UK and EU Powers

Written on the 8th April, 2015

In July 2012, the UK Government announced a Review of the Balance of Competences between the UK and the EU   The then Foreign Secretary, William Hague, called it the “most extensive analysis of the UK membership of the EU ever undertaken.” In a Parliamentary debate, Hague said that the Review would “raise issues that affect all EU Member States and could have an effect on the shape of the EU as a whole.”  The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) co-ordinated the Review and Government Departments  consulted Parliament, regional and local government, businesses, academics and civil society.  Between Autumn 2012 and  December 2014, it produced 32 reports on a whole range of policy areas where the EU shared competences with the UK Government.     The Reports included topics such as the Single Market, Health, Energy, Foreign Policy, Agriculture, Trade, Fisheries and the EU budget etc.   The FCO said that the Review would be an analytical and evidence gathering exercise.  It would not draw conclusions or make recommendation regarding the UK’s future relationship with the EU, but would instead seek to inform public debate.

The House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union has conducted a brief inquiry into the Review and its process.  It welcomed the Review as an ambitious piece of work; criticised the Government’s failure to draw the 32 reports together in a final analysis; and for a lack of clarity in the true costs of completing the work.   The House of Lords Report concluded that  “for the most part, the individual reports give a fair and neutral assessment of the balance of competences between the EU and the UK.”  The Report did criticise the Justice and Home Affairs Review and felt that Single Market, Free Movement of Persons Animal Health and Welfare and Food Safety and Fisheries Reviews did ‘ give undue weight’ to the UK Government position and so lack balance.’  The House of Lords Committee has heavily criticised “The Government’s failure to take effective steps to publicise either individual reports or the Review as a whole.”

Lord Hannay, the former UK Ambassador agrees and he is quoted in The Guardian newspaper:-

“The outcome of the Government’s meticulous and evidence-based Review of the Balance of Competences of the EU is one of the best-kept secrets of recent months. largely ignored by the media and seldom mentioned by the Government itself.  And yet it is a crucial element in the election debate over Britain’s future in the EU.”

The Chair of the Committee, Lord Boswell, told ‘The Observer’ newspaper that the Review indicated that there “was no report in which it was demonstrated that too much power resided in Brussels.”  He also said that “this was trumpeted as the biggest survey of its kind into the balance of powers between the UK and Brussels but for whatever reason (Ministers) decided not to present a coherent overall view of the work.”

The Lords’ Report recommends that:-

  • The next Government produces an overall analysis of the results of the Review as soon as possible.after taking office and also makes stronger efforts to publicise the results of the Review.
  • In future correspondence with Parliamentary Scrutiny Committees  and in explanatory memoranda on EU documents, Ministers should include references to the relevant reports in the Review.
  • The European Commission and other EU Member States take advantage of the Reports, particularly in line with the REFIT Programme being undertaken in Brussels.

While not mentioning the Review, the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, seems to disagree with its findings.  In an interview with Jeremy Paxman at the end of March he said that Europe “isn’t working properly.” He then went on to argue that “The EU is trying to become too much of s state.  It’s got too much power.  We want to be in Europe for trade.  We don’t want to be part of an ever closer Union.”

Lord Hannay disagrees and states that “The single, clear message from the review is that in none of its 32 chapters is there a compelling case for the repatriation of powers from Brussels to Westminster and Whitehall.  So while the EU needs reform, our relationship with it does not warrant wholesale dismantling.”

The 32 Reports can be found on the UK Government website. They do make interesting reading for those interested in the policy content and improvements in the policy delivery.  For instance, the Research Review makes interesting comments on the co-ordination between EU and national research programmes.   The Cohesion Review looks at issues such as value for money, the development of a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy, the reduction of regional disparities, sound financial management and the role of audit while the Environment and  Climate Change looked at policy development in climate change, pressure on resources and biodiversity.



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