisions are needed on questions of considerable national importance.
That clearly does not apply in this case and we see no good reason
for the Government's action.
Your letter claims that by voting in favour
of the Proposal the UK would be in a stronger position to influence
more detailed discussions about the Institute than if it had adopted
a negative stance on the principle. But that argument is completely
undermined since, as we understand it from your officials, the
Government also decided at Council to vote in favour of a 25-member
Management Board for the Institute. That possibility was not even
mentioned in your letter.
You know perfectly well from our previous correspondence
that, as well as having doubts about the merits of setting up
a separate Institute, we had strong reservations about the proposed
management structure. My letter to you dated 25 May drew attention
to the Committee's recommendation that the practice of automatically
awarding seats on the boards of EU agencies to every Member State
should be questioned. This would have been an ideal opportunity
for the Government to have taken a stand on that practice, instead
of which you appear to have drifted with the tide on the only
real issue of remaining significance apart from the budget and
the location of the Institute.
We regard this as deeply unsatisfactory and
the explanation given in your letter as wholly inadequate. No
doubt this will be raised during this afternoon's debate. But
the Committee reserves the right to call upon you to appear before
the Sub-Committee at a future date if the explanation given during
the debate is not satisfactory.
8 June 2006
Letter from Meg Munn MP to the Chairman
Thank you for your letter of 25 May which incidentally
crossed paths with my letter to you also dated 25 May, regarding
the Explanatory Memorandum on the Amended Proposal for the Establishment
of a European Institute for Gender Equality, and also for your
subsequent letter of 8 June.
I think it would be useful if I first outline
the current position on the Amended Proposal. As I mentioned in
the EM, the Amended Proposal contains only minor amendments to
the original proposal that do not result in any overall change
to the aim and role of the Institute. Although the Commission
favoured a smaller management board, this was not a view that
was supported by the majority of the Council, who wanted one representative
per Member State. However, the Presidency was not able to bridge
the divide between Council and Commission at working level and
have reverted back to the General Approach text, which favoured
a larger board.
As you are aware, this dossier was on the agenda
at the June Council and my officials have already provided a verbal
update to the clerk of your Committee on the events of the June
Council. I can inform you that political agreement was reached,
by unanimity, on a draft regulation establishing a European Institute
for Gender Equality. However, the Commission did not support the
representative Management Board adopted by the Council, and so
made a declaration to the minutes saying it would have preferred
a smaller administrative board. Following on from the June Council,
the text, as agreed will be adopted as a common position at a
forthcoming Council session and sent to the European Parliament
with a view to the second reading.
I would like to once again stress how unfortunate
that was not possible to obtain scrutiny clearance from your Committee
ahead of the June Council and the need for the UK to proceed this
document and override your scrutiny reserve. Although this is
not the way we had hoped to proceed, under the circumstances this
was judged to be the best way forward for the UK, as my letter
of 25 May explains, the Institute will go ahead and it is important
for the UK to set itself in a good negotiating position as this
will prove valuable in the next round of negotiations where the
contentious issue of the voting structure within the management
board will be discussed.
I understand your disappointment and concerns
with our decision to favour the Council for a larger management
board (one representative per Member State), and I acknowledge
that a smaller board should operate more effectively. However,
during negotiations it was clear from other Member States that
they had a strong preference for one representative per Member
State and were not prepared to deviate from this. We therefore
felt it necessary to agree with the Council in having a larger
board, as whilst this proposal is subject to Qualified Majority
Voting, different voting mechanisms apply in different circumstances
during the passage of co-decision dossiers. Therefore, to achieve
political agreement in the face of Commission opposition, unanimity
As Baroness Ashton highlighted on 8 June, Member
States are extremely supportive of the Institute and very keen
to play an active role, hence their desire to be represented on
the management board. Once the institute is up and running, there
is potentially scope for this position to be reviewed as some
Member States may no longer feel the need for all 25 Member States
to be on the board.
With regards to the UK's position on the voting
structure, we would not want a situation where the Commission
has equal voting rights vis a vis the Council representatives,
which, given that the Council is rarely able to speak with one
voice, would effectively give the Commission overall voting control.
To avoid such a situation arising, during discussions at working
group level the UK have cited other agencies, which uphold the
principle of "one person one vote" as a precedent for
a similar approach to be adopted here. As you will appreciate,
the issue of the voting rights goes wider than the European Gender
Institute. This contentious issue will be discussed further at
a later stagesecond reading stage anticipated to take place
in six to nine months.
On the matter concerning the legal base question,
the UK Minutes Statement remains in place. The Government is still
currently reviewing the legal base issue in light of the ENISA
case and I hope to be able to report the conclusions to you soon.
Once again, I would like to express how unfortunate
it was that we unavoidably had to override your scrutiny reserve
in this instance, and I assure you that it is a decision I did
not take lightly. I shall continue to provide you with updates
on the dossier as necessary.
19 June 2006
Letter from the Chairman to Meg Munn MP
Your letter dated 19 June reached us on the
afternoon of 21 June and was considered by a meeting of Sub-Committee
G on the morning of 22 June.
Your letter raises important procedural and
policy issues which the Committee wishes to discuss with you without
delay. We envisage a short public meeting with Sub-Committee G,
of which an official verbatim record would be taken and published
in due course as a supplement to our Inquiry Report.
The Clerk to the Sub-Committee will be in touch
with your officials to arrange a convenient date before the House
rises for the Summer Recess.
23 June 2006