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2nd Report, 2011 (Session 3)

Annual Report 2010-2011

Remit and membership

Remit:

The remit of the European and External Relations Committee is to consider and report on-

(a) proposals for European Communities legislation;
(b) the implementation of European Communities legislation;
(c) any European Communities or European Union issue;
(d) the development and implementation of the Scottish Administration's links with countries and territories outside Scotland, the European Communities (and their institutions) and other international organisations; and
(e) co-ordination of the international activities of the Scottish Administration.

(Standing Orders of the Scottish Parliament, Rule 6.8)

Membership:

Rhona Brankin (until 24 June 2010)
Ted Brocklebank
Patricia Ferguson
Jamie Hepburn (until 4 November 2010)
Jim Hume
Bill Kidd (from 4 November 2010)
Michael Matheson (Deputy Convener until 1 July 2010)
Mr Frank McAveety (from 24 June 2010)
Irene Oldfather (Convener)
Sandra White (Deputy Convener from 7 September 2010)
Bill Wilson (from 1 July 2010)

Committee Clerking Team:

Lynn Tullis
Simon Watkins
Lewis McNaughton
Kathleen Wallace

Annual Report 2010-2011

The Committee reports to the Parliament as follows—

This Report covers the work of the European and External Relations Committee during the Parliamentary year from 9 May 2010 to 22 March 2011.

Introduction

1. This year the Committee continued its scrutiny of the Scottish Government across its wide-ranging remit and conducted activities with both a European and international focus.

2. As part of its scrutiny of European and international policies, regular contact has been maintained with the Scottish Government’s Minister for Culture and External Affairs. The Committee welcomed the Minister’s report on the Action Plan on European Engagement which it considered in September 2009, as well as an Annual Report on the Plan in October 2010. The Committee also considered the Scottish Government’s International Framework and updates to its country-specific plans.

Inquiries and reports

3. In relation to its European remit, the Committee conducted a number of inquiries concerning key EU policies, namely the Treaty of Lisbon, the EU budget review and Europe 2020. In relation to the external relations side of its remit, the Committee undertook an inquiry into international engagement and followed up its previous China Plan inquiry. In addition, the Committee scrutinised the Europe and External Affairs portfolio of the Scottish Government’s budget for 2011-12.

European issues

Treaty of Lisbon inquiry and Scottish Parliament European Strategy

4. The Committee concluded the evidence gathering phase on its inquiry into the impact of the Treaty of Lisbon on Scotland and reported its findings to Parliament in June 2010.

5. The Treaty offers new routes of influence for the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government as a result of the changed institutional and decision-making structures in the European Union and the extension of EU competences in areas of significant interest to Scotland – most notably in new areas of competence such as energy and climate change, as well as in existing priority areas such as agriculture and fisheries.

6. This inquiry was a significant piece of work for the Committee and the report was debated in plenary session in December 2010.

7. In considering the Committee’s report, Parliament noted the recommendations and agreed to the introduction of a Parliament-wide EU Strategy for engagement and scrutiny, including the introduction, on a pilot basis, of an early warning system for the scrutiny of EU legislative proposals. The EU Strategy outlines the enhanced role of subject committees in early engagement and in the scrutiny of emerging EU legislative proposals. It was agreed that subject committees should be responsible for appointing EU Reporters and for scrutinising EU legislative proposals within their area.

8. The early warning pilot, running from January 2011 to dissolution on 22 March, tested the process for consideration of EU legislative proposals in subject committees. This included consideration of issues in relation to potential breaches of subsidiarity. The Committee recommended in its legacy paper that, following evaluation of the pilot, the process should be introduced in the next Session.

9. Following the Committee’s report, the Journal of the Law Society for Scotland published an article from the Convener entitled “Keeping Tabs on the EU” in May 2010.

10. A further article on the new EU Scrutiny process was published in the legal journal of the Scottish Legal Action Group (SCOLAG) in March 2011.

EU budget

11. Also in June 2010, the Committee published its report on the EU budget review. The report was the culmination of a detailed inquiry, which had been launched in September 2007 and had sought the views of a wide range of Scottish and European stakeholders, on the EU budget and its implications for Scotland.

