Select Committee on European Communities Second Report


33.  COMMUNITY ACTION PROGRAMME TO PROMOTE THE INTEGRATION OF REFUGEES

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Barbara Roche, Minister of State, The Home Office

  Sub-Committee F considered the draft Council Decision Establishing a Community Action programme to Promote the Integration of Refugees at its meeting on 3 November.

  The Sub-Committee noted that the only substantive amendment to the draft Decision since it last looked at the matter in March is the proposed legal base. The purpose of the Action Programme has not changed and it would seem that the intended beneficiaries of the Programme remain the same, although your Explanatory Memorandum casts doubt on this.

  The draft Decision specifies a dual legal base comprising Articles 308 and 137(2) of the EC Treaty. Your preference is for a single legal base, Article 137(2). This provision allows the Council jointly with the European Parliament to "adopt measures designed to encourage co-operation between Member States through initiatives aimed at improving knowledge, developing exchanges of information and best practices, promoting innovative approaches and evaluating experiences in order to combat social exclusion". Such measures must, however, be consistent with the objectives of Community social policy as set out in Article 136. Article 136 is concerned primarily with employment and working conditions. The objectives of the proposed Community Action Programme would seem to extend well beyond the employment field. Indeed, your earlier Explanatory Memorandum of 9 February (submitted with the original draft Decision) gave some indication of the range of intended activities. Under the pilot phase of the programme, the UK has supported action in the following areas: employment and vocational training, language courses, housing and access to social amenities, dissemination of best practice and information, raising public awareness and support for NGO activities in the fields of information, policy development, training, and NGO capacity building at national and European level.

  The Commission's Explanatory Memorandum on the original draft Decision states that the integration of refugees requires specific measures which can "act as a bridge into mainstream actions designed to promote integration". Commenting on Article 5 of the draft Decision, the Commission emphasises that the proposed Community Programme "cannot contribute towards actions aimed at the integration of refugees into the labour market" (emphasis added). It believes such actions should be taken forward through the European Social Fund, Community Initiatives (under the Structural Funds) and other relevant measures launched by the Member States.

  It would seem from the foregoing that specific measures to take account of the special needs of refugees are intended to be in addition to general initiatives aimed at combating social exclusion. While some (employment-related) initiatives might fall within Article 137(2), the Sub-Committee doubts whether this Article provides a suitable or sufficient legal base for the wider-ranging measures proposed for the integration of refugees under the draft Decision. The Sub-Committee would therefore welcome a full explanation of the Government's grounds for believing that Article 137(2) alone provides an appropriate legal base, with particular reference to the objectives set out in Article 136.

  The Sub-Committee also notes that Article 137(3) specifically provides for the Council to agree by unanimity "conditions of employment for third country nationals legally residing in Community territory". This provision seems to define the scope for action in relation to non-EU third country nationals in the field of Community social policy in narrow terms. The Sub-Committee would welcome your views on the scope for adopting measures based on Article 137(2) in relation to third country nationals.

  The Sub-Committee looks forward to receiving your reply to the points raised above. In the meantime, the draft Decision remains under scrutiny.

4 November 1999

Letter from Barbara Roche, Minister of State, Home Office to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 4 November. With regard to your first point about Article 136 of the EC treaty, your letter explains that the Sub-Committee would welcome a full explanation of the Government's grounds for believing that Article 137(2) alone provides an appropriate legal base for this instrument, with particular reference to the objectives set out in Article 136.

  As your letter explains, Article 137(2) of the EC treaty allows the Council, in accordance with the procedure specified, to "adopt measures designed to encourage co-operation between Member States through initiatives aimed at improving knowledge, developing exchanges of information and best practices, promoting innovative approaches and evaluating experiences in order to combat social exclusion". The Sub-Committee point out, however, that such measures must be consistent with the objectives of Community social policy as set out in Article 136. It points out that Article 136 is concerned primarily with employment and working conditions; and notes the objectives of the present proposed programme extend beyond the employment field. The Sub-Committee also points to the United Kingdom having supported action under the previous programme not only in the areas of employment and vocational training but also in the fields of language courses, housing and access to social amenities.

  As the Sub-Committee rightly observes, Article 136 is not solely about employment and working conditions. It is also about "improved living and working conditions," "proper social protection" and "the development of human resources with a view to lasting high employment and the combating of exclusion".

  Indeed Article 136 expressly refers to the 1961 European Social Charter as something the Community and Member States must have in mind. That Charter deals with a number of matters going beyond employment and working conditions. For example the right of the family to social, legal and economic protection (Article 16) and the right of the mother and children to social and economic protection (Article 17) the right to social and medical assistance (Article 13). Paragraph 2 of the Appendix to the Social Charter provides for equal treatment of recognised refugees with nationals of contracting parties.

  Furthermore, the third paragraph of Article 137(2) is a new provision, added by Amsterdam, with a specific aim of combating social exclusion through the means it sets out. It is dealing with specific aspects of the field of application of article 136; and measures under it do not have to reflect all aspect of the coverage of article 136.

  You have also asked for the Government's views on how far the scope of Article 137(2) extends to third country nations. The Sub-Committee notes that Article 137(3) specifically provides the Council to agree by unanimity "conditions of employment for third-country nationals legally residing in Community territory". It concludes that this defines the scope for action in relation to non-EU third-country nationals in the field of Community social policy; and in narrow terms.

  This is not our reading of the text. Article 137(3) is concerned with those particular measures, taken under the Article, which require unanimity on a proposal from the Commission after consulting the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, instead of the other procedures provided for. It acknowledges, therefore, that third-country nations may be covered by measures under Article 137, but itself is simply concerned with those measures which require that particular procedure.

Accordingly, we consider article 137(2) is a sufficient base in itself for the limited nature of the measure proposed.

14 December 1999

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Barbara Roche MP, Minister of State, Home Office.

  Thank you for your letter of 14 December setting out the Government's grounds for believing that Article 137(2) alone would provide an appropriate legal base for the proposed Decision.

  Although your response does not entirely allay the concerns expressed by the Committee as regards your preferred choice of legal base, the Committee is grateful for your detailed analysis of Articles 136 and 137 of the EC Treaty. The Committee has decided to clear the draft decision from scrutiny but expects to be kept informed of developments.

27 January 2000


 
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