Select Committee on European Union Forty-Fourth Report


FORTY-FOURTH REPORT


18 NOVEMBER 2003

By the Select Committee appointed to consider European Union documents and other matters relating to the European Union.

ORDERED TO REPORT

Abstract


This is the first annual report from the House of Lords European Union Committee.

The purpose of this report is:

-To review the substantive policy work of the Committee over the last year;

-To give a flavour of some of the work the Committee intends, subject to the need also to respond to events, to undertake over the coming year; and


-To give an account of procedural and administrative changes, together with a foretaste of matters which the Committee will take up next year.


This report follows the Committee's own Review of Scrutiny at the end of last year and reports progress on implementing the recommendations of that report.



This report also makes clear that the draft constitutional Treaty being considered by the Intergovernmental Conference will change the way national parliaments scrutinise EU legislation, particularly given the new opportunities to make the European Commission "think again" when a proposal breaches the principle of subsidiarity. The Committee intends to return to this matter in the new year.



The report covers in brief the range of substantive policy work undertaken by the Committee in areas including:



-The draft constitutional Treaty

-Economic and financial affairs, including scrutiny of the EC Budget

-Foreign affairs, security and defence

-Human rights

-International development

-Law

-Home affairs

-Social affairs, employment and education

-Agriculture and the environment

-Energy industry transport and research

We stress, not for the first time, that it is a strength of the House's scrutiny of EU legislation that such scrutiny is conducted by those with policy expertise in these and other areas, rather than being, as is the case in some national parliaments, a separate specialist function. It is a theme of the report, however, and one to which we will return in the new year, that the House needs to look closely at the arrangements made to support EU scrutiny and in particular the time made available for debates on our work. It is for this reason in particular that we recommend that this report be the subject of a debate in the House.


ANNUAL REPORT

CHAPTER 1: Introduction

Purpose of this report

1. This is the first annual report from the European Union Committee[1]. When, at the House's request, we reviewed the House's scrutiny of EU legislation at the end of last year[2], we decided to produce this document to aid discussion on European issues in the debate on the Queen's Speech; and to inform members of the House of our work. Hence this report has three substantive chapters after this Introduction:

  • A review of the substantive policy work of the Committee and its six Sub-Committees over the last year;
  • A look ahead to policy work we will be undertaking in the next year, in the light of our forecast of developments in the EU; and
  • An account of administrative and procedural developments over the year, together with a forecast of where we will turn our attention next year.

2. For convenience, the year covered by this report is the parliamentary session 2002-03 (13 November 2002 to 20 November 2003).

3. This report is very much a pilot. We hope in particular to develop in coming years our forward look at policy issues. For the moment, any feedback from members of the House, or from elsewhere, would be very welcome[3].

4. We make this report to the House for debate.

What do we do? Overview of the work of the Committee

5. For the benefit of readers unfamiliar with our work, the following paragraphs set out the work of the Committee in very basic terms. A more detailed account can be found in the Committee's Review of Scrutiny.

6. Each week, the Government deposits in Parliament a number of EU documents accompanied by the Government's own Explanatory Memorandum. These documents are subject to the Scrutiny Reserve until cleared by the Committee. What this means is that the Government cannot agree to proposals in the Council until the Committee has considered them, although there can be exceptions for special reasons.

7. This does not mean that the Government has to act on any recommendations from the Committee, nor that the Committee can mandate ministers to take certain positions in Council (as is the system in a number of other Member States). What the Committee does is seek to influence the formulation of policy. To do so most effectively, the Committee aims to comment on proposals at the earliest possible stage in the legislative process.

8. The Committee operates through a series of six Sub-Committees (listed in Appendix 1) each of which examines matters in a range of policy areas. From the start of the new session we will have a seventh Sub-Committee, to examine matters of social policy and consumer affairs (to include health, worker protection and education). We say more later in this report on how this will affect the work of the Committee. In general terms, our view remains that it is an important strength of the House's scrutiny of EU legislation that European scrutiny and policy expertise are intimately linked[4].

9. Each week the Chairman of the Committee conducts a sift of the deposited documents and refers some to the Sub-Committees for examination. Others are cleared from scrutiny, although some of these are drawn to the attention of the Sub-Committees for information. Appendix 3 gives more information on the sift process.

10. Sub-Committees deal with the documents referred to them in a number of ways; sometimes clearing them from scrutiny without comment; sometimes entering into correspondence with the relevant Minister; and sometimes conducting a substantive inquiry and making a report which is approved by and becomes a report of the Select Committee. Many of our reports are debated in the House. The Government is obliged to respond to each report. A list of reports we have made this year appears in Appendix 2.

11. The Committee does not normally deal with the implementation of EU law, although we hope that this will be a significant part of the work of the House's new committee on the merits of Statutory Instruments being set up next session.

How we are developing what we do - The Scrutiny Review

12. The work of the Committee is changing as a result of the Review of Scrutiny we carried out last year. We discuss this in more detail in Chapter 4 below but key developments are:

Other changes to our work - The draft constitutional Treaty

13. It is clear that the draft constitutional Treaty being considered by the Intergovernmental Conference will change the role of national parliaments in the scrutiny of EU legislation. In particular there will be new powers for national parliaments to ask the Commission to "think again" when a proposal appears to breach the principle of subsidiarity. The Committee had previously called for an additional "red card" mechanism which would have obliged the Commission to withdraw proposals. Our final report, however, supports the Treaty's "yellow card", subject to additional safeguards to ensure that it is effective. This is a matter to which we will return in the new year.

14. We will keep under review any more general development in the role of national parliaments arising from the draft Treaty.

Enlargement

15. We stress here that, during 2004, the EU is going to experience a significant enlargement. We welcome this. We also welcome the opportunities that this will provide to ensure that all Member States can work together to enhance their scrutiny of the EU. We intend to contribute to this both by developing the series of bilateral exchanges we have begun with colleagues from the French Senate; and by continuing to work to ensure that COSAC[5] remains a forum for the exchange of information on scrutiny, rather than for general policy debate, and that it is reformed to carry out this work more effectively.


1   The members of the Committee and of its Sub-Committees are listed in Appendix 1. Back

2   1st Report Session 2002-03, HL paper 15. Back

3   Comments should be sent to Simon Burton, Clerk to the European Union Committee, Committee Office, House of Lords London SW1A 0PW, or to the Chairman, Lord Grenfell, at the same address, or by email to Error! Bookmark not defined.  Back

4   In many other national parliaments of the EU, the scrutiny of EU matters is separated from scrutiny of policy. Back

5   COSAC is the Conference of European Affairs Committees of national parliaments of Member States meeting with the European Parliament to discuss scrutiny issues. Back


 
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