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Written Statements

Volume 546: debated on Wednesday 13 June 2012

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Business, Innovation and Skills

EU Foreign Affairs Council (Trade)

The EU Foreign Affairs Council (Trade) took place in Brussels on 31 May 2012. I represented the UK on all the issues discussed at the meeting. A summary of those discussions follows.

Three “A” points relating to trade agreements with Peru and Colombia, Vietnam, and Moldova (on geographical indicators) were all approved without comment.

The presidency informed the Council that provisional agreements on two legislative items had been reached, namely the reform of the generalised system of preferences (GSP) and the regulation on bilateral investment treaties (BITs). These agreements will now be put to the European Parliament and then to the Council.

Five substantive “non-legislative” items were discussed: the result of EU-Japan scoping talks on a potential free trade agreement (FTA); the work of the EU-US high level working group on growth and jobs (HLWG); the progress of the EU-Canada comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CETA); the trade and growth agenda; and green growth.

On the EU-Japan scoping talks there was a debate on the state of play. I reiterated UK support for a potential FTA. On the EU-US HLWG, I reiterated our support for a comprehensive deal and for ambition, commitment and momentum to be maintained. The discussion around the EU-Canada CETA highlighted the progress made and specifically covered intellectual property rights, financial services, geographic indicators and agricultural market access. The discussion on trade and growth followed the Commission’s presentation on the benefits for EU jobs and growth of the various FTA negotiations, with member states agreeing on the important role that trade had to play within this. Within the discussion on green growth, the Council supported the call for action in the pursuit of liberalisation of green goods and services.

Under AOB, the Council discussed recent Argentine trade restrictive measures with member states offering their support to Spain following Argentina’s expropriation of energy company Repsol’s majority stake in YFP, and agreed on the overall need to avoid protectionist tendencies.

Over lunch, there were discussions on the EU’s trade relations with China and India. I intervened in support of a more strategic approach to EU-China trade issues and suggested more regular discussions at the Trade Policy Committee of EU relations with key strategic partners. Member states received an update on negotiations on the EU-India FTA.

Culture, Media and Sport

Government Olympic Executive (Quarterly Report)

I am publishing today the Government Olympic Executive’s Quarterly Report—“London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games Quarterly Report June 2012”. This report explains the latest budget position as at 31 May 2012, and outlines the investments which are being made from the public sector funding package for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. This is the last quarterly report before the London 2012 games.

The anticipated final cost (AFC) of the Olympic Delivery Authority’s (ODA) construction and infrastructure programme is £6.761 billion. This is a decrease of £16 million since the previous quarter. With additional savings in the period to 31 May 2012, the amount saved by the ODA against the original budget has now reached £1,004 million. There remains a total of £476 million of uncommitted contingency within the £9.3 billion public sector funding package.

The Olympic park and village were transferred from the ODA to the London 2012 Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) in January so they can prepare the venues for staging the games. Funding made available to LOCOG has increased by £29 million in the quarter as a result of transfers from the ODA, and for additional infrastructure works.

With just 44 days to go until the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic games, construction of the Olympic park is virtually complete. LOCOG has held 42 test events in 28 venues with more than 8,000 athletes taking part in all Olympic sports and six Paralympic sports. This has not only enabled us to be better prepared for games-time but given 350,000 spectators the chance to preview the world-class sport expected this summer.

On 1 April 2012, the role and assets of the Olympic Park Legacy Company were transferred to the new mayoral development corporation—the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC). The LLDC will take forward the regeneration of the Olympic park and the surrounding area now that the responsibilities have devolved to the Mayor.

On 18 May the Olympic torch arrived in the UK and is currently travelling around the country. Approximately 2.5 million people around the UK have seen the torch and are taking the opportunity to be a part of London 2012.

The consistent and careful management of the London 2012 programme has enabled us to find additional security requirements, and invest in projects to help drive economic growth and tourism as a result of the games, all while staying within the £9.3 billion public sector funding package.

I would like to commend this report to the members of both Houses and thank them for their continued interest in and support for the London 2012 games.

Copies of the quarterly report June 2012 are available online at: www.culture.gov.uk and will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

Telecommunications Council

The Telecommunications Council was held in Luxembourg on 8 June under the Danish presidency. The Deputy UK Permanent Representative, Andy Lebrecht, represented the UK at this Council.

