Select Committee on European Scrutiny Fifth Report





COM(00) 293

Commission Opinion on the European Parliament's amendments to the Council's Common Position on the draft Directive on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms, and repealing Council Directive 90/220/EEC.
Legal base: Article 95 EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting
Document originated: 16 May 2000
Forwarded to the Council: 17 May 2000
Deposited in Parliament: 5 June 2000
Department: Environment, Transport and the Regions
Basis of consideration: Minister's letter of 2 February 2000
Previous Committee Report: HC 23-xxvi (1999-2000), paragraph 14 (26 July 2000)
To be discussed in Council: No date set
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared (decision reported on 26 July 2000)


  12.1  Council Directive 90/220/EEC[24] deals with the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and established a system of control requiring prior consent from a Member State's competent authority for any such releases for research and development, and approval at Community level before any product containing GMOs can be placed on the Community market. In February 1998, the Commission put forward a proposal making a number of significant amendments to the procedures for both kinds of release. We reported on this proposal on 29 April 1998 and 9 December 1998,[25] following which the subject was debated in European Standing Committee A on 24 March 1999.[26]

  12.2  The Commission subsequently put forward in March 1999 a revised proposal,[27] incorporating about half of the 77 amendments suggested by the European Parliament at its first reading on 11 February 1999. In the light of information provided by the Government, we cleared this document at our meeting on 23 June 1999, and we subsequently noted in our Report of 21 July 1999 that the Government had told us that political agreement had been reached at the Environment Council on 24 June 1999 on a text which the UK strongly supported. We were also told that the Council's Common Position was likely to be formally adopted during September or October 1999, and we were subsequently informed by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions that adoption eventually took place at the Council on 9 December 1999.

  12.3  In May 2000, the Commission gave its Opinion on the 29 amendments to the Common Position text put forward by the European Parliament at its second reading on 12 April 2000. It indicated that, whilst 16 of these amendments were not acceptable, it could accept four in total and a further nine in principle, and we were subsequently told by the Minister for the Environment at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (the Rt. Hon. Michael Meacher), that the UK strongly supported the Common Position, wished to see rapid progress in adopting the revised Directive, and could thus accept those European Parliament amendments which provided clarification, or were consistent with the principles of the Common Position.

  12.4  However, the Minister said that the UK would need to consider its position on a number of the European Parliament's amendments, as follows:

  • whereas the Common Position merely required the Directive in general terms to take account of international experience in this field, the Parliament also wished it to oblige the Commission to submit amendments which would reflect the requirements of the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol (concluded in Montreal in January 2000): the UK believed it was important to reflect the Protocol in the Directive, but that Member States would need to consider whether this should be dealt with in legislation other than Directive 90/220/EEC, or in separate proposals for an amendment to this Directive;

  • the Parliament had proposed that the Commission should be required to bring forward general Community-wide rules on environmental liability arising from GMO releases, as proposed in its recent White Paper[28] on the subject: the UK considered that the Commission should study this possibility, but had not formed a view on whether a general regime would be appropriate;

  • the Parliament had proposed that a long-term aim should be the creation of a centralised procedure for the release of GMOs: whilst the UK felt this would simplify the regulatory process, it was concerned that account might not be taken of the considerable differences in agriculture in Member States;

  • the Parliament had proposed that risk management and labelling should be added to the list of requirements equivalent to those in Directive 90/220/EEC in order for medicinal products covered by other Community legislation to be exempt from the part of this Directive dealing with the placing of GMOs on the market: however, the UK felt that a slightly different treatment might be justified in the case of medicinal products;

  • whilst the Common Position text stipulated that the ten year period for marketing authorisations should commence as soon as a consent is granted, the Parliament had suggested that this period should not start until after first registration of the final product, so as to allow a full ten years for marketing: however, the Minister pointed out that this would create legal uncertainty, and he believed that, in order to provide predictability and transparency in the regulatory system, consents should begin when they are issued; and

  • the Parliament had suggested a new provision under which the locations of GMOs grown should be recorded in public registers: the Minister pointed out that this would benefit traceability and accessibility, but undermine the principle of a single market for marketing releases, and increase the risk of criminal damage.

Minister's letter of 2 February 2001    

  12.5  We have now received a letter of 2 February 2001 from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr Bob Ainsworth) saying that the Conciliation Committee has reached agreement on a joint text for the new Directive, and that this does not depart significantly from the Common Position, which the UK had previously supported. The UK would, therefore, be strongly supporting the adoption of the new Directive when it came before the Council (as was anticipated in the week beginning 12 February).

  12.6  As regards the points identified earlier by the Minister for the Environment, he says that:

  • on biosafety, the Commission has been invited to come forward with proposals on implementation before July 2001;

  • on liability, it has been agreed that there should be new rules, and the Commission has emphasized its intention to bring forward a proposal on environmental liability before the end of 2001, which will also cover damage from GMOs;

  • on a centralised procedure for GMO releases, the text agreed invited the Commission to conduct a study, which should contain an assessment of various options to improve further the consistency and efficiency of the regulatory framework, particularly focussing on a centralised authorisation procedure;

  • on risk management and labelling for medicinal products, the text agreed makes no requirement for equivalence, but specifies that the type of information required would be without prejudice to other relevant requirements regarding these issues;

  • on the date from which a consent commences, the final outcome closely follows that in the Council's Common Position; and

  • on the publication of the locations of GMOs grown, it has been agreed that public registers will be set up which give information, within the context of the consent and the monitoring arrangements, on a case by case basis.


  12.7  We are grateful to the Minister for this further information, which does not affect the clearance we have already given this document.




