Thursday 31 January 2019
ECOFIN, 22 January 2019
A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) was held in Brussels on 22 January 2019. The UK was represented by Mark Bowman (Director General, International Finance, HM Treasury). The Council discussed the following:
Early morning session
The Eurogroup President briefed the Council on the outcomes of the 21 January meeting of the Eurogroup, and the European Commission provided an update on the current economic situation in the EU. Following this, the Romanian presidency held a discussion on the priorities for the next EU institutional cycle.
European system of financial supervision review
The Council held a policy debate on the review of the European system of financial supervision.
The Council held a policy debate on the InvestEU programme.
Current financial services legislative proposals
The Romanian presidency provided an update on current legislative proposals in the field of financial services.
Presidency work programme
The Romanian presidency presented its work programme for January to June 2019.
European semester 2019
The Council adopted Council conclusions on the 2019 annual growth survey and the Council conclusions on the 2019 alert mechanism report. The Council also approved a Council recommendation on the economic policy of the euro area.
Economic and monetary union
The presidency provided an update following the euro summit in December 2018.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Foreign Affairs Council, 21 January 2019
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs attended the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) on 21 January. It was chaired by the High Representative and Vice President of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HRVP), Federica Mogherini. The meeting was held in Brussels.
Ministers briefly discussed the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Venezuela and Syria and noted the recent bomb attack in Bogotá and developments on Yemen.
The Council discussed the action plan against disinformation that was presented by the High Representative and European Commission on 5 December 2018. Ministers expressed their strong support for the plan and exchanged views on its implementation, underlining the need to respond to external security challenges while also respecting national approaches and protecting freedom of expression and of the media.
The Council highlighted the creation of an EU “rapid alert system” to share expertise and best practices, and to promote co-ordinated action, notably through awareness raising campaigns. Ministers stressed the need to engage with civil society, business and academia to tackle disinformation, as well as to work with international partners, such as NATO and the G7 on this issue.
The Council agreed that the EU’s operational capacities should be strengthened, including by reinforcing the three European External Action Service strategic communication taskforces.
EU-League of Arab States (LAS) relations
The EU-LAS ministerial is scheduled to take place in Brussels on 4 February and the first EU-LAS summit on 24 and 25 February in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt. Ahead of these meetings the Council reaffirmed the importance of a strong EU-LAS partnership and the need to co-operate with the LAS in addressing a wide range of issues and common challenges such as multilateralism, trade and investment, the fight against terrorism, migration, and climate change, as well as regional issues.
EU-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) relations
The Council held a short discussion ahead of the 22nd EU-ASEAN ministerial meeting that also took place on 21 January.
The Council agreed a number of measures without discussion:
The Council adopted conclusions on Nicaragua;
The Council imposed sanctions against the use and proliferation of chemical weapons;
The Council added 11 businessmen and five entities to the list of those subject to restrictive measures against the Syrian regime and its supporters;
The Council adopted a decision in support of the biological and toxin weapons convention (BTWC) in the framework of the EU strategy against proliferation of weapons of mass destruction;
The Council removed two deceased persons from the list of those subject to restrictive measures against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK);
The Council removed one deceased person from the list of those subject to restrictive measures in respect of actions underlining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine;
The Council adopted its position on behalf of the EU within the European economic area joint committee on an amendment to annex IX (on financial services) to the EEA agreement;
The Council forwarded a Council decision to the European Parliament on the conclusion of an arrangement between the EU and the Schengen associated states on their participation in eu-LISA;
The Council adopted two decisions on the positions to be taken on behalf of the EU within the joint Council under the economic partnership agreement (EPA) between the EU and the Southern African Development Community (SADC);
The Council approved an information note about a recommended EU position for a reply to an ICAO state letter on the establishment of a technical advisory body and developments on the emissions unit criteria.
Health and Social Care
Negotiations for Primary Care Contract for GPs 2019-20
I am today updating the House on the outcome of the negotiations on the primary care contract for GPs between the General Practitioners Committee of the British Medical Association and NHS England.
For the first time a new five-year contract has been agreed for general practice across England which includes billions of extra investment for improved access to general practice.
The contract for 2019-20 will deliver the most ambitious reform in general practice in a generation and is the first major step forward in delivering The NHS long term plan. It aims to bring 20,000 extra staff into general practice by 2023-24 including pharmacists and social prescribing link workers. This will free up GPs to spend more time with patients who need them most.
It will establish new primary care networks across the country to ensure the NHS is fit for the future for patients, their families and staff. This is part of a record investment in primary medical and community services, which is set to increase by over £4.5 billion by 2023-24, and rise as a share of the overall NHS budget.
