Monday 13 March 2017
ECOFIN: 21 February 2017
A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) was held in Brussels on 21 February 2017. EU Finance Ministers discussed the following items:
Early morning session
Ministers were briefed on the outcomes of the 20 February meeting of the Eurogroup, and the European Commission presented an update on the current economic situation following the publication of the Commission’s winter forecasts on 13 February. Ministers also discussed points of clarification in relation to the intergovernmental agreement on the single resolution fund.
Anti-tax avoidance directive
Ministers reached a general approach to the second anti-tax avoidance directive (ATAD2).
Current financial service legislative proposals
The Council presidency provided an update on current legislative proposals in the field of financial services.
Criteria and process leading to the establishment of the EU list of non-co-operative jurisdictions for tax purposes
Following the Council conclusions agreed at ECOFIN on 8 November 2016, Council endorsed a state of play report by the Council secretariat.
Preparation of the G20 meeting of Finance Ministers and central bank governors on 17-18 March 2017 in Baden-Baden
Ministers mandated the Economic and Finance Committee (EFC) to finalise the EU terms of reference for the next meeting of G20 Finance Ministers and central bank governors.
Discharge to be given to the Commission in respect of the implementation of the budget for 2015
On the basis of a report from the European Court of Auditors, Ministers approved a Council recommendation to the European Parliament on the discharge to be given to the Commission in respect of the implementation of the 2015 budget.
Budget guidelines for 2018
Ministers adopted Council conclusions on the guidelines for the 2018 budget, which will serve as a point of reference in the forthcoming budgetary cycle.
National Crime Agency: Contingencies Fund Advance
The National Crime Agency (NCA) is seeking an advance from the Contingencies Fund under category D of the supply estimates guidance manual to meet its cash funding obligations in advance of Royal Assent to the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill. Contingencies Fund advances are sometimes used by Government Departments to manage cash flows, and in this case will be repaid to HM Treasury before the end of the financial year.
Parliamentary approval for additional resources of £14,971,000 and cash of £22,029,000 has been sought in a supplementary estimate for the National Crime Agency. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £37,000,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.
Work and Pensions
Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council: 3 March 2017
The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 3 March 2017 in Brussels. I represented the UK.
The Council held an orientation debate on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council, amending regulation 883 on the co-ordination of social security systems, and regulation 987 laying down the procedure for implementing regulation 883. The Council also held a policy debate on the European semester, including on the implementation of country-specific recommendations.
The Council adopted Council conclusions on the 2017 annual growth survey and joint employment report, and adopted the joint employment reports. As part of this, the Commission presented the 2017 country reports, which had been published on 22 February 2017. The Council adopted Council conclusions on enhancing the skills of women and men in the EU labour market. The Commission and the presidency gave a joint presentation on the tripartite social summit.
Under any other business, the Commission presented a communication on modernisation of the EU occupational safety and health legislation and policy, and information in follow-up to their recent communication on investing in Europe’s youth. The presidency presented the state of play of the legislative proposal on posting of workers and a number of member states intervened to set out their views on the proposal.
The Chairs of the Employment Committee (EMCO) and the Social Protection Committee (SPC) detailed their respective work programmes for 2017. The European Institute for Gender Equality set out the key findings of their study titled “Economic benefits of gender equality in the EU”. Finally, the Portuguese delegation gave information on the upcoming UNECE International Conference “A sustainable society for all ages: Realising the potential of living longer”, which will take place in Lisbon on 21-22 September 2017.
Universal credit full service for all types of claimants continues to roll out to plan. It is now being delivered in 50 jobcentres and is the Department’s first fully digital service.
We have been exploring how this technology can, for the first time, offer a simple system of explicit consent (to protect the large amounts of claimant personal information held under universal credit) but which is easy to use and takes advantage of the opportunities a digital service can offer. Such a system can be used by third parties and stakeholders representing claimants’ interests, enhancing the service that they can provide for the most vulnerable.
However, it is clear MPs engaging on their constituents’ behalf need constant access to such a system through which they can help their constituents. Today, I have agreed that the implicit consent approach which operates well for all other DWP benefits can be extended to MPs representing the interests of their constituents who are engaging with or directly claiming universal credit. We can offer this because of our pre-existing relationships between MPs’ offices, district managers and their teams. This is something which cannot pertain for inquiries from other sources.
This means any correspondence—letter, email, or telephone inquiries—from MPs on behalf of a constituent relating to universal credit will be answered directly, without a requirement to seek explicit consent from their constituent. This will ensure consistency and clarity for MP offices, no matter what benefit the inquiry is about.
Extending this support for MPs and their constituents will continue to help enable the successful delivery of this key welfare reform programme.