COM(00) 698

Eleventh Annual Report by the Commission on the Structural Funds (1999).
Document originated: 13 November 2000
Forwarded to the Council: 15 November 2000
Deposited in Parliament: 14 December 2000
Department: Trade and Industry
Basis of consideration: EM of 29 December 2000
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: No further substantive discussion expected at this stage
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared, but relevant to the debate recommended on the Court of Auditors Annual Report for 1999[29]


  13.1  EU aid to combat regional disparities within the Union is channelled largely through a series of inter-related funds, collectively known as the Structural Funds, of which there are four main ones:

— European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)

Provides assistance, in particular, for investment to create or maintain jobs, especially in environmental, transport and telecommunications and energy infrastructure projects, tourism and development of local businesses.

— European Social Fund (ESF)

Provides assistance to the long-term unemployed, young jobseekers, people excluded from the labour market, to promote equal opportunities and the adaptation to changes in industry.

— Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG)

Provides assistance to fishermen to modernise vessels, develop fish farming, protect certain fishing areas, develop port facilities and promote the processing and marketing of fisheries products.

— European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF)

Provides assistance to new young farmers, hill farms, rural infrastructure, diversification of land use and quality improvements, investment in tourism and woodland protection.

  13.2  All four funds are co-ordinated in a series of programmes and can be used in a variety of combinations to fulfil approved projects. There are also separate Community Initiatives which are also part of the Structural Funds. These target deprivation caused by more specific reasons. They are:-

URBAN — to support the economic and social regeneration of cities and neighbourhoods in crisis;

EQUAL — to promote equality between men and women and to combat all forms of discrimination and the inequalities in the labour market;

LEADER — to encourage and support rural areas and sustainable development which enhances the natural and cultural heritage as well as contributing to job creation; and

INTERREG — to support cross-border co-operation between neighbouring authorities and is intended to develop cross-border economic and social centres.

  13.3  The Structural Funds form part of the Structural Operations category in the Communities' Budget, which also covers the Cohesion Fund for the four most disadvantaged Member States (Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Greece). The Structural Operations represent about 40% of the Budget of which the vast bulk is spent through the Structural Funds. In 1999 appropriations for these Operations were 39,167 million euros in terms of commitments.

The document

  13.4  The Commission's report for 1999 covers the main developments and events relating to the operation of the Structural Funds. 1999 was the last year of the programming period 1994-1999. It was also the year in which, as part of the Agenda 2000 negotiations, agreement was reached on the funding of Structural Operations, including the Structural Funds, for the period 2000-2006. During the year various regulations were adopted to simplify the legislative framework for the Funds. In accordance with Agenda 2000, the Commission approved Decisions on the indicative allocations of appropriations by Member States, the allocations to each Community Initiative, the list of regions eligible under Objective 1 (including those benefiting from transitional support) and the population ceilings for eligibility under Objective 2.[30]

  13.5  The report includes a section on major achievements by individual countries and sections on evaluation, budget implementation, co-ordination with other financial instruments, compatibility and complementarity with other Community policies, and inter-institutional dialogue in respect of the Funds.

  13.6  As regards the period 1994-1999, the year saw the completion of new programming, although programmes still have two years to spend the money committed by the end of 1999. Only five new items were adopted, none of which concerns the UK. By the end of the year, 99% of total assistance had been committed (although only 96% in the UK — mainly because certain agricultural schemes were not fully taken up), with 75% of appropriations paid. Accordingly, the backlogs which had accumulated during the earlier years of the programming period were virtually eliminated. Implementation of the Community Initiatives also speeded up considerably and, by the end of the year, some 95% of total appropriations had been committed and 57% paid, a considerable improvement over previous years.

  13.7  The report says that during 1999 the Commission devoted special efforts, as it did in previous years, to giving fresh impetus to a number of its activities and priorities. In that connection, safeguarding and promoting employment, in particular, continued to be a priority receiving sustained support.

  13.8  As in each of the last four years, the annual report has picked out a theme relevant to all four Structural Funds. For 1999 the report looks at measures to promote equality between men and women. It notes that, in recent years, greater attention has been paid to how the Structural Funds can have a greater impact on equality and to the 1996 Council Resolution on the mainstreaming of equal opportunities for women and men in the Structural Funds. It notes that this objective has been carried through into the new regulations on the Funds for 2000-2006 which require the ex-ante analyses of projects to include a gender perspective. It notes also that the Employment Guidelines recognise the significance of gender equality to the economy and concludes that equal opportunities are now recognised as both a matter of social justice and good economics. Whilst the report contains some analysis of the nature of the gender imbalance in employment and refers to, for example, methodological studies on the application of the principle of equal opportunities, it contains no hard information about the impact so far of Structural Funds expenditure on gender imbalances.

  13.9  As regards preparation for the 2000-2006 programming period, the report rehearses the key agreements reached as part of the Agenda 2000 negotiations. It sets out the Commission's approach to the selection of regions and allocation of funds for Objective 1, and its approach to the allocation of resources in respect of Objectives 2 and 3. It also sets out the funding arrangements for each of the four Community Initiatives and FIFG appropriations outside Objective 1.

  13.10  The report says that the new Structural Fund regulations reflect the desire for greater efficiency. The new regulations:-

  • clarify the respective responsibilities of the Commission and Member States; simplify the programming and implementation of the Fund;

  • clarify responsibilities of managing authorities and monitoring committees for management, monitoring and evaluation; and

  • put in place a simpler but more rigorous system of financial management and enhanced financial control.

As regards evaluation, the report refers to the introduction of ex-ante evaluation in the new general regulation applying in the period 2000- 2006, which places responsibility for this evaluation on the authorities responsible for preparing the plans. It says that the common point of departure for this approach is the assessment of the previous programming period and the lessons drawn from that experience. Accordingly, each plan or item of assistance sent to the Commission includes the results of previous evaluations as well as an analysis of the new programme.