The contract will also protect the general practice workforce against rising indemnity costs by introducing a new and centrally-funded clinical negligence scheme for general practice from April 2019. The Department also intends to establish the arrangements for an existing liabilities scheme in April 2019, subject to satisfactory discussions with the medical defence organisations.
Other key elements of the contract include:
a record £8.9 billion in funding in 2019-20,
a 4% funding increase each year for the next five years,
a review of GP access to address unwarranted variation in patients being able to book an appointment with their GPs,
all patients able to access their records digitally by April 2020 and have the option of web/video consultations by April 2021,
more joined up services as 111 will be able to directly book GP appointments for callers,
greater transparency as GPs earning over £150,000 per annum will need to declare their earnings, and
streamlining of the quality and outcomes framework system with more clinically appropriate indicators to deliver focused improvements in the quality of care.
We understand that NHS England will apply the provision to personal medical services and alternative provider medical services where appropriate.
EU JHA Opt-in Decision: Amended Proposal for EU Agency for Asylum
The Government have decided not to opt in (under the UK’s JHA opt-in protocol) to the amended proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA). The proposal is an amended version of the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European Union Agency for Asylum, and repealing the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) Regulation ((EU) No 439/2010).
The United Kingdom remains committed to continued engagement and co-operation with the EU on asylum and migration issues. The UK has provided deployments through EASO to Greece, in support of the EU-Turkey statement, and also to Italy. The UK took the decision not to opt into the initial proposal for an EUAA regulation, published in 2016, to repeal the EASO regulation, based on a number of problematic elements. Most notably, the regulation provides the EUAA with a significant amount of oversight over national asylum systems and, by opting in, the UK could become subject to evaluations and recommendations from the agency, who would have powers to get involved in member states’ asylum systems. We remain of the firm view that the functioning of asylum systems is a sovereign issue.
Until the UK leaves the EU, we remain a full member, and the Government will continue to consider the application of the UK’s opt-in to EU legislation on a case-by-case basis, with a view to maximising our country’s commitment to protecting and enhancing our ability to control immigration.
EU JHA Opt-in Decision: Recasting the Returns Directive
The Government have decided not to opt in (under the UK’s JHA opt-in protocol) to the proposal to recast the returns directive. The proposal is a recast of the returns directive (2008/115/ EC), and sets common standards and procedures to be applied for the return of illegally staying third country nationals to third countries.
The United Kingdom did not opt into the previous version of the directive, adopted in 2008, on the basis that it did not deliver the strong returns regime required by the UK and made the process overly bureaucratic. We believe this continues to be the case though we recognise that the recast seeks to establish clearer returns procedures and includes a number of additional provisions to those set out in the previous version of the directive.
Since the entry into force of the previous directive, the situation of migration in the EU has changed significantly. Member states face significant difficulties in returning illegally staying third country nationals including inconsistent definitions and varying rates of absconding. It is important that the UK acts in the national interest to maximise the return of those with no legal right to be in the country. The UK remains committed to continued engagement and co-operation with the EU on refugee and migration issues, and supports efforts to strengthen EU borders. While the approach led by the Commission may ensure consistency and strengthening of returns processes, it is unclear whether this recast will directly improve efficiency of returns. UK return procedures have continued to be a success in comparison to other EU member states, with strong relationships with third countries and new initiatives such as biometric returns. We remain focused on improving our returns procedures and do not rely on this directive to enact returns of third country nationals. Importantly, the Government are clear that border management is a sovereign issue.
Until the UK leaves the EU we remain a full member, and the Government will continue to consider the application of the UK’s opt-in to EU legislation on a case-by-case basis, with a view to maximising our country’s commitment to protecting and enhancing our ability to control immigration.
Investigatory Powers Oversight
I have today laid before both Houses a copy of the annual report of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, Lord Justice Sir Adrian Fulford. The report covers the year 2017, including the establishment of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office (IPCO) under the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, and the work of Sir Adrian’s predecessors: the Intelligence Services Commissioner, the Interception of Communications Commissioner, and the Chief Surveillance Commissioner.
Overall, this report demonstrates that the security and intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies and other relevant public authorities show high levels of operational compliance and respect for the law. The report also sets out the breadth and complexity of the powers covered by the 2016 Act and other legislation, and offers constructive criticism on the practical framework and individual instances of how these are used.
Further to section 234 of the 2016 Act, the Commissioner has also submitted to me a confidential annex to the report, dealing with the work of the security and intelligence agencies and the Ministry of Defence. I agree with the Commissioner’s assessment that publication of the information contained within this annex would be prejudicial to national security and not in the public interest.
I would like to thank the current and previous Commissioners, and their staff, for their important work. I am also grateful to the security and intelligence agencies, Government Departments, and civil society organisations which have helped to establish IPCO.
I commend this report to the House.
Copies of the report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.