Select Committee on European Communities 31st Report



SUMMARY OF ISSUES ADDRESSED IN THE REPORT

The Schengen acquis is a large and detailed body of rules which make it easier for people to move freely within the Schengen area. This report deals with the process of bringing the acquis into the EU framework. We have considered three main questions:

    (i) whether the acquis is accessible: is there ready access to the documents forming the acquis? Are these documents easy to understand and interpret?

    (ii) whether the process of incorporation ensures legal certainty: are individuals and Governments able to identify the source of their rights and obligations?

    (iii) what might be the implications for the United Kingdom: will the UK's opt-out impair existing co-operation with EU partners? Is the opt-out sustainable? Are there Schengen areas in which the United Kingdom might wish to participate?

In considering these questions, our guiding principles have been openness and transparency, and the need for legal certainty.

OPENNESS AND TRANSPARENCY

The Government have done their best to make the acquis available to us. Arrangements to bring the acquis into the EU were agreed a year ago. Yet a definitive version of the acquis still does not exist (paragraphs 100 and 109). It is possible that the acquis may be brought into force before a definitive list has been published. Moreover, the density and complexity of the documents so far disclosed severely hamper the ability of national Parliaments to ensure effective scrutiny before the Amsterdam Treaty (and with it, the acquis) enters into force. (paragraph 101)

LEGAL CERTAINTY

It is still unclear how much of the acquis will be incorporated into the existing EU structures (paragraph 136). Acquis provisions will be split between the revised First and Third Pillars of the EU Treaties. There are different decision-making procedures, institutional and judicial arrangements for each Pillar. Even if the United Kingdom does not opt in, there will be an effect on British citizens travelling to other EU countries (paragraph 151). How will they ascertain their rights or obtain legal redress where appropriate? (paragraphs 89-92, 142)

UNTANGLING THE ACQUIS

Little time remains for untangling the acquis. This Committee does not yet have a clear picture of what is in the acquis, or what it will mean. Nor are we convinced that the Government has really come to grips with this issue (paragraph 112). For the benefit of Parliament, the Government and all European citizens, there is now a need for a clear and concise explanation of the content of the acquis and its likely implications. (paragraphs 100-101, 168)

We hope that this Report will set the ball rolling.


 
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