  13.11  As regards checks on expenditure in 1999, the report outlines the checks made by the Commission, including the Anti-Fraud Office. These also covered verification of the principle of additionality (which aims to prevent the resources of the Funds replacing national structural aid. In practical terms, this means that each Member State must — for each Objective — maintain its public or equivalent structural expenditure at least at the same level as during the previous programming period). It refers to the Court of Auditors special Report on additionality.[31] On evaluation of the Structural Funds in the UK, the report concentrates mainly on what projects were set up and how rather than their impact (although it does contain some information on Objective 2, where it suggests that 40% of European Social Fund beneficiaries improve their employability.

The Government's view

  13.12  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 29 December 2000, the Minister for Trade (the Rt. Hon. Richard Caborn) says that there are no direct policy implications in this retrospective report. He notes that the final evaluation of the 1993-1999 programming period should be available in 2002, when all the money committed has been spent.

  13.13  The Minister says that the Government welcomes the report's emphasis on evaluation and value for money, while regretting that the report itself has been published too late to influence the new programmes which have been largely finalised already. He says that the Government will continue its efforts to secure improvements and value for money from the Structural Funds through the EU.


  13.14  This is a long and detailed report. It is helpful, in particular, in setting the scene for the new programming period. But, as the Minister notes, the final evaluation for the 1993-1999 programming period will not be available for another two years at least. There is little in the current report which enables any overall assessment of the efficiency and effectiveness of the large amounts of Community money expended. We look more closely at irregularity and fraud in our paragraph on the Commission's Annual Report for 1999 on Protecting the Communities' financial interests — the fight against fraud (see paragraph 2 above). We have no questions to raise and clear the document accordingly.

  13.15  However, we regard it as relevant to the debate in European Standing Committee B which we have recommended on the Court of Auditors Annual Report 1999 (see paragraph 1 above) and the Commission's report for 1999 on protecting the Communities' financial interests and the fight against fraud.




COM(00) 736

Draft Council Recommendation: "Drinking of alcohol by children and adolescents".
Legal base: Article 152 EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting
Document originated: 27 November 2000
Forwarded to the Council: 28 November 2000
Deposited in Parliament: 9 January 2001
Department: Health
Basis of consideration: EM of 13 January 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: 31 May 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared


  14.1  According to the Commission, although drinking during childhood and adolescence is for most people a recognised part of the transition to adulthood, and reflects to a considerable extent the attitudes of society as a whole, it does also have special characteristics which require specific measures. The former include the greater vulnerability of young people to the adverse effects of alcohol, in terms of both the health risks involved and of a greater susceptibility to anti-social behaviour, involving crime, road accidents, unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. The Commission also says there is evidence that those who begin drinking at an early age are "substantially" more likely to develop alcohol dependence later in life.

  14.2  It then goes on to try and identify the scale of the problem, although it says that the available scientific information on this, and on the causes and nature of the problem, are limited. However, it suggests that harmful levels of alcohol consumption by the young are not only high, but that so-called "Nordic" patterns of behaviour, including binge drinking, are now being found increasingly among the wine producing countries, and that regular drinking begins at a younger age than used to be the case. Another factor identified by the Commission is the "increasingly international youth culture".

The current document

  14.3  Against this background, and the provision in Article 152 of the Treaty enabling it to encourage co-operation between Member States in health-related areas such as this, the Commission has proposed that the Council should adopt a Recommendation on the subject. This would recognise the importance of parents and peer groups in influencing adolescent drinking behaviour, and focus on the need for targeted education, information and health promotion programmes. These would be addressed to young people directly, and indirectly by providing information and assistance to schools and youth clubs, to employers, the media and others who might play a role in guiding young people, and, above all, to parents. In addition, producers and retailers of alcoholic drinks would be encouraged to play their part in providing information, in regulating the advertisement of such drinks, and in discouraging irresponsible or harmful consumption of the traditional drinks, such as lager and cider, widely consumed by teenagers, and of the "alcopops" and "designer drinks" which have recently appeared on the market. The industry would also be encouraged to develop training for those serving alcohol, coupled with strict enforcement of the legal age for its sale. Progress on the implementation of the Recommendation would be reported to the Commission, which in turn would have to report back within five years of the adoption of the Recommendation.

The Government's view

  14.4  In her Explanatory Memorandum of 17 January 2001, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health (Ms Gisela Stuart) says that the UK accepts the case for a general framework of this kind to help tackle a problem that Member States recognise to be a cause for concern. She also suggests that the policy implications of the proposal are limited, in that the UK already has in place policies and procedures which meet what she describes its two main areas - health education, and the self-regulation of alcohol advertising and marketing.

  14.5  The Minister does, however, identify two areas of potential concern. First, she points out that the Commission's Explanatory Memorandum says that while "there are currently no plans for a ban" on alcohol advertising, thought needs to be given to whether "self-regulatory advertising codes... are themselves compatible with the principles of the EC Treaty, and notably Article 49 on the free movement of services". She says that the UK would oppose any attempt to dismantle its system of self-regulation, which is "generally considered" to be effective. Secondly, she notes that the Commission's Explanatory Memorandum also refers to the need to back up health education with "political interventions focussing on improved skills for decision making and stronger support for public policy". She says that, while the Commission interpret this as implying the establishment of comprehensive health promotion strategies, the UK is clear that policy in this area should be determined at a national level.

  14.6  Finally, the Minister also considers that the document contains a couple of inconsistencies. It highlights the role of parents, but mentions that drinking patterns are often inter-generational; and she believes that there is only anecdotal evidence to support the suggestion that northern European patterns of drinking are spreading to southern Europe.


