Committee calls for better communication on European matters

30/05/2012

Shortcomings in the channels and nature of the dialogue between the UK and Scottish Governments on EU matters have been highlighted today in a report published by the European and External Relations Committee.

The conclusion comes after the Committee conducted an inquiry into the dialogue between the two Governments before and after the December 2011 Council meeting, when the UK Government declined to support an EU-wide Treaty to address the crisis in the Eurozone.

Committee Convener Christina McKelvie MSP said:

“Our Committee took seriously suggestions that the Scottish Government had not been fully involved in the determination of the UK Government’s position on the Treaty. Our inquiry revealed shortcomings in the channels and nature of the dialogue between the UK and Scottish Governments.

“We were heartened to hear that these concerns were shared by the UK Government and that efforts are already underway to institute new practices and channels for communication between Edinburgh and London. We shall be keeping a close eye on these new practices to ensure that they serve Scotland’s interests.  As recent developments in the Eurozone have shown, this is too important a time to be anywhere but at the heart of the debate.”

The Committee will:

  • Review the workings of new channels within 12 months. 
  • Institute a dialogue with the Scottish Government in advance of its scheduled meetings with the UK Government where EU issues are under discussion.
  • Issue an annual invitation to the UK Minister for Europe to appear before the Committee.
  • Call for the reinstatement of the meetings between Scottish Government officials and their Whitehall counterparts to discuss EU issues in advance of European Council meetings.
  • Call for Ministers to take precedence over the officials at all EU Council meetings, irrespective of which Government that Minister serves. 

Background

At the European Council meeting of December 2011, the UK Government declined to support an EU-wide Treaty to address the crisis in the Eurozone.  As a result of this action, the members of the Eurozone, together with all but two of the other EU member states, agreed to sign a fiscal compact to encourage a collective approach to the problem.

Before the critical European Council, a number of ministerial meetings took place between the UK and devolved administrations.  It was evident from a joint letter to the UK Prime Minister from the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales, issued following the December Council , that these meetings had not served as an adequate forum for forewarning of the UK Government’s likely stance at the Council.

The European and External Relations Committee resolved to inquire into the dialogue between the UK and Scottish Government’s both before and after the December 2011 Council.

The Fiscal Compact (formally, the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union; also called the European Fiscal Union or the Fiscal Stability Treaty) is an intergovernmental treaty which was signed by all of the member states of the European Union  except the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom on 2 March 2012. The Treaty will enter into force on 1 January 2013, if by that time 12 members of the Eurozone have ratified it.

The Fiscal Compact requires its parties to introduce a national requirement to have national budgets that are in balance or in surplus. The European Court of Justice would fine a country up to 0.1 % of GDP if this was not done a year after ratification.