Select Committee on European Communities Seventeenth Report


54.  DELEGATION OF POWER TO THE COMMISSION: REFORMING COMITOLOGY (3RD REPORT, SESSION 1998-99)

Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

  1.  The Minister for Europe welcomes the Committee's Report on the delegation of powers to the Commission (Reforming Comitology). The Government agrees overwhelmingly with the Committee's conclusions and values the contribution which they make to the current negotiations on the Commission's proposal to reform comitology procedures.

  2.  The Government has the following detailed observations on the Report's conclusions and recommendations.

OBJECTIVES OF THE COMITOLOGY DECISION (PARAS 135-141)

  3.  The Government agrees with the three main objectives identified by the Committee. The key issue is the extent to which the European Parliament should be able to scrutinise the work of comitology committees. Beyond that, there is much scope for simplifying the present system and for making it more transparent.

  4.  The new Decision should lead to a more open and efficient system for implementing legislation, but as the Committee recognises, it must also reflect the institutional balance provided for in the Treaties.

A GREATER ROLE FOR THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT (PARAS 142-157)

  5.  The Government agrees with much of the Committee's analysis of the extent to which the European Parliament should be involved in scrutinising implementing legislation. In particular, we share the Committee's view in paragraph 145 that greater involvement on the part of the Parliament should be consistent with maintaining the institutional balance and "should not jeopardise speedy and effective law-making".

  Consequently, we welcome the Committee's recommendation that the way forward is to improve the position of the European Parliament in the scrutiny of comitology procedures rather than to give it a veto over implementing measures.

The regulatory committee procedure

  6.  The Government agrees that a regulatory procedure should be maintained. As the Committee notes, it is often the most appropriate way of dealing with subjects which are controversial or touch on sensitivities in one or more Member States.

  7.  We also welcome the Committee's view that the Commission's proposed changes to the regulatory procedure are not acceptable. The regulatory procedure often deals with matters which need to be resolved urgently, such as those concerned with animal health or food safety. Such cases could not be dealt with quickly enough if the Commission were required to drop any measure not accepted by a regulatory committee and were instead required to present a full legislative proposal.

  8.  We are, however, happy to consider other ways of meeting the EP's concerns and are grateful for the Committee's suggestion that a solution could be found by building on the modus vivendi. For example, in the event of the regulatory committee giving a negative or no opinion on a measure implementing a codecided basic act, the proposed measure should be referred to the Council for a decision, and the European Parliament should also be given a chance to comment on it. The exact details of such a procedure will need to be worked out in negotiation with other Member States, but the Government agrees with the principle stated by the Committee in paragraph 154 that the EP's role in this procedure should be to influence decision taking, rather than to exercise a veto.

Article 7

  9.  The Government notes the Committee's recommendation that the draft Decision should go further than it does on information to be provided to the European Parliament. We agree that there is scope for more information to be sent to the EP for scrutiny purposes (for example more details of the membership of committees). The Government has no objection to the EP's right to receive such information being explicitly included in the body of the Decision. We also agree that provision should be made for exceptions in urgent cases.

SIMPLIFICATION OF PROCEDURES (PARAS 158-171)

Criteria determining the choice of type committee (Article 2)

  10.  The Government reiterates its view that criteria to guide the choice of committee types could, in principle, be helpful. We share the Committee's view that such criteria should be non-binding, and are attracted by its conclusion that these criteria might be laid down in a political text, such as an interinstitutional agreement. However, we do not rule out the possibility that Article 2 could also be adapted to set out both non-binding and useful criteria.

  11.  Like the Committee, the Government is concerned about the exact wording of any criteria. We are currently negotiating detailed changes with partners.

Removal of the variants

  12.  The Government agrees with the Committee's analysis in paragraph 169. In principle, we are in favour of greater simplification, but the practicality of dropping certain of the procedures will depend on the nature of those retained. As the Committee notes, we are anxious about the Commission's proposed changes to the safeguard procedure. We welcome the Committee's support for our position.

GREATER TRANSPARENCY (PARAS 172-184)

  13.  The Government agrees wholeheartedly that there is a need for greater transparency in the comitology system. The present system does have a reputation for being "shrouded in mystery and secrecy". The Government is pushing hard in the Council for many of the recommendations which the Committee makes. We have already tabled language calling for a complete list to be published of comitology committees, their remits and membership. As the Committee notes, it would be for the Commission to compile this list and to keep it up to date. The list could be published in the Official Journal, but for ease of access it could also be put on the Internet. The rules of procedure for each committee should also be made public.

  14.  The Government does, however, believe that there is a distinction to be made between information made available to the European and national parliaments for scrutiny purposes and information intended to inform the general public. The former must be provided promptly to allow parliaments to present their views on a measure. The latter might better be presented retrospectively so as to avoid problems of commercial or market sensitivity.

Role of national parliaments

  15.  The Government welcomes the Committee's support for the suggestions in its recent White Paper on Westminster scrutiny of implementing measures. We agree that whether or not a proposal is "particularly significant" will be a question of political judgement and welcomes the Committee's ideas on how this judgement might be exercised. While it will not always be clear whether or not a proposed measure will need to go to the Council for a decision, the criteria suggested by the Committee in paragraphs 183 and 184 seem a good basis on which to work.


 
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