  14.7  Since this document takes the form of a non-binding Council Recommendation, and would apparently have limited policy implications so far the United Kingdom is concerned, it would not normally be one where we would feel any particular need to report it to the House. However, in this case, the proposed Recommendation does relate to a matter of substantial public interest, and — whether anecdotal or not — the Commission's Explanatory Memorandum cites a number of instances of drinking behaviour within the United Kingdom to illustrate the problems it is seeking to address. It also implies that it might become necessary to consider a ban on alcohol advertising at some future date, which would raise the same issues as those recently considered by the European Court of Justice in its Tobacco Advertising judgment. Consequently, although we are clearing the document, we believe it should be drawn to the attention of the House.




COM(00) 814

Commission Communication: Sixth Report on the Implementation of the Telecommunications Regulatory Package.
Legal base:
Document originated: 7 December 2000
Forwarded to the Council: 8 December 2000
Deposited in Parliament: 10 January 2001
Department: Trade and Industry.
Basis of consideration: EM of 11 January 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
Discussed in Council: 22 December 2000
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared


  15.1  The Commission's fifth annual report[32] on telecommunications liberalisation in the Member States was debated in European Standing Committee C on 16 February 2000,[33] together with the Commission's 1999 Communications Review.[34]

The Sixth Report

  15.2  This report reviews the major developments in the telecommunications market over the course of the year to 31 October 2000. It analyses the implementation of the key parts of the current regulatory framework, and identifies issues which the Commission believes need to be addressed in order for the eEurope objectives set at Lisbon and Feira to be achieved. It is based on information from representative groupings of operators, consumer and user groups, and national regulatory authorities and relevant ministries in the fifteen Member States, plus data obtained from the national regulatory authorities. In the UK, the regulatory authority OFTEL, the Radiocommunications Agency and the Department of Trade and Industry contributed. The annexes to the main report provide detailed market data, an overview of implementation in each Member State, including the UK, and supplementary data on regulatory issues.

  15.3  The Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce at the Department of Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt) summarises the report in her Explanatory Memorandum of 11 January as follows:

"The report is generally positive about regulatory and market developments since last year, highlighting increasingly effective action by national regulatory authorities in opening up competition, by ensuring access to the facilities of the incumbent operators. It points to continuing overall growth, with significant expansion in mobile services, an increase in the number of fixed service providers, and a continued fall in call tariffs."

  15.4  The report notes that eight Member States have introduced regulations providing for an unbundled local loop[35] so that this is open to competition and no longer controlled solely by incumbent operators, such as BT. Growth has continued, at an average rate of 9% over the previous year. There are now 194 million subscribers to mobile services, with the number in Germany and Greece more than doubling during the last year. The EU average rate of market penetration is 55%, with 70% in Finland and 39% in Belgium.

  15.5  The main conclusion on the regulatory framework is that the current levels of implementation "form a solid basis for the continued roll-out of the European electronic communications services industry and the wider objectives of eEurope."

  15.6  As the Minister notes, the report does, however, identify a number of problems, including:

"cumbersome licence procedures in some cases; concerns on the timing of the licensing of third generation mobile services in a small number of Member States; non-availability of some carrier pre-selection services; slow delivery times for leased lines; and the price of mobile services. It highlights problems encountered in negotiating the installation of new entrants' equipment at local exchanges for the provision of local services, which it says may require decisive regulatory intervention. Finally, it is critical of the lack of monitoring of consumer issues."

  15.7  Commenting on the section of the annex which covers the UK, the Minister notes that:

"the UK's record highlights many positive developments, including falls in BT's market share, a decrease in tariffs, and increasing mobile and internet market penetration. It identifies a number of areas in which the UK authorities, primarily OFTEL, have made progress, and states that OFTEL is regarded by many other countries as the benchmark for an independent, efficient, competent and pro-active regulatory authority. Developments include: the introduction of an obligation for BT to provide unbundled access to its local loop and facility sharing to enable new entrants to provide their own local links and connect them to BT exchanges; a Determination made to enable other operators to compete with BT in providing flat-rate packages for internet access; OFTEL's reviews of key sectors carried out to determine whether competition is effective and the level of appropriate regulation; and consumer initiatives including new websites, to enable consumers to compare tariffs. In addition, the report points to the auction of third-generation mobile spectrum which was the first in Europe."

  15.8  The report records other national regulatory authorities as regarding OFTEL as "the benchmark for an independent, efficient, competent and proactive regulatory authority". While, in general, new entrants to the market are said to be content with OFTEL's current performance, some claimed that it has inadequate resources, both in terms of manpower and access to expertise, in particular in relation to new services and the Internet. OFTEL's responses to these and other charges are recorded. According to the Minister, OFTEL has said that, although the situation improved in 2000, staffing difficulties remain and it is currently considering advice on pay structures commissioned from consultants. The report also criticises the slow introduction of carrier pre-selection in the UK.

The Government's view

  15.9  Commenting on other issues raised in the section of the annex which deals with the UK, the Minister says that the UK considers the Commission's charge on carrier pre-selection wholly unjustified, as the legal requirements were all met by the deadline of 1 April 2000 and BT was offering the service when the report was written. On the high prices of leased lines, the Minister says that OFTEL completed a review of this area and in January took action to require BT to offer new wholesale products to push retail prices further down. Finally, she notes that, overall, the Commission is not particularly critical of the UK, in comparison with its comments on other Member States.

