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Meeting summary: 25 November 2015

25 November 2015

The Committee considered the following documents.

Exhaust emissions from passenger cars

Before it can be placed on the EU market, a vehicle must meet safety and environmental requirements, with those governing exhaust emissions being determined by a laboratory-based test. It had been considered that a vehicle which performed well in such a test would also perform well when driven on the road, but it became apparent that emissions from vehicles driven on the road, particularly nitrogen oxide (NOx) emitted by diesel engines, substantially exceeded those measured in the laboratory.

In order to address this issue, the Commission introduced last a real driving emissions test, setting out procedures for evaluating tail-pipe emissions under normal driving conditions. However, in the light of recent indications that so-called “defeat devices” have been used to produce misleading results, it is now bringing forward a further Regulation, which would establish a new procedure for assessing tail-pipe emissions from passenger cars and light vans under real driving conditions, with compliance criteria which manufacturers would have to meet in two steps between September 2017 and January 2021. The test, which will complement rather than replace the existing laboratory-based test, will apply to both petrol and diesel vehicles, although initially nitrogen oxide will be the only pollutant subject to compliance criteria.

Government's view

The Government supports the proposal, which it sees as an important step in enabling the UK to meet its ambient air quality targets, notably in relation to nitrogen dioxide, where it says compliance has proved to be challenging, especially in cities and urban environments.

We agree it is clearly right that the Commission should be taking steps to address the issues which have now arisen: and, even though the provisions of the Regulation do not in themselves appear to be controversial, the circumstances which have prompted the need for this action raise a number of issues. These include the inherent reliability of the tests employed and the way in which they have been applied and enforced. These seem to us to be questions of some importance, and we are therefore recommending the document for debate in European Committee. We also draw this document to the attention of the Transport, Environmental Audit and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committees.

Long term unemployed

We report on a response from the Minister For Employment at the Department for Work and Pensions (Priti Patel) regarding a draft Council Recommendation setting out how Member States might more effectively tackle the challenge of integrating the long-term unemployed (those unemployed for over a year) into the labour market. She responds to the issue that we raised in our Fifth Report from the meeting of 14 October. The Committee agreed in that Report with the Minister's recognition of the need to remove prescription from the text in order that the tone and wording of the Recommendation reflects its non-binding character and the very clear limits on EU involvement in the field of employment policy. The Minister claims success in the negotiations, noting that prescriptive language, such as "must", has been expunged and that any future monitoring of outcomes will be based on existing measures and machinery for such work, rather than a new bespoke framework and bureaucracy. She also confirms that the proposal was to be adopted by the Council acting alone, rather than with the European Parliament. The Committee releases the proposal from scrutiny and asks to be updated following the Council meeting on 7 December.

EU Trade Strategy

The Commission Communication presents the EU's new trade and investment strategy for the next five years.  It sets out initiatives based on three ‘pillars' — ‘effectiveness', ‘transparency' and ‘values' —  and updates the EU's ambitious programme of trade negotiations, focussing on: reinvigorating the WTO and multilateral talks; concluding bilateral negotiations currently underway (including on TTIP); and kick starting new negotiations (for example with Australia).  The ‘values' strand of the strategy commits the Commission to safeguard EU regulatory protection and to drive reforms to the global investment regime (with the long-term goal being the creation of an International Investment Court), in response to concerns over TTIP.

The Minister for Trade and Investment, Lord Maude of Horsham, supports the Trade Strategy, arguing that the Commission's priorities broadly reflect UK priorities. However, he does not always make clear where the Government's priorities align with or may diverge from the Commission's or what specific results he would like to see emerge within the next couple of years. 

We recommend clearing this Commission Communication – one of policy intent —  from scrutiny, but urge the Minister to: a) work proactively with the Commission in mainstreaming transparency in trade negotiations and trade defence cases, and extending/deepening the involvement of national parliaments (which are referenced only once in the Communication); and b) update the Committee on progress being made in implementing the Trade Strategy, in particular on existing and future trade negotiations and how these reflect UK interests, as well as reforms to the investment regime.   We also draw it to the attention of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee.

Chemical attacks in Syria

This Council Decision will allow the EU to provide exceptional funding of €4.59 million to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Fact Finding Mission to Syria, and the UN/OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), in support of activities under UN Security Council resolution 2235 (2015), to identify the perpetrators of chemical weapons use in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2015. 

