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Meeting summary: 18 November 2015

18 November 2015

The Committee considered the following documents:

Completing Economic and Monetary Union

In July we considered a report, commonly referred to as the Five Presidents' Report, about completing the Economic and Monetary Union. The first of three implementation stages (between 1 July 2015 and mid 2017) was to involve relatively modest reforms to the priorities and procedures of the EU and eurozone. We recommended the document for debate on the floor of the House. This debate has yet to take place.

The Commission has now presented five documents in the context of the first stage envisaged in the Five Presidents' Report. They cover a range of matters, including suggestions that eurozone Member States establish National Competitiveness Boards, creation by the Commission of a European Fiscal Board, and moves towards eurozone representation in international financial institutions, particularly the International Monetary Fund.

Government's view

The Government emphasises to us its view that these proposals and activities will not be allowed to affect UK interests, particularly in relation to international financial institutions, and that it will ensure that the single market will be protected. On that basis and given its support for the eurozone taking necessary steps needed to ensure the stability of the euro and for a credible and transparent EU fiscal framework, the Government does not seem to reject any of the Commission's suggestions.

These documents, following on from the Five Presidents' Report, are important both substantively and as illustrations of how the relationship between the eurozone and the wider EU might develop. So we have recommended that they be debated on the floor of the House, together with the Five Presidents' Report, the debate on which we have recommended previously.

Proposal to establish a permanent mechanism for the relocation of individuals in need of international protection

This proposal would amend the Dublin III Regulation which establishes criteria for determining the Member State responsible for examining an asylum application. The changes proposed would introduce a permanent mechanism, based on a mandatory distribution key, for the relocation of individuals in need of international protection at times of extreme migratory pressures overwhelming the asylum systems of the main receiving Member States.

The UK participates fully in the Dublin rules but opposes relocation. The proposal is subject to the UK's Title V (justice and home affairs) opt-in. Under the UK's Title V Protocol, the UK is at risk of being ejected from a measure in which it participates if it decides not to opt into a subsequent amending measure. Whilst agreeing with the Government's assessment that the UK is not at any significant risk of being ejected from the Dublin III Regulation if it does not opt into the amending proposal, the Committee suggested at its meeting on 14 October that the risk of ejection was one of the factors that Members would wish to explore in greater depth in an opt-in debate (the debate would also encompass the Government's decision not to opt into earlier proposals for a temporary relocation mechanism).

Despite the unprecedented scale of the migration crisis in the Mediterranean, no debate has been scheduled so far on this or other proposals and policy documents proposed by the Commission to address the crisis. We highlight the gap between the Government's stated commitment to the principle and importance of Parliamentary scrutiny, and its signal failure to schedule debates to enable Parliament to hold the Government to account. We also invite the Government to confirm as a matter of urgency that the opt-in debate will be scheduled to take place before the expiry of the opt-in deadline for this proposal (on 8 December).

Managing the refugee crisis: a further update

This latest Commission Communication was published ahead of an EU Summit on 15 October to inform discussions on the refugee crisis. It describes the progress made in implementing actions agreed since May (when the Commission published its European Agenda on Migration) and highlights areas in which further efforts are needed. The document reflects widespread concern that implementation is lagging far behind the commitments made previously by EU leaders and justice and home affairs ministers. It includes a number of direct appeals to Member States to provide additional resources to support the work of Frontex, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), and search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, and to meet the significant funding gap for international organisations (notably UNHCR and the World Food Programme) and for Regional Trust Funds for Syria and for Africa.

The Committee asks the Government to provide further information on the further support the UK has provided, or intends to provide, to Frontex, the EASO and the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. In light of the Government's opposition to EU policy on relocation, the Immigration Minister (James Brokenshire) is reminded that he has promised to provide a note explaining whether or not the UK is making a financial contribution towards the implementation of the policy. He is also asked for his views on the possible resumption of Dublin transfers to Greece and on the Commission's intention to put forward proposals for a fully operational European Border and Coast Guard later this year.

European Union Military operation in the Southern Central Mediterranean

In June the EU decided to establish and launch an EU military CSDP operation in the Mediterranean, to be called EUNAVFOR Med (since renamed Operation Sophia).  The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington) described its objectives as:

"to capture and destroy smugglers' vessels before they can be used for human trafficking in response to the recent dramatic loss of life that has occurred in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya."