There were two substantive items on the agenda, which were both orientation debates. (An exchange of views steered by questions from the presidency) The first item covered the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2003/98/EC on reuse of public sector information. (First Reading). This draft proposal would extend obligations, so that cultural institutions (libraries, museums) would have to make data publicly available, clarify what material should be made available (to address unjustified withholding) and limit charges for most reuse to marginal cost. The presidency sought views on how the benefits of the proposal could be realised while addressing concerns over marginal cost charging.

Many member states including Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Romania were broadly positive towards the proposal, but several including Germany, Slovakia and Ireland also expressed concerns about the cost of making data available at a time when public budgets were under pressure. The UK supported the proposal and highlighted the economic benefits of making public sector information (PSI) available, while registering the need to take account of the implications for public bodies with different funding models, especially those that derive income from the sale and licensing of data.

The Commission responded to the concerns of member states by pointing out that that most of the information in question had already been paid for by the taxpayer; and that this was an opportunity to develop a market whose value could rise from the current €32 billion to four times that amount.

The second item was a debate on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and the Council on guidelines for trans-European telecommunications (TENs) networks and repealing Decision No 1336/97/EC. (First Reading).

This draft proposal will set objectives and priorities for broadband and digital service infrastructure projects, which will be funded through the “Connecting Europe Facility” (a regulation creating the legal basis for funding of TENs projects in transport, energy and telecoms over the next seven-year multi-annual financial framework period). The presidency invited comments on criteria for selecting broadband projects and on the proposed cross-border “digital service infrastructure” projects.

The Commission introduced the discussion by noting that the proposal was designed to help leverage private funding for growth-enhancing investments. Many member states including Belgium, Poland, Estonia and France were in broad agreement on this proposal. Many delegations also noted the need for flexibility within the criteria for projects of common interest and in respect of the list of digital service infrastructure projects. Several delegations wanted to prioritise funding for areas with low broadband penetration rates, especially areas with low population density. However, others preferred more neutral criteria.

The UK’s intervention noted the importance of budget constraint, but subject to that, we supported the aims of access to superfast broadband for all. We also suggested that there should be flexibility to allow funding of wireless broadband projects, and both rural and urban projects should be eligible. We also questioned the need to prioritise EU funding for the European heritage project (Europeana), critical information infrastructure projects and proposals relating to smart energy meters.

Any Other Business

There were only three items under AOB. We did not intervene on any of these. The first item was an update from the presidency on proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 717/2007 on roaming on public mobile networks within the community.

The next item on the agenda was a presentation by the Commission on a communication entitled “Trust and Confidence” in electronic transactions in the internal market, which was published on 4 June. This communication includes proposals on electronic ID, as well as amend existing rules towards eSignatures.

Finally, the Cypriot delegation informed the Council of the priorities for their forthcoming presidency. These include trying to reach political agreement on the PSI proposal, a partial general approach on eTENs and to begin discussions on the communication on “Trust and Confidence” in electronic transactions in the internal market.

Energy and Climate Change

EU Energy Council

In advance of the forthcoming Energy Council in Luxembourg on 15 June, I am writing to outline the agenda items to be discussed.

The first substantive items on the agenda will be progress reports on the proposal for a regulation on guidelines for trans-European energy infrastructure and on the proposal for a regulation on safety of offshore oil and gas. The UK welcomes both proposals but wishes the draft regulation on offshore safety to be reframed in the form of a directive.

The Council is then expected to agree conclusions on the “2050 Energy Roadmap”. The energy road map is intended to explore the challenges raised by delivering the EU’s decarbonisation objective of an 80 to 95% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, compared with 1990 levels while ensuring security of supply and competitiveness. It should also form the basis for a policy debate over the next 12 to 18 months on how the EU should promote low-carbon energy investment post 2020. We are broadly content with the text of the conclusions that the presidency is currently intending to present, as are most other member states.

The Commission will then present the communication on a renewable energy strategy which was published on 6 June. Ministers will continue the discussion of renewable energy over lunch. We welcome the publication of a renewable energy strategy and look forward to engaging in the development of this important element of the EU’s low-carbon energy policy.

We also expect the presidency to report on negotiations with the European Parliament on the energy efficiency directive. Negotiations with the European Parliament are now in the final stages and the Danish presidency is hoping to secure agreement at the final scheduled trialogue with the Parliament on 13 June though the outcome remains in the balance. The UK has to date supported Danish efforts to secure a deal provided that there is sufficient flexibility to take account of member states’ individual circumstances.

The presidency will inform the Council on proposals to amend an existing regulation and agreement on an energy efficiency labelling programme. No major changes are expected in the recast legislation.