The Minister for Europe notes that the EU has provided significant financial contributions to the OPCW of approximately €6.9 million since 2012 for strands of work. As with previous EU contributions, the UK has worked closely with partners in the EU and European External Action Service, the OPCW, and the UN, to ensure that the activities to be supported are necessary and provide value for money. The allocated budget of €4.59 million is, he believes a substantial and much needed cash injection to allow the JIM to become operationally effective, and for the OPCW Fact Finding Mission to continue to provide expert/technical support to the JIM (through a specific OPCW Fact Finding Mission Syria Trust Fund), in line with its “core business”. 
As a responsible State Party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Government fully supports the aims of the OPCW and, as a co-sponsor of UNSC resolution 2235, the JIM process; and therefore supports the Council Decision text.

The proposal is clearly well-founded, and raises no questions per se. The Committee is, however, drawing it to the attention of the House because of the widespread interest in the wider context.

Proposed Regulation on Financial Benchmarks

We report on the proposal to regulate indices used as benchmarks in financial instruments and contracts. This was the subject of a Reasoned Opinion issued by the House in 2013 because it adopted an overly prescriptive approach to benchmark regulation which diverged from international benchmark standards and so undermined the supposed benefits of action at EU level. The Government now informs us, though without providing us with even a limité text, that final agreement of the proposal is planned for early December. It requests clearance to enable it to support a text which it feels maximises the chance of a positive outcome for the UK and EU financial markets. We now clear the proposal as the text is unlikely to change materially before its final anticipated agreement, and meets the UK's negotiating objectives of a proportionate approach to benchmark regulation which accommodates the use of third country benchmarks. It therefore appears to address the key concerns of the Reasoned Opinion. We draw our Report chapter to the attention of the Treasury Committee.

Proposed Regulation to increase number of judges at General Court

We report on the proposal (the European Parliament and Council acting together at the request of the Court of Justice) to increase the number of judges at the General Court from 28 to 56 by 1 September 2019. The proposal aims to address the increasing workload of the General Court. Its significant backlog of cases has resulted in actions seeking damages in the order of £18.5 million as at 20 July, with the risk of further litigation. This operational change to the Court requires not only this proposed Regulation to amend the Statute of the Court of Justice but also a further proposal to dissolve the Civil Service Tribunal. The Government had already deposited the Council's First Reading position on the proposed Regulation. It now deposits the EP's Second Reading position which proposes to amend the Council position, including to provide some mechanisms for reviewing effectiveness of the judicial expansion and to promote gender equality in the actual appointments. The Government has provided these documents in recognition of the importance of the proposal, not least considering the consequential increase in the Court's annual running costs of approximately £9.6 million. As the UK is the only Member State to oppose the proposal, its planned adoption at the 3 December Council meeting by QMV is a foregone conclusion.

The Government supports an increase of up to 12 judges but not a "disproportionate" doubling of their number. In view of the Government's intention to oppose adoption, Parliamentary approval will not be needed under the EU Act 2011 and we now clear both documents from scrutiny. However, further information is sought from the Government on whether it has been able to secure a commitment that Member States will not fund the increased costs. We draw this chapter to the attention of the Justice Committee and, given the gender-related amendments, also to the Women and Equalities Committee.

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')

  • Business, Innovation and Skills: Digital Single Market Strategy for Europe [Commission Communication] (C)
  • Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Temporary exceptional aid to livestock farmers [Commission Regulations] (C); Review of EU Biodiversity Strategy [Commission Report] (C); Management of fisheries partnership agreements [Special Report] (C); Fishing conditions for deep sea stocks [Proposed Regulation] (C)
  • Foreign and Commonwealth Office: EU Enlargement Strategy: main challenges 2015-19 [Commission Communications] (NC); EU enlargement: pre-accession finance [Annual Report] (C); Regional Maritime capacity Building in the Horn of Africa (EUCAP NESTOR) [Council Decision] (C); Ukraine: EU support for security sector reform [Council Decision] (C); EU-Mongolia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement [Proposed Decision] (NC); Minerals originating in conflict-affected and high-risk areas: an integrated EU approach [Proposed Regulation & Joint Communication] (NC)
  • Home Office: Freezing and confiscation of proceeds of crime [Proposed Directive] (C); European Public prosecutor's Office [Proposed Regulation] (NC)
  • Work and Pensions: Integrating labour markets [Proposed Regulation] (NC)
  • Transport:  Intra-EU shipping [Commission Communication] (C)

Further information

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