48. PROPOSAL TO ENABLE THE COUNCIL
TO DECIDE BY QUALIFIED MAJORITY ON THE PRINCIPLES, PRIORITIES
AND GENERAL CONDITIONS OF THE ACCESSION PARTNERSHIPS (13655/97)
Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of
the Committee, to Doug Henderson MP, Minister for Europe Foreign
and Commonwealth Office
Thank you for the explanatory memorandum relating
to the proposed Council Regulation on assistance to the applicant
countries in central and eastern Europe in the framework of the
pre-accession strategy. There are three points arising out of
your explanatory memorandum which I would like to raise.
As you say in your explanatory memorandum, the
proposed legal base of the Regulation is, as far as the European
Community is concerned, Article 235. Unanimity is therefore required.
But, as you go on to explain, Article 2 of the draft Regulation
provides that the "principles, priorities and general conditions"
governing each Accession Partnership will be the subject of a
decision of the Council acting by qualified majority. The Committee
would be grateful for the Government's view on the extent to which
it is permissable under Article 235 for the Council to delegate
to itself the ability to adopt, by QM voting, measures which are
so substantial. Article 2 is an interesting constitutional device
introduced, we can imagine, to avoid practical difficulties in
reaching consensus on the terms of particular Accession Partnerships.
But were this approach to be adopted more widely it would have
the effect of enabling the Council, by an initial unanimous measure,
to give itself power to act in the future by QM. Normally the
movement of a measure from unanimity to QM voting is done by Treaty
and therefore requires national Parliamentary authority.
The second question relates to the practical
effect of the proposed Regulation as regards the scrutiny process.
Your explanatory memorandum does not make clear whether the Government
intends to furnish for scrutiny the relevant decisions providing
the detail (the principles, priorities and general conditions)
of individual Accession Partnerships. The Committee would be grateful
for your assurance that the practical effect of Article 2 of the
proposed Regulation would not be to bypass the scrutiny process
as regards the substance of the Accession Partnerships.
Finally, I must raise with you the question
of the delay in furnishing the draft Regulation for scrutiny.
Your explanatory memorandum is dated 31 December 1997 but we did
not receive it (and then only after enquiries from officials here)
until very recently. It would be helpful if the Committee could
have your comments on this and the two matters raised above.
11 February 1998
Letter from Doug Henderson MP, Minister
for Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to Lord Tordoff,
Chairman of the Committee
Thank you for your letter of 11 February about
the proposed Regulation on assistance to the Central European
applicants for EU membership.
The Luxembourg European Council agreed to create
Accession Partnerships within the enhanced pre-accession strategy.
Member States also agreed that the Council would decide unanimously
on the establishment of the Accession Partnerships as the key
element of the pre-accession strategy, and would then decide by
a qualified majority on the principles, priorities, intermediate
objectives and conditions of each individual Partnership. The
proposed Regulation (13655/97) merely implements the Conclusions
of the Luxembourg European Council which decided that the Council
should approve by QMV the principles, priorities, intermediate
objectives and general conditions of the Accession Partnerships.
You ask about the use of Article 235 as the
legal base. The Council Legal Service, and our own lawyers, see
no legal impediment to establishing a QMV procedure under a Regulation
adopted by unanimity. We also have an interest in ensuring that
no single Member State can block proposals to refocus our assistance
on the Central Europeans' preparations for accession. But I can
assure you there are no plans to develop a common practice of
using a unanimous measure to allow future Council action by QMV.
You ask whether Article 2 of the Regulation
will have the practical effect of by-passing Scrutiny. It will
not. In order to be helpful to the Committee, I enclose with this
letter an explanatory memorandum on these draft Council Decisions
approving the principles, priorities and general conditions, and
unofficial versions of the texts. You are aware of the timing
constraints imposed by the Luxembourg Conclusions. Naturally,
I hope that the UK as Presidency will be in a position to ensure
that these documents are approved in time for the Accession Partnerships
to be agreed by the deadline of 15 March. I therefore hope that
it will be possible for your Committee, and the House of Commons
European Legislation Committee to clear the texts to permit this.
Finally, I understand that there was some confusion
over the despatch of the explanatory memorandum after I signed
it. This was the result of a slip in internal procedures here,
owing to staff absences over the holiday period. I regret this,
and apologise for the inconvenience it has caused your Committee.
I should add that the confusion was prolonged by discussions between
your officials and mine, initiated by mine, which suggested that
the document had in fact cleared scrutiny in mid-January. As a
result, I am afraid that the omission came to light only in early
February. We have now taken steps to close this loophole.
25 February 1998