  15.10  On the report in general, the Minister says:

"This report provides welcome confirmation of strong progress towards greater consumer choice and competition across Europe. The report highlights some problem areas, but these should be seen in the context of overall progress in the number of operators competing, and changes to introduce new access and services. The report's overview of conditions in other European markets is very welcome — barriers to competition exist elsewhere and it is important for UK operators that they are lifted quickly. Following the Commission's 1999 Communications Review, a new regulatory framework based more closely on general competition rules, is under negotiation. In the meantime, the UK supports the role of the Commission in monitoring and rigorously enforcing the existing rules for the liberalised market."


  15.11  The value of an analysis such as this is that it highlights areas where performance has been sluggish, prompting Member States to take firmer action before the next report. The issue of unbundling the local loop in the United Kingdom is well known. Next year's annual report will reveal whether the action taken by the Office of Telecommunications (OFTEL) was regarded by the Commission as sufficiently timely and effective.

  15.12  We now clear this document.



5213/01 COM(00) 855


Commission Report to the Council and the European Parliament on the quality strategy for olive oil.


Draft Council Regulation amending Regulations No. 136/66/EEC and (EC) No. 1638/98 as regards the extension of the period of validity of the aid scheme and the quality strategy for olive oil.

Legal base: (a) None

(b) Article 37 EC; consultation; qualified majority voting

Documents originated: 21 December 2000
Forwarded to the Council: 11 January 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 23 January 2001
Department: Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
Basis of consideration: EM of 19 January 2001
Previous consideration: None; but see (19029) 7072/98: HC 155-xxvi (1997-98), paragraph 17 (29 April 1998)
To be discussed in Council: 24-25 April 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared, but relevant to the debate recommended on the Court of Auditors' Special Report No. 11/2000.[36]


  16.1  The olive oil regime was established in 1966, and was thus one of the first to be set up under the Common Agriculture Policy. Over the years, its main elements have comprised:

  • production target and intervention prices;

  • a production aid, representing the difference between the target price and a representative market price, payable on the quantity of oil produced;

  • a separate scheme for small producers, whose aid was related not to production quantity, but to the number and production potential of their trees;

  • a consumption aid payable to those bottling olive oil for retail sale (and designed to make it more competitive with cheaper vegetable oils);

  • private storage aid; and

  • a system of export refunds.

  16.2  At the time of its introduction, the regime took account of the near self-sufficiency which existed at that time in the Community of six. However, following the accession of Greece, Spain and Portugal, the Community became a net exporter, and the increased production potential in those countries arising from Community support prices led to concerns about over-supply, particularly in view of the limits that had in the meantime been imposed by the GATT settlement on the Community's level of subsidised exports. In addition, there were continuing concerns over the regime's potential for fraud.

  16.3  As a result, the Commission produced in 1997 a lengthy report,[37] analysing the economic, cultural, social and environmental aspects of the regime and setting out two broad options for longer-term reform — a continuation of the existing arrangements, but with certain amendments, or the so-called tree aid option (involving a production aid system based on aid per tree). However, because the Commission considered it needed better estimates of actual production before making any proposal for a full reform of the regime, it put forward in March 1998 a proposal[38] for an interim reform for the three marketing years 1998/99-2000/01. This involved production aid being restricted to trees existing on 1 May 1998; the abolition of consumption aid and separate support arrangements for small producers; and the replacement of intervention by an enhanced system of private storage aid. In addition, the existing cultivation register was to be integrated into a more efficient geographical information system (GIS). These changes were agreed by the Council,[39] and came into effect on 1 November 1998. It was also agreed that a decision should be taken in 2000 on the market organisation to apply with effect from 2001-02.

The current documents

  16.4  The Commission has now put forward two documents relevant to the reforms adopted in 1998. The most important of these (document (b)) addresses the support arrangements as from 2001-02. However, the Commission says that, although the measures taken so far have in certain respects improved the situation, it is still not possible to make a fully informed choice between a continuation of the present system and one based on aid per tree. In particular, it points out that the former approach requires checks on actual production which are not yet satisfactory throughout the Community, whilst the latter requires precise information, which is not yet available, of the trees and surface areas belonging to each grower. In this connection, it stresses that, whichever system is chosen, the introduction of a GIS will be a key factor.

  16.5  In view of these difficulties, the Commission is proposing that the current arrangements should be extended for a further two years, and that the Council should decide in 2002 on the market organisation to apply as from 2003-04. However, it is also proposing that, without prejudice to the actual aid scheme chosen then, the Council should at this stage specify that the scheme will be controlled by means of an olive cultivation GIS that is fully operational. Thus, with effect from 1 November 2003, aid would be granted only for olive trees or olive oil from groves covered by an olive cultivation GIS certified as having been completed.

  16.6  Document (a) is a lengthy and extremely detailed Report on the quality aspects of olive oil, which rely heavily on its distinctive nutritional and organoleptic properties. The Report concludes that the current compulsory classification of olive oil no longer corresponds to the realities of the market situation, and can thus mislead the consumer and create confusion; that the labelling rules are often insufficiently precise, and include claims which are often both misleading and difficult to verify; that fraud control is a recurrent problem; and that the organisation of quality improvement, traceability and certification needs to be better co-ordinated at the production, processing and blending stages.

  16.7  The Commission concludes that these shortcomings need to be tackled by a concerted approach over several years through a quality strategy involving producers, traders and industry, and the adoption of appropriate rules by the Council and the Commission. It has therefore proposed that, in extending the existing support arrangements for olive oil by a further two years, document (b) should also amend in two respects the quality provisions of the basic Regulation. First, the current classification system would be amended and simplified. Secondly, as from 1 November 2003, Member States producing olive oil would be able to withhold a proportion of the Community aid payable to producers, in order to finance programmes drawn up by producer organisations covering such areas as improved product quality and certification. The amended Council Regulation would also permit the Commission to make detailed rules dealing with other areas such as labelling.

