Scrutiny of the Draft Decisions
96. The Government has
promised to keep Parliament informed of the work being carried
out in the preparation for the incorporation of the Schengen acquis
into the framework of the European Union. It has made available
the draft Decisions defining the acquis and allocating
to its provisions legal bases in the EU Treaties. It has deposited
in the Libraries of the House the 1985 Schengen Agreement, the
1990 Implementing Convention, various Accession Agreements and
Protocols, the Co-operation Agreement between the Schengen States
and Iceland and Norway, and copies of all the decisions and declarations
of the Schengen Executive Committee and its subordinate body,
the Schengen Central Group, which are in its possession. Six documents
which are classified as "confidential" by the Schengen
States have not been made available. Some of the Executive Committee
documents are incomplete and a number of them are in French or
German. The Home Office is endeavouring to obtain English translations.
It will deposit these, along with documents issued since June
1997, once it has received them. We believe, on the basis of anecdotal
evidence only, that Governments in most other Member States have
not been so forthcoming with their Parliaments.
97. In its report, "Defining
the 'Schengen Acquis'", the Committee stated that
it hoped to have a sufficient opportunity to consider in detail
the acquis once it had been finalised, the distribution
of its provisions between the First and Third Pillars, and the
allocation of the legal base to each provision.
The two draft Decisions we have received are dense in content
and complexity. To those uninitiated in Schengen and struggling
to comprehend the new arrangements agreed at Amsterdam, they are
virtually unintelligible. Yet beneath the texts there are important
issues of individual liberty and political accountability which
the Committee fears may be obscured by the unhelpful presentation,
technical jargon and procedural complexity.
98. In their written answers
to our questions, the Home Office stated, "Answers are intended
to be self-explanatory but this is a subject where every answer
raises fresh questions". (p 9) This is also our experience.
It re-inforces the need for maximum disclosure and discussion
of the issues surrounding the incorporation of the Schengen acquis
before the irrevocable step - entry into force of the Amsterdam
Treaty - occurs.
99. In the Committee's
view, what is clear is that incorporation of the Schengen acquis
will significantly increase the scope for EU co-operation (with
or without the United Kingdom) on such matters as visa and border
policies, asylum and immigration, policing, and the exchange of
data. All these will impinge directly on the rights of individuals.
100. The Committee
commends the Government for their efforts in providing Parliament
with Schengen documents, and welcomes the opportunity to offer
preliminary comments on the draft Decisions. We regret, however,
the paucity of information accompanying the draft Decisions. In
particular, we are astonished that national ratification of the
Amsterdam Treaty will have been completed in most, if not all,
Member States before a definitive list of the Schengen acquis
has been established and made available to national Parliaments
in their own languages.
101. The Committee
considers the presentation of the draft Decisions and accompanying
Explanatory Memorandum inadequate. Columns of numbers listed without
descriptions or explanations are as unhelpful a way of providing
information as we can think of. In order to make any sense of
the draft Decisions as presented to Parliament it is necessary
to have open the Decisions themselves, the EC Treaty, the Treaty
on European Union, the Schengen Protocol and the Schengen Convention.
One way to help to close the democratic deficit is to provide
comprehensible information to Parliament, and the public. We encourage
the Government to follow up their commitment to provide information
by ensuring that that information is presented in a meaningful
and useful form. We strongly urge the Government to produce a
more accessible document which breaks down the elements of the
acquis and sets out in clear terms what, in their view,
incorporation into the EC Treaty or Treaty on European Union will
mean for future Government policy on such issues as asylum, immigration,
data protection and cross-border police co-operation.