Tuesday 13 December 2016
A meeting of The Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) was held in Brussels on 6 December 2016. EU Finance Ministers discussed the following items:
Early morning session
Ministers were briefed on the outcomes of the 5 December meeting of the Eurogroup and the European Commission presented an update on the current economic situation.
Investment plan for Europe
Ministers discussed proposals for the investment plan for Europe and reached a general approach on the Commission’s proposal to amend the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) legislation as part of the planned extension beyond its original 2015-2018 lifetime. Ministers also discussed draft council conclusions on measures to tackle bottlenecks to investment identified under the third pillar of the investment plan for Europe.
Anti-tax-avoidance directive 2
Ministers discussed the Commission’s proposals on the anti-tax avoidance directive (ATAD2).
Enhanced co-operation in the area of financial transaction tax
Ministers received an update on the proposal for a Council directive implementing enhanced co-operation in the area of financial transaction tax.
Banking union: risk-reduction measures
The Council presidency presented its new proposals, published on November 23, to revise the capital and resolution frameworks for banks and large investment firms, which was followed by an exchange of views.
Anti-money laundering directive
The Council presidency provided an update on the discussions for proposal for a directive on the prevention of the use of the financial system for the purposes of money laundering or terrorist financing.
Current financial service legislative proposals
The Council presidency provided an update on current legislative proposals in the field of financial services.
VAT digital package
The Commission presented on the digital single market VAT package.
Deepening the economic and monetary union: Follow-up on the 5 Presidents’ report
The Commission provided information on the 5 Presidents’ report: Completing Europe’s economic and monetary union.
Improving the predictability and transparency of the stability and growth pact
Ministers endorsed draft Council conclusions on improving the predictability and transparency of the stability and growth pact.
Report on strategic issues in the area of customs by the high level group of customs directors general
Ministers were informed about the outcome of the pilot meeting of the high level group of directors general for customs policy, taxation and customs co-operation on 25 October 2016.
European semester 2017
The Commission presented to Ministers on the publication of the 2017 annual growth survey (AGS) and alert mechanism report (AMR), which was followed by an exchange of views.
Implementation of the Banking Union
Ministers discussed the current state of play regarding implementation of banking union within the eurozone.
Fight against the financing of terrorism
The Commission gave a presentation on the fight against the financing of terrorism.
Capital Markets Union
The Commission provided information on the capital markets union.
Communities and Local Government
Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council
On 19 October 2016, I announced my intention, after careful consideration of the recommendation of the commissioner team, to return licensing functions to Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council. On the same day, representations were invited from the authority regarding this intention. I have now considered the representations, including from the leader and the chief executive, and I am satisfied that the council is now able to exercise this service area in compliance with the best value duty and that the people of Rotherham can have confidence that this will be the case.
Therefore, today I am exercising my powers under section 15 of the Local Government Act 1999 to return licensing, including all associated executive and non-executive functions, to the council. Handing back this function will allow some democratic control to be returned and is an important milestone for the council, which has demonstrated steady progress in its improvement journey.
Today, the Secretary of State for Education and I have issued further directions amending the directions issued on 11 February 2016 that return this service area to the authority. With effect from 13 December, councillors will be responsible for decision making in this area. The commissioners will continue to provide oversight on licensing as well as the set of functions returned in February 2016 and ensure that they are exercised in accordance with the statutory best value duty. Commissioners also continue to retain powers in additional service areas including children’s services (including all services relating to child sexual exploitation); adult social care and audit.
I am placing a copy of the documents associated with this announcement in the Library of the House and on my Department’s website.
Culture, Media and Sport
The EU Council of Ministers’ Telecommunications Council took place in Brussels on 2 December 2016. I represented the UK at this Council. As is procedure, this statement sets out a formal record of that meeting.
The first item was a policy debate on the two legislative instruments and two communications that form the European Commission’s recently-published connectivity package:
The European electronic communications code directive (First reading—EM 12252/16);
Regulation on body of European regulators for electronic communications (First reading—EM12257/16);
Communication on “5G for Europe: An action plan” (EM12279/16); and
Communication on “Connectivity for a Competitive Digital Single Market—Towards a European Gigabit Society” (EM 12364/16).
My intervention was as per the pre-Council statement.
The Council then adopted a general approach on amending regulation (EU) No 531/2012 as regards rules for wholesale roaming markets (First reading— EM 13555/13).
The Council was then provided with an update from the Slovak presidency on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on cross-border parcel delivery services (First reading—EM9706/16). There was no substantive debate on this item.
The Council then adopted a partial general approach on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending regulations as regards the promotion of internet connectivity in local communities (First reading—EM 12259/16).
This was then followed by three items under AOB led by the Commission, the first being on fair use policy in the context of roaming services, followed by information on digital single market initiatives and finally under AOB, current internet governance issues. There were no substantive debates on any of these items.