The Government's view

  16.8  In her Explanatory Memorandum of 19 January 2001, the Minister of State (Commons) at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (the Rt. Hon. Joyce Quin) says that the UK's interest in the olive oil regime is principally budgetary, and that the Government strongly supports further reform to reduce the cost and complexity of the regime and opportunities for fraud. However, she considers that the Commission "makes a good case" for postponing decisions on further reform until the olive cultivation GIS is operational and there has been greater experience of the effects of the 1998 interim reforms. The Government can therefore support the proposal that those interim measures should be extended for a further two years, and it welcomes the proposal that, as from 1 November 2003, production aid should be paid only on olive trees covered by the olive cultivation GIS or on olive oil produced from such trees.

  16.9  The Minister says that the Government also welcomes the report on the quality strategy, and considers that the proposals in it would contribute to better protection of the consumer. She adds that some of the proposed changes to the descriptions and definitions will have some direct implications for the UK, and that her Department will consult interested parties on these. However, as there is no olive oil production in the UK, and the cost implications to the "very small" UK olive oil bottling industry are thought to be negligible, she does not believe that a Regulatory Impact Assessment is required.


  16.10  It is disappointing — if not entirely surprising —that the Commission has not been able, as it originally intended, to make a choice at this stage between the two basic options it identified in 1998. Nevertheless, we welcome the proposal that a decision should be taken now to confine aid from 1 November 2003 to production covered by an olive cultivation Geographical Information System, and we hope that this timetable does not slip as well. Similarly, we welcome the measures proposed to improve the current quality standards.

  16.11  Of the issues covered by these two documents, those dealing with the support arrangements for what remains an expensive commodity regime are clearly the more important. However, whilst we think it right to draw these to the attention of the House, we would not regard them as warranting a stand-alone debate. They are nonetheless relevant to the issues raised in the Court of Auditors' Special Report No. 11/2000, which we recommended for debate in our Report of 1 November 2000.




COM(00) 759

Draft Directive on a transparent system of harmonised rules for restrictions on heavy goods vehicles involved in international transport on designated roads
Legal base: Article 71(1) EC, co-decision, qualified majority voting
Document originated: 22 November 2000
Forwarded to the Council: 6 December 2000
Deposited in Parliament: 17 January 2001
Department: Environment, Transport and the Regions
Basis of consideration: EM of 24 January 2001
Previous Committee Report: None; but see (19177) 7112/98 : HC 155-xxxii (1997-98), paragraph 11 (1 July 1998)
To be discussed in Council: April 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared


  17.1  Seven of the fifteen EU Member States (but not the UK) ban heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) passing through their territories for part of the weekend and during public holidays. However the scope and timing of the ban and the range of vehicles covered are not uniform. For long-haul international journeys, the cumulative effects of restrictions can add significantly to time and hence to cost. The Commission has estimated that the economic cost of current bans in the EU is of the order of 3 billion euros per year.

  17.2  In July 1998, we reported on a Commission proposal to harmonise the periods during which lorry bans would be permitted.[40] That proposal did not make progress because of strong opposition from a number of Member States.

The document

  17.3  The Commission has now published a revised proposal which extends the hours during which bans may be imposed and permits existing bans to continue, even if they are outside these hours. Under the modified proposal, Member States could ban lorry traffic between 10 pm on Saturdays (7 am in summer) and 10 pm on Sundays, and on public holidays from 10 pm the day before to 10 pm. These provisions would apply to international lorry traffic travelling on the Trans-European Road Network only. Member States could still impose bans on international lorry traffic on other roads and on national traffic on any roads.

The Government's view

  17.4  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 24 January 2001, the Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald) says that the Government supports the principle of harmonised lorry bans because uncoordinated bans across the Community make it difficult for UK international hauliers to plan journeys properly, journeys are longer and costs higher. Although the Commission's revised proposals are less helpful to the UK than the earlier ones (because the hours during which bans could be applied are longer and existing national bans will be allowed to remain in place) the Minister regards the proposal as a first step in establishing Community competence in this area. On that basis the Government supports it. It will have no domestic impact as the UK does not apply any national driving restrictions on HGVs at present. The Freight Transport Association and the Road Haulage Association both support the proposal.


  17.5  As the Minister says, little harmonisation will be achieved in practice by this proposal. But it may provide a basis for further harmonisation in future. It would be the first time the Community has legislated in this area, though the legal basis for the exercise of Community competence is clear and it would not prevent the United Kingdom from deciding, if it wished, to legislate to control lorry movements other than those relating to heavy goods vehicles travelling on the Trans-European Road Network. In theory, adoption of the directive would lead to the United Kingdom losing some freedom in terms of any bilateral agreements it might reach with a third country about road haulage in the United Kingdom, to the extent that any such bilateral agreement would have to be consistent with the Community legislation. However, the benefits to the United Kingdom international haulage industry flowing from the proposed Community legislation seem to outweigh any possible disadvantage in terms of loss of the United Kingdom's external competence in this area. We are content to clear the proposal.







COM(00) 783

Commission Staff Working Paper: Progress on eEurope Actions.

Commission Communication: The eEurope 2002 Update.

Legal base:
Document originated: (a) and (b) 29 November 2000
Forwarded to the Council: (a) and (b) 29 November 2000
Deposited in Parliament: (a) 19 January 2001

(b) 4 January 2001

Department: Trade and Industry
Basis of consideration: EM of 24 January 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
Discussed in Council: 30 November and 7-8 December 2000
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared


  18.1  The eEurope initiative was launched in December 1999, with three key objectives:

"—  bringing all Europeans into the digital age and online;

"—  creating a digitally literate Europe, supported by an entrepreneurial culture; and

"—  ensuring the process is socially inclusive and builds consumer trust".