The Committee recommended this for debate on the floor of the House on 21 July, as part a wider debate on the EU migration crisis.  We now report on the decision to move to the second phase — from intelligence-gathering and rescue to interdiction on the high seas.
In June, the Council said that the second stage of the operation would provide for “the search and, if necessary, seizure of suspicious vessels”; that a third phase “would allow the disposal of vessels and related assets, preferably before use, and to apprehend traffickers and smugglers”; and that the Council would “assess when to move beyond this first step, taking into account a UN mandate and the consent of the coastal states concerned, and subsequent phases will be conducted accordingly”. At its last meeting, the Committee questioned the apparent introduction, in phase 2, of a key element of the third phase — apprehension of traffickers and smugglers.  Although acknowledging that the Minister's remarks about the key role of apprehending smugglers undoubtedly make sense, this is not how the stages are described in the EU's own Fact Sheet on Operation Sophia, nor by the Council in June, and the Minister says nothing about what this might mean in practice. These questions are among the many that need to be explored during the debate referred to above. Given that it is now nearly three months since our original debate recommendation, since when the crisis has significantly worsened, the Committee again urges the Government to arrange that debate without further delay.

Fight against torture and abolition of the death penalty (Court of Auditors' report)

In this report, the Court of Auditors makes recommendations to the Commission for improving the selection and implementation of projects aimed at torture prevention and abolition of the death penalty. It focuses on the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) funding for projects from 2007–13, totalling approximately €100 million (£71 million) and equivalent to 9% of the EIDHR's total resources. The Court's key finding is that EIDHR support was only partially effective. It makes six recommendations to the Commission and External Action Service (EEAS): to target resources on greatest need and impacts; to improve coordination with other EU action; to improve project selection; to facilitate feedback to improve future projects; to develop performance management and to focus on sustainability of local civil society in target countries.

When we first reported on the document we noted that the Government had failed to address the Commission's rejection of some of these recommendations in its Explanatory Memorandum. It also caveated in certain respects its own support for the recommendations. In view of this mixed picture and our concern that non-implementation of the recommendations might lead to a waste of EU funding and UK taxpayers' money, we did not clear the document from scrutiny. Instead, we asked for an update from the Government on the ongoing process to ensure the Commission, together with the EEAS, implements the recommendations. The Committee now clears the report from scrutiny, having received a speedy and satisfactory response from the Government addressing the Committee's concerns and explaining progress on agreeing the report. The Commission's position on the two outstanding recommendations is defensible: it is restricted by EU Financial Regulations from fully implementing one and, on the other, opposes the use of the EIDHR to core-fund civil society. The Committee takes the opportunity to remind the Government to always highlight in EMs when the Commission rejects the Court's recommendations. It also notes that the Report is relevant to the outstanding debate on the EU's Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy.

Other legally and/or politically important documents

We are also reporting on documents relating to:

(‘NC' indicates document is ‘not cleared'; ‘C' indicates document is ‘cleared')

  • Cabinet Office: EU Youth Strategy [Commission Communication] (C)
  • Education: Education and Training 2020 [Commission Communication] (C)
  • Energy and Climate Change: Labelling of energy related products [Commission Report & Proposed Regulation] (C)
  • Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Fisheries: discard plans [Commission Regulations] (C); EU zootechnical legislation [Proposed Regulation & Directive] (C)
  • Foreign and Commonwealth Office: EU participation on the Executive Committee of the Programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [Proposed Decision] (C); EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia and wider issues [Council Decision] (C); Free movement and public documents [Proposed Regulation] (C); EU Special Representative for the Sahel [Council Decision] (NC); Restrictive measures against Belarus [Council Decision, Implementing Regulation and Council Regulation] (C); Ukraine: EU support for security sector reform [Council Decision] (NC); The EU and the Horn of Africa [Council Secretariat Paper] (C)
  • Health: Cross-border healthcare [Commission Report] (C)
  • HM Revenue and Customs: Undeclared work [Proposed Decision] (NC)
  • International Development: Towards a new partnership between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and pacific countries after 2020 [Joint Consultation Paper] (NC); Financial information on the European Development Fund [Commission Communication] (C)
  • Transport: Passenger ship safety: REFIT [Commission Report] (C); Navigation of inland waterways [Proposed Decision] (C); Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea [Proposed Decisions] (C)
  • Treasury: Taxation: savings income [Proposed Decisions] (C)

Further information

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