Finally, the Maltese delegation informed the Council of their priorities for their forthcoming presidency before Council adjourned until the next meeting in Q2 2017.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Lebanese Armed Forces
Contagion from the worsening crisis in Syria is having a direct effect on its neighbours, particularly in areas adjacent to Lebanon’s eastern border. The UK remains firmly committed to Lebanon’s stability and security. Our support to the Lebanese armed forces (LAF) aims to minimise contagion from the Syrian conflict and combat the spread of Daesh. As part of this commitment, since 2012 the UK has been assisting the LAF, through the rapid land border security assistance project, to establish and mentor the LAF land border regiments (LBRs). Lebanon faces a number of budgetary pressures, including the cost of hosting 1.2 million Syrian refugees, and would be unable to fund the LBRs without UK support. This project is the main pillar of our defence co-operation with Lebanon and our efforts to protect stability in the region. The mission of the LBRs is to observe, identify, deter and deny activities by illegal armed actors in the near border areas, in line with agreed international human rights standards. Between 2012 and 2016, approximately £38 million of conflict pool and conflict security and stability funds were allocated to provide observation, protection, mobility and communications equipment to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd LBRs, and to establish key elements of a 4th LBR, as well as a programme of training and mentoring.
The command element of the 4th LBR has been established, and is preparing its deployment plan to cover the remaining 25% of the borders with Syria, from Arsal to Masnaa. Recent Daesh actions in the Arsal area pose a threat to UK and Lebanese security, and make it imperative that the LAF completes the expansion of the LBRs southwards. This is part of an overall strategy to bring the entire eastern border with Syria back under the authority of the state.
We intend to provide a package of £4,867,665.18 of observation and operating equipment for the continued development of the 4th LBR of the Lebanese armed forces. It will be funded by the Government’s conflict, security and stability fund. The equipment has been assessed under the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria. There are no objections to the release of these items to the LAF.
The proposed provision of equipment has been scrutinised and approved by a senior, cross-Whitehall conflict, stability and security fund (CSSF) approval board, which has confirmed that it is in line with the Government’s strategic objectives. FCO officials have also assessed the project for human rights risks, using the overseas security and justice assistance guidelines established by the former Foreign Secretary in 2011. They concluded that the risk of human rights violations arising from the project’s delivery could be successfully mitigated.
If, during the period of four parliamentary sitting days beginning on the date on which this statement was made before the House of Commons, a Member signifies an objection by giving notice of a parliamentary question or a motion relating to the minute, or by otherwise raising the matter in the House, final approval will be withheld pending an examination of the objection.
Foreign Affairs Council: Development
On 28 November, I attended the Foreign Affairs Council for Development in Brussels. The meeting was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission, Federica Mogherini. A provisional report of the meeting and conclusions adopted will be deposited in the Library of the House for the convenience of Members.
The UK is leaving the EU. While we remain a member we will continue to play a full role in line with our rights and obligations and represent the interests of the people of the United Kingdom.
European consensus on development
The Council discussed the European Commission proposal on a new European consensus on development following a presentation by Neven Mimica, the Commissioner for International Co-operation and Development. Discussion of a new consensus, in light of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, centred on retaining the fundamental focus on poverty eradication and human development, but with calls for more work on tackling the root causes of migration; engaging civil society and the private sector; and ensuring greater links between development and humanitarian work. I emphasised the need to finish the job on the millennium development goals, but to also go beyond aid to support countries emerging from poverty.
A renewed partnership with Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (“Post-Cotonou”)
Development Commissioner Mimica set out a proposal to renew the EU’s partnership with Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) when the Cotonou agreement expires in 2020. I highlighted the UK’s desire for a differentiated approach towards partner countries at different stages of development and called for a light-touch framework which gives flexibility to work with different developing country partners as well as non-EU donors, saying that the UK wanted to take a full part in the debate now and could be a partner in future. I also welcomed the broad focus on Africa and the continued importance of the EU’s relationship with the Caribbean and the Pacific. HRVP Mogherini concluded that more work needed to be done to achieve a common position before a negotiating mandate could be proposed next year.
Energy and development
Council conclusions on energy and development were agreed by the Council during a lunch discussion attended by Ministers and Maroš Šefcovic, Vice-President of the European Commission with responsibility for the energy union. Vice-President Šefcovic focused on the importance of improving linkages between energy and sustainable development. I emphasised the opportunity provided by enhanced private sector involvement in renewable energy investments.
Migration and development
HRVP Mogherini led discussions between member states that built on the various initiatives that had been launched since last year’s Valletta summit, including the emergency trust fund for Africa, the new partnership framework and ongoing negotiations on the external investment plan. On the partnership framework, the UK joined other member states in calling for a full assessment on the effectiveness of progress with current priority countries before further expansion.
Other agenda items
Ministers adopted several sets of Council conclusions, including on mainstreaming digital solutions and technologies in EU development policy, the Court of Auditors report on humanitarian aid to the great lakes region, energy and development, and the EU common position for the second high-level meeting of the global partnership for effective development co-operation. Details of these Council conclusions will also be placed in the Library of the House.