Document (a): The eEurope 2002 Update

  18.2  This short paper provides an overview of progress made at Community level and identifies issues which remain to be addressed. It is divided into four main sections.

An overview of main developments

  18.3  The Commission comments on the impact of eEurope on policy, strengthening existing initiatives and fostering new ones. It welcomes the readiness in the private sector to devote resources to support eEurope in areas such as education, eGovernment and smart cards. The effects of the initiative have begun to be felt well beyond the public sector, with many private initiatives drawing inspiration from it. Furthermore, it has led to countries beyond the EU, such as Norway, developing similar programmes.

  18.4  Other developments have included increased awareness of the need to speed up new legislation in areas governed by new technology. The new telecoms package, the speed with which the eCommerce Directive was adopted and the adoption of the Dual Use Regulation are quoted as examples of eEurope acting as "a bridge between the detailed process of drawing up and agreeing legislation and the broader policy context".

  18.5  Specific initiatives where eEurope has shown positive results include smart cards, eContent, education, research networks, regional funds and the launch of the .eu top level domain. These are cited as examples of key areas where policy and programme-level activities have worked in parallel.


  18.6  The objectives of benchmarking eEurope are:

  • to enable Member States to compare their performance;

  • to identify best practice;

  • to provide insight into the factors of importance for widespread diffusion of digital technologies; and

  • to enable remedial action to be taken.

There will be both quantitative and qualitative benchmarks and a tentative list of eEurope indicators will be developed in the coming months, the Commission says.

Issues to be addressed

  18.7  The Commission acknowledges that, although much progress has been made, there is still further work to be done, in particular in the following areas:

  • the linking of benchmarks and best practice to policy implementation. The Commission points to the need to define the term "open method of co-ordination";

  • information systems security. More extensive co-ordination between Member States is needed. The Commission expected to adopt a Communication on cybercrime and cybersecurity shortly;

  • exploiting the full potential of digital technologies to generate productivity gains in transport, education and health. Fragmented markets, difficulties facing private investors in accessing publicly-owned infrastructure and weak market incentives are cited as key difficulties;

  • establishing a favourable environment for eCommerce in the Union. This is specifically aimed at creating a situation where SMEs consider the EU as their domestic market for eCommerce; and

  • utilising the potential of the new economy to the benefit of the enlargement countries (eEurope+) and to support growth in developing countries. The accession countries agreed in May 2000 to develop plans to mirror the eEurope Action Plan. Now further work is needed to make "eEurope+" a reality. The G8 have established a Digital Opportunities Task Force (dot force), to make "recommendations on global action to bridge the international information and knowledge divide". These recommendations will be discussed at the next G8 summit in Genoa later in 2001.

Next Steps

  18.8  The Commission concludes by noting that some of the targets in eEurope for completion by the end of 2002 are ambitious. It calls for more transparency and co-ordination through the benchmarking exercise in order to reach those objectives. The eEurope website will be built up over the coming months. To ensure full transparency and awareness, it will feature extensive links to related national initiatives.

  18.9  Finally the Commission remarks that continued support from the highest level is required to make eEurope a success. The Stockholm European Council in March will provide an opportunity to take full stock of progress in the year since the Lisbon European Council. It calls for the forthcoming Belgian, Spanish and Danish Presidencies to ensure that the eEurope Action Plan is put into effect.

Document (b): Progress on eEurope Actions

  18.10  This Staff Working Paper consists of detailed tables which list, individually, the actions allocated to the European institutions, showing work completed, work in hand and further work to be done. It complements the Communication at document (a).

  18.11  The Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce at the Department of Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt) comments in her Explanatory Memorandum that, as this Commission Staff Working Paper was only received on 17 January 2001, it has not yet been fully analysed by the experts around Whitehall who deal with the individual eEurope dossiers. A preliminary study of the document, the Minister says, does not show any new actions to be taken by the Commission. All the programmes, legislative measures and other initiatives can be expected to come forward for parliamentary scrutiny in the normal way, as they develop.

The Government's view

  18.12  The Minister says that, at the 30 November Internal Market Council and at the Nice Summit, the Government welcomed the progress reported in the Commission update, as well as the plans to address the co-ordination or acceleration of the horizontal issues listed. She says that the Government believes that the report serves its priority objective of keeping the implementation of the eEurope Action Plan on track to deliver an inclusive information society by the end of 2002.


  18.13  The Feira European Council requested that a report on progress be presented to the Nice European Council. The European Union has laid emphasis on the need to keep up the pressure through this initiative not only to create a knowledge-based and inclusive society, but also to prevent the European Union from losing more ground to the United States in an important and growing area of economic activity.

  18.14  We report on these documents, which we now clear, because of the significance placed by the Member States on the role of the eEurope Action Plan in achieving these important objectives.




Draft Council Decision on making certain categories of Council document available to the public.
Legal base: Article 207(3)EC; simple majority
Deposited in Parliament: 1 February 2001
Department: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of consideration: EM of 2 February 2001
Previous Committee Report: None; but see (21494) — : HC 23-xxvii (1999-2000), paragraph 7 (25 October 2000)
To be discussed in Council: 12 February 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared


  19.1  The European Commission and the Council have been applying a Code of Conduct on public access to documents since their approval of the Code in 1993. The Code of Conduct was formally adopted in Council Decision 93/731/EC on public access to Council documents.[41]

  19.2  By virtue of Article 255(2) EC Treaty, the Council is required to adopt, by co-decision, 'general principles and limits on grounds of public or private interest' governing the right of access to documents, and to do so within two years of the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam.[42] We considered a draft Council Regulation providing for such general principles and limits at our meeting on 25 October 2000,[43] but have not cleared the document. The present proposal is separate from the proposed Regulation, and from the Rules of Procedure which will give effect to that Regulation and replace the present proposed Decision.

