Select Committee on European Scrutiny Sixth Report


SECURITY OF DOCUMENTS


(21909)
OTNYR

Draft Council Decision on the adoption of Council security regulations.


Legal base: Article 207 EC; simple majority
Document originated: 19 December 2000
Forwarded to the Council: 19 December 2000
Department: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of consideration: EM of 21 December 2000 and SEM of 18 January 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: February 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared; but request to be kept informed

Background

  12.1  The security of information held by the Council is presently governed by Council Decision 98/319/EC of 27 April 1998.[26] Measures for the protection of classified information applicable to the General Secretariat of the Council, and on security clearance procedures for officials, are set out in a Decision of the Secretary General of 27 July 2000[27] and in a Decision of the Secretary General of the Council No. 433/97 of 22 May 1997 respectively.

  12.2  A large proportion of EU documents, especially those emanating from the Commission, are published, and access to unpublished Council documents by members of the public is governed by Council Decision 93/731/EC.[28] Nevertheless, some documents held by the Council remain sensitive, notably in the field of the common security and defence policy, and the security arrangements relating to them have been reviewed.

The document

  12.3  The draft Decision proposes new security arrangements which would replace the existing measures. It takes the form of a Council Decision approving a set of Council security regulations. The Decision is stated to be without prejudice to Article 255 EC and to instruments implementing that provision, and also to existing practices in Member States with regard to informing their national Parliaments on the activities of the European Union.

  12.4  Article 1 of the draft Decision approves a set of security regulations annexed to the Decision. Article 2(1) requires the Secretary General/High Representative to take appropriate measures to ensure that, when handling EU classified information, the security regulations are respected within the General Secretariat of the Council by its officials and other servants as well as by external contractors and staff seconded to the General Secretariat.

  12.5  Article 2(2) requires Member States to take appropriate measures 'in accordance with national arrangements' to ensure that the security regulations are respected within their services and premises.

  12.6  The security regulations prescribe basic principles and minimum standards of security as well as dealing with the classification and marking of documents, physical security measures, security clearance for officials and the transmission and storage of EU classified information.

The Government's views

  12.7  In his Explanatory Memorandum, the Minister for Europe (Mr Keith Vaz) comments as follows:

"Recent developments, especially in European defence, have prompted the EU to look again at the Council's security Regulations. We need to ensure that the EU has sufficiently stringent security arrangements in place to look after sensitive documents, and to allow it to conclude the necessary agreements with NATO to share information. This is essential if the EU is to develop an effective military crisis management capacity. But the new Regulations will also mean that sensitive documents in other fields — justice and home affairs, for example, are kept sufficiently secure."

  12.8  On the questions of implementation and compatibility with UK arrangements, the Minister makes the following comments:

"We have ensured that the obligations flowing from the Decision leave Member States in the driving seat when it comes to dealing with breaches (allowing, for example, minor breaches to be dealt with by disciplinary rather than criminal proceedings)."

"The Regulations themselves are comprehensive and conform to UK and NATO standards (and are still subject to technical fine-tuning)."

Conclusion

  12.9  We note that the proposed Decision is without prejudice to existing practices in Member States with regard to informing national Parliaments on the activities of the European Union. This important reservation being noted, we accept the need for adequate security arrangements for the handling of classified information within the Council, especially in relation to defence issues.

  12.10  We note the Minister's remark that the security regulations are still subject to 'technical fine-tuning'. We are content to clear the draft Decision, but ask the Minister to inform us in good time if any important change is to be made to the security regulations before their approval.


26   OJ No. L 140, 12.5.98, p.12. Back

27   OJ No. C 239, 23.8.00, p.1. Back

28   OJ No L 340, 31.12.93, p.43. Back


 
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