Examination of witnesses (Questions 140-148)|
WEDNESDAY 2 MAY 2001
MP, MISS MELANIE
JOHNSON MP, MR
140. Can I come back to the subject that the
Chairman and I were discussing at the beginning of the session.
The European Commission has proposed creating a subgroup of the
Economic and Financial Committee to aid the Eurogroup. What is
the UK Government's view on this proposal?
(Mr Rogers) If I may just answer that. We have clearly
no problems with that providing that on all issues which concern
us, and in the preparation of Ecofin and indeed of Eurogroup,
the meeting is at 15 which it is.
141. Can I just check what you are saying there.
If there is a group set up, under the auspices of the Economic
and Financial Committee, to aid the Eurogroup, that is the 12
not the 15?
(Mr Rogers) Yes. It will be at 15.
142. I beg your pardon?
(Mr Rogers) It will be at 15 at preparatory level,
so British officials will be present.
143. But the Eurogroup is 12 Member States who
have the euro as a currency.
(Mr Rogers) Yes.
144. As I understand it, the Commission's proposal
is to set up a group that will support and aid meetings of the
Eurogroup to which the UK is not a member. That is the proposal.
(Mr Rogers) Yes, but, as I recall, there is no clarity
in that proposal which in various respects has met with a fairly
dusty answer from several Member States. There is no clarity as
to the composition of that committee but what is very clear is
that there is every disposition on the part of all Member States
that all preparations, including for Eurogroup, should remain
at 15 as they are at the moment. All preparations of all Ecofin
and Eurogroup discussions remain at 15 and we are present throughout.
145. So if that proposal went forward there
would be a sub-group of the Economic and Financial Committee which
would have input from all 15 Member States for documents servicing
a group called the Eurogroup which only represents 12 Member States.
Is that what you are saying?
(Mr Rogers) I do not think there is tremendous clarity
on the extent to which the current arrangements, which are extremely
informal There are very few documents, there are no minutes
of Eurogroups from which we are excluded in terms of seeing them.
This is a much more informal set-up than Ecofin, not least, as
Ministers have explained, all formal decisions are taken entirely
by the Council. If anything, there has been in our view, and in
the view of some members of Eurogroup I imagine, rather too scanty
preparation of Eurogroups and our general view is that sometimes
they would benefit from greater and more detailed preparation
and occasional detailed documentation. Not the sort of documentation
we have to prepare for Ecofins but, nevertheless, occasional short
texts. We are relaxed about that but only providing that all preparation
is done in the same composition at the EFC as it is currently
146. I think that was a yes. I think what you
are saying is that the UK is happy for a new sub-group to be set
up to provide better quality information for the Eurogroup. Is
that what you are saying?
(Mr Rogers) Yes. Clearly we want the Eurogroup to
function as well as it can in dealing with all matters that are
appropriate for the Eurogroup to deal with consistent with the
Luxembourg Agreement about what the division of labour between
the Eurogroup and Ecofin should be. So providing that Agreement
remains intact, which it does and no-one questions it, and there
is a clear distinction between those matters that are appropriate
for Eurogroup discussion and those that are appropriate for Ecofin
discussion, we have no objection, on the contrary, to the idea
of preparing Eurogroups better and making them a more effective
forum for dealing with the business that Eurogroups should transact.
(Miss Johnson) Those preparations and decisions are
being taken by the full 15.
(Mr Rogers) Exactly.
147. My concern on this is that the UK obviously
is not at the table when the Eurogroup is having its discussions
and, while I take the point that we want the Eurogroup to have
its discussions armed with the best quality of information, the
question is will that quality of information and will those discussions
consider the UK interests as well? Mr Rogers has said that there
will be UK input to those documents going to the Eurogroup, which
is reassuring to an extent, but the negative side of this surely
is that the Eurogroup is now becoming a more substantive group
with a bureaucracy of its own and, therefore, if it is getting
that role surely you are stepping up its influence, stepping up
its position, and the UK is excluded from that?
(Miss Johnson) I think I already answered this main
point earlier on. I will just go over it again. The fact is that
Ecofin has the central role in policy co-ordination and it maintains
that central role. We have been perfectly relaxed, and indeed
we are perfectly relaxed, to see that the Eurogroup themselves
have a better informal organisation and they have better visibility
and, in this case, more provision of information. Were there to
be anything that would in any way threaten Ecofin's status and
its lead in a decision making role, we would resist it. We do
not perceive that there is anything of this nature and indeed,
as I say, if you are involved in Ecofin meetings you feel very
much that we are at the heart of things and a key player in Europe.
148. There is now this Eurogroup discussing
economic policy in Europe, maybe issues which are not formally
required to be discussed at Ecofin. Now with the groups of officials
meeting potentially on a more formal basis to provide support
we suggest a more formal role for the Eurogroup and the UK again
is outside that. I am surprised you are not more worried.
(Miss Johnson) The role of the group is set out vis
à vis Ecofin's role. The inter-relationship of the
two is not going to change. There are no proposals for change.
Indeed, you are speculating about what might be the case to try
and make the suggestion that there is some kind of problem here.
We are confident that what is being discussed in the Eurogroup
is what is appropriate for the Eurogroup to discuss and indeed,
as I said, we welcome that. We think that the higher visibility
and the well functioning of that group is useful and all matters
that do relate to Ecofin are coming to the actual Council meetings.
I cannot really add anything to it, I think we are going round
the same circuit otherwise.
Mr Davey: Thank you.
Chairman: Thank you both very much.