The draft Decision

  19.3  In his Explanatory Memorandum, the Minister for Europe at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Keith Vaz) describes the draft Decision as being brought forward within the present regime for access to Council documents provided by Council Decision 93/73/EC and as providing for a broad range of Council documents (such as Council agendas, minutes and texts preparing legislation) to be freely available to the public. The Minister indicates that, in part, the draft Decision simply reflects current practice but that it is nevertheless useful presentationally and legally to have these categories of document set out in a Decision. The Minister further points out that this will assist the Council Secretariat in dealing with an increased workload arising from applications for documents. (The number of applications has increased by 69% since 1999).

  19.4  The Minister describes the detailed provisions of the Decision as follows:

"The draft Decision applies only to unclassified documents. In addition, a Member State may specify that a document authored by it and otherwise covered by the draft Decision shall not be made available.

"The draft Decision states that the Secretariat will make the following categories of documents available to the public (e.g. put them on the Internet):

"—  documents from third parties, which have already been made public;

"—  provisional Council agendas;

"—  any final Council or COREPER text due to appear in the Official Journal (OJ); and

"—  approved Council minutes.

"The Secretariat may make available:

"—  provisional agendas of committees and working parties; and

"—  information notes, reports, progress reports and reports of discussions in the Council or its preparatory bodies.

"This latter category of document will only be released if the documents concerned do not reflect Member State's individual positions, are not Council Legal Service opinions or contributions, and are not covered by the existing exceptions in Article 4 of Council Decision 93/731.

"The following categories of legislative document will be made available once they have been circulated to Member States:

"—  cover notes and copies of letters to the Council concerning legislative acts from members of the Council or other bodies or institutions of the EU;

"—  'I/A' and 'A' point[44] notes, and the legislative documents they refer to;

"—  Decisions adopted by the Council during the Article 251 procedure and Conciliation Committee joint texts; and

"—  final texts, once revised by the jurists linguists and due to appear in the OJ.

"These categories of document will only be released if they are not covered by any of the exceptions in Article 4 of Council Decision 93/731, and are not Council Legal Service opinions or contributions.

"All other categories of documents will only be made available to a member of the public when they apply to the Council for access. The release of such a document will then be subject to the rules set out in Council Decision 93/731."

The Government's views

  19.5  The Minister comments as follows;

"HMG supports efforts to promote openness and increase public access to documents. We therefore support this Decision as a useful step forward."


  19.6  This is a modest, but nevertheless useful, measure which largely codifies existing practice under Council Decision 93/731/EC. We note that it will be replaced once the new Regulation on access to documents is adopted under Article 255(2) EC. Given the temporary and declaratory nature of this measure, we see little reason to withhold clearance and we clear it accordingly.

24  OJ No. L 117, 8.5.90, p.15. Back

25  (18909) 6378/98; HC 155-xxvi (1997-98), paragraph 5 (29 April 1998) and HC 34-iii (1998-99), paragraph 1 (9 December 1998). Back

26  Official Report, European Standing Committee A, 24 March 1999. Back

27  (20036) 7138/99; HC 34-xix (1998-99), paragraph 6 (12 May 1999), HC 34-xxiii (1998-99), paragraph 6 (23 June 1999) and HC 34-xxvii (1998-99), paragraph 9 (21 July 1999). Back

28  (21012) 6230/00; HC 23-xiii (1999-2000), paragraph 1 (5 April 2000). See also Official Report, European Standing Committee A, 14 June 2000. Back

29  Paragraph 1 above. Back

30  The Structural Funds now consist of three Objectives: Objective 1 - promoting the development and structural adjustments of regions whose development is lagging behind; Objective 2 - supporting the economic and social conversion of areas facing structural difficulties; Objective 3 - supporting the adaption and modernisations of policies and systems of education, training and employment. In general, the EU provides up to 50% of the funding under Objectives 2 and 3 and up to 75% under Objective 1. Back

31  Special Report No. 6/99 concerning the principle of additionality, OJ No. C 68, 9.3.00, p.1. Back

32  (20657) 12838/99; see HC 23-i (1999-2000), paragraph 7 (24 November 1999) and HC 23-vii (1999-2000), paragraph 2 (2 February 2000). Back

33  Official Report, European Standing Committee C, 16 February 2000. Back

34  (20666) 12839/99; see HC 23-i (1999-2000), paragraph 8 (24 November 1999) and HC 23-vii (1999-2000), paragraph 2 (2 February 2000). Back

35  The local loop is the line which connects the customer to the local exchange.


36  (21394) 9431/00; see HC 23-xxviii (1999-2000), paragraph 1 (1 November 2000). Back

37  (17906) 6069/97; see HC 36-xvi (1996-97), paragraph 5 (5 March 1997) and HC 36-xviii (1996-97), paragraph 15 (19 March 1997). Back

38  (19029) 7072/98; see headnote to this paragraph. Back

39  Council Regulation (EC) No. 1638/98: OJ No. L 210, 28.7.98, p.32. Back

40  (19177) 7112/98; see headnote to this paragraph. Back

41  OJ No. L 340, 31.12.1993 p.43, as amended by Council Decision 97/705/ Euratom, ECSC, EC of 6 December 1996, OJ No. L 325, 14.12.1996, p.19. Back

42  That is, by 1 May 2001. Back

43  See (20968) 5817/00; HC 23-xxvii (1999-2000), paragraph 7 (25 October 2000). Back

44  i.e. items which are submitted for agreement without substantive discussion. Back

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