Select Committee on European Communities Report


C. LEGAL AND PROCEDURAL ISSUES


62.  EC ACCESSION TO COUNCIL OF EUROPE CONVENTION 108 ON DATA PROTECTION

Letter from Lord Williams of Mostyn, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  I am writing to let you know about a negotiating mandate agreed at the Agriculture Council meeting on 22 July.

  The Council decided to authorise the Commission to open negotiations with the competent bodies of the Council of Europe with the aim of enabling the European Communities to accede, as far as their competence is concerned, to the Council of Europe Convention for the protection of individuals with regard to automatic processing of personal data (Convention 108). All EU member states, including the United Kingdom, have ratified the Convention. Following the adoption on 24 October 1995 of the EC Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC), the Council believe that it is now appropriate for the EU itself to accede to the Convention. The main practical effect of accession would be that the EU would be represented in its own right by the Commission in the relevant Committee in Strasbourg.

  There is no indication at present of the timescale for the negotiations. We shall ensure that your Committee is consulted in the usual way, as soon as the negotiations are completed, and before any accession decision is reached by the EU Council.

15 October 1997

Letter from George Howarth MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  On 15 October last year, Gareth Williams wrote to inform you about the opening of negotiations between the European Commission and the Council of Europe with a view to the European Communities acceding to the Council of Europe Convention on Data Protection (Convention 108), as far as the EC's competence is concerned. He promised to consult your Committee when negotiations were completed and before any accession decision was reached by the EU Council.

  Over the last year, the European Commission and the EU Member States have been in negotiations with the relevant Council of Europe Committee (the Consultative Committee on Data Protection (TPD) set up under Convention 108). In the course of the negotiations agreement in principle has been reached on both the accession of the EC and the amendments to the Convention needed to give effect to it.

  The effect of the accession would be broadly as follows. The European Communities would be represented in their own right in the TPD. In discussion of matters within EC competence, the European Commission would represent the collective views of the EU. The line to take would be agreed in advance by the EU Member States. If there were to be a vote the Commission would exercise the vote of each of the Member States (ie 15 votes). In discussion of matters not within EC competence, each EU Member State would represent its own views and exercise a single vote. The amendments to the Convention are those needed to achieve this effect.

  I believe that the proposed amendments are satisfactory as far as the UK is concerned. I understand that the proposed amendments to the Convention will be put before the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers for their agreement on 15 December. Before then, the EU Council of Ministers will be seeking EU Member States' agreement. I intend to support the proposal.

  I should stress that, at this stage, agreement is being sought only to the amendments to the Convention. I expect the Commission to bring forward separately later a formal Recommendation for the European Communities to accede. I shall write to you again at that stage.

1 December 1998

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to George Howarth MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office

  Thank you for your letter informing the Committee of the latest position concerning the proposed accession of the European Communities to the Council of Europe Convention on Data Protection.

  You say that you would in due course let us have details of the formal Recommendation of the European Communities to accede. In the meantime, it would be helpful if you could clarify the position of the United Kingdom as regards the Convention after the Amsterdam Treaty has entered into force. At that time the Community will extend its competence, in particular in relation to the matters falling within the new Title IV (Visas, asylum, immigration and other policies related to free movement of persons). A substantial body of the Schengen acquis will also be transferred into the First Pillar.

  As you know, the United Kingdom has, by virtue of two Protocols, a special position as regards measures to be adopted under the new Title IV and the integration of the Schengen acquis. I would therefore be grateful if you could clarify the relationship, if any, between the subject matter of the Convention and those of the new Title IV and any part of the Schengen acquis assigned to the First Pillar. Can you confirm that accession to the Convention in the terms now proposed would not extend the competence of the Communities to the prejudice of the United Kingddom? In particular, after the entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty, would the United Kingdom be able, if it chose to do so, to speak and vote independently of the Community on matters in respect of which it retained an "opt-out" under the Protocols to the Amsterdam Treaty?

16 December 1998

Letter from George Howarth MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 16 December.

  You ask whether the proposed amendments to the Convention deal satisfactorily with the position as it will be when the Amsterdam Treaty is in force. We have looked again at the amendments in the light of your questions. We believe that they are, indeed, deficient as regards the provision they make for voting arrangements post-Amsterdam. We have drawn the attention of the European Commission to this point, with which I understand they broadly agree. The adoption of the amendment has, therefore, been suspended for the time being. It will be necessary to prepare an alternative text. I will write to you again when this is available.

  I am very grateful to you for raising this important point.

19 January 1999

Letter from George Howarth MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  I wrote to you on 19 January about the deficiency in the text of the proposed amendments to the Convention to which you drew my attention in your letter of 16 December. I promised to write to you again when a revised text dealing with the problem which you had identified was available.

  Further work on the text has now been done in Brussels. The relevant paragraph of the proposed set of amendments would now read as follows:

    "Every party has a right to vote. Each State which is a party to the Convention shall have one vote. Concerning questions within their competence, the European Communities exercise their right to vote and cast a number of votes equal to the number of Member States that are parties to the Convention and have transferred their competences to the European Communities in the field concerned. In this case, those Member States of the Communities do not vote, and the other Member States may vote. The European Communities do not vote when a question which does not fall within their competence is concerned."

  We believe that this revised text deals satisfactorily with the situation as it will be once the Amsterdam Treaty is in force. The other Member States (including Denmark and Ireland to whom special arrangements under the Amsterdam Treaty also apply) and the European Commission share this view.

  The next stage is for the European Commission to check with the relevant authorities in the Council of Europe that they are content with the revised text. They will then seek the Council of Ministers' formal endorsement of the proposal. As I mentioned in my letter of 1 December, at that stage I intend formally to support the proposed amendments including this revised text.

22 March 1999


 
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