At the European Council on 25 March 2011 it was agreed that a comprehensive safety assessment for the EU’s 143 nuclear power plants—the so called “stress tests”— would be undertaken. The Commission will report on the stress tests, and possibly the next steps on the review of the nuclear safety directive, before a report goes to European Council later this month. We endorse the conclusions of the final report of the presidency-chaired ad hoc group on nuclear security.

The presidency and Commission will present a report on a number of international energy relations items, including EU-OPEC, the EU-China high level meeting on energy, the southern corridor, EU-Russia, and the EU-US energy dialogue.

Finally, the Cypriot delegation will present the programme for their presidency.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agricultural and Fisheries Council

The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), who is responsible for natural environment and fisheries, represented the UK on 14 May covering fisheries business. The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Mr Paice), represented the UK on 15 May covering the agriculture items. Richard Lochhead MSP and Alun Davies AM also attended.

On 14 May the Council debated the common fisheries policy and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).

On 15 May the Council debated common agricultural policy (CAP) reform: the greening of the CAP.

There were three any other business items:

Information from the Commission on the Salzburg aquaculture conference.

A request from Sweden on the enforcement of the general requirement to stun animals before slaughter.

Information from Poland on the fisheries partnership agreement between the EU and Mauritania.

At the Fisheries Council on 14 May 2012 the first item for discussion was reform of the common fisheries policy (CFP). There was general agreement that fishing needed to be at sustainable levels, that reaching maximum sustainable yield (MSY) was the correct approach and that the obligations agreed at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in 2002 for fishing to be at MSY by 2015, where possible, needed to be transcribed accurately in the new proposals. Discussions also covered the practical challenges of trying to fish all stocks in mixed fisheries at MSY simultaneously, the limitations in the current scientific advice and the need to take account of socio-economic considerations during the transitional period. The Commission noted these points and indicated there may be some flexibility in the timings within their proposals.

On the EMFF, member states identified a wide range of priorities for support and called for increased funding. The UK and Germany noted the annual EMFF budget should be no higher than it was in 2011. Many member states, including the UK, expressed concerns about the potential diversion of funds from implementation of CFP reform towards the Commission’s wider integrated maritime policy objectives and queried the size of the budget for this element.

In response, the Commission stressed that it was unlikely that the EMFF budget would be increased, and that cuts were possible. Although they agreed that flexibility was important, the scope was limited because of accounting rules, etc. The Commission agreed to provide clarification on the weighting of the allocation criteria.

Under any other business Poland asked for action to be taken regarding the negotiations with Mauritania for a new fisheries partnership agreement. The Commission acknowledged the importance of the agreement but pointed out that it was trying to take negotiations forward.

The Commission reported back on a recent conference focusing on inland aquaculture. Austria introduced a statement with 21 other member states (not the UK) calling on financial support for increased production and employment in the sector. Finland, supported by 17 member states (not the UK), tabled a text amending the EMFF, but also covering marine aquaculture. The UK stressed the need for growth to be market led.

On 15 May the Agriculture Council discussed the greening of pillar one. Previous discussions had revealed widely held concerns that the Commission’s proposals would not work in practice. The Commission tabled a working paper suggesting that certain agri-environment and other environmental certification schemes could, under certain circumstances, be considered as proof that one or more of the greening measures had been met, and suggesting some changes to the measures on permanent grassland and greening. All member states welcomed the Commission’s paper as a step in the right direction. The UK welcomed a “green by definition” option but stressed the need to deliver equivalence of effort across the EU, and that there should be no double funding in pillar two agri-environment schemes of costs and activities already paid for though pillar one greening.

Some member states wanted to see greater flexibility on greening, allowing a choice of measures at a national level from an EU agreed menu. The UK acknowledged the value of a menu approach but, with some others, argued for a transfer of the full greening component from pillar one (direct payments) to pillar two (rural development) as the most straightforward and environmentally effective way to do greening.

The presidency would present a progress report at the June council.

Sweden raised an AOB regarding the requirement to stun animals before slaughter, and the abuses of the derogation, which were taking place on non-religious grounds. This was raised in the context of the forthcoming report on labelling. The UK fully endorsed the Swedish position, agreeing that labelling could represent the solution. In response, the Commission confirmed that while member states could apply stricter national slaughter rules, they did not have the power to adopt legally binding measures to impose one particular interpretation of the derogation. They referred member states to recommendations set out in a 2011 report, and confirmed they would be launching a study assessing the level of public interest in this type of labelling.