12. The Committee concluded that the EU budget review and the forthcoming negotiations on EU spending in 2014-2020 were of key importance for Scotland. In January 2011, the Committee followed up its report and took evidence from the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth on how the Scottish Government planned to ensure that Scotland’s interests in the EU budget would be taken into account at UK and EU levels.

13. The Committee also submitted its findings to the House of Lords European Union Select Committee’s inquiry into the EU budget review, highlighting those findings of particular relevance.

Europe 2020

14. The Committee undertook follow up work on its Europe 2020 inquiry, reported on in May 2010, and heard evidence from the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth in January 2011. In its Legacy paper, the Committee has highlighted Europe 2020, which incorporates proposals on employment, research and development, climate change and energy, education and poverty, as being of key interest to Scotland in the next Session.

15. In the context of the future EU budget negotiations, the Committee recommended that the Scottish Government work with the UK Government to ensure that the EU budget is targeted at these priorities and highlighted the importance of Europe 2020 to its successor Committee. The Committee suggested in its Legacy paper that it may wish to continue to scrutinise the Scottish Government’s progress towards meeting the Europe 2020 targets.

International issues

16. The Committee’s main piece of international work conducted in the reporting period was an inquiry into the international engagement of the Scottish Government and its agencies. The inquiry, which ran from February 2010 to March 2011, examined the Scottish Government’s international activity under its International Framework and its country-specific plans.

17. The inquiry was divided into the following four key areas of interest:

  • The cost and impact of international engagement;
  • Stakeholder views of international engagement;
  • International engagement approaches by other nations/regions; and
  • Case studies: overseas offices in Brussels and North America.

18. Written and oral evidence was gathered from stakeholders, principally those submitting evidence to the 2005 Promotion of Scotland inquiry. Research was also commissioned on international expenditure by the Scottish Government and its agencies and on the approach of comparator regions/nations to international activity. Two Committee reporters visited the Scottish Government’s EU office in Brussels in December 2010, to examine how it operated. A case study of the Scottish Government’s and Scottish Development International’s operations in Northern America was also conducted.

19. The Committee’s report of the inquiry was published on 10 March 2011 and submitted to the Scottish Government for response. Given that this report came at the end of the Session, the Committee took the unusual step of asking it to be transmitted to the incoming Minister in the next Session.

20. In addition, the Committee followed up its previous inquiry into the Scottish Government’s China Plan, which it had conducted in 2008-09. In January 2011, the Minister for Culture and External Affairs updated the Committee on the China Plan and, in particular, in relation to what progress had been made towards the targets of the Plan.

Scottish Government budget 2011-12

21. The Committee scrutinised the Europe and External Affairs portfolio of the Scottish Government’s budget for the first time and reported to the Finance Committee in December 2010. In carrying out its assessment of the Government’s spending plans for 2011-12, the Committee took evidence from stakeholders in relation to the key policy area of international development and the general theme of the promotion of Scotland.

Bills

22. Whilst the Committee does not consider Executive Bills, it tracks EU legislation and policy on issues that have a direct impact on devolved competences. These are brought to the attention of the subject committees as part of the mainstreaming of EU issues in the Scottish Parliament and now, also, through the introduction of the new Parliament-wide EU Strategy for engagement, scrutiny and for handling issues of subsidiarity.

23. As part of the mainstreaming of EU issues, the Committee hosted a parliamentary debate on the European Commission’s Work Programme (CWP) in May 2010. A wide variety of issues were raised during the debate including discussion on the Commission’s new four-year work programme, notably the impact of the new competences, co-decision and subsidiarity under the Treaty of Lisbon, and the financial challenges facing Scotland and the EU resulting from the recession. The key areas of importance to Scotland – the common agricultural and fisheries policies, energy and renewables, cross border health and combating poverty – were taken forward by committees in the Scottish Parliament. It is the intention that in the next Session committees will assess the CWP and determine their EU priorities from May 2011 onwards.

24. To assist committees in their consideration of EU issues and to draw attention to forthcoming EU issues of potential significance for Scotland, the Scottish Parliament’s European Officer has continued to provide regular updates through the publication of the Brussels Bulletin. In considering the Bulletin, the Committee drew a number of developments to the attention of other committees, notably, on the Common Agricultural Policy, cross border health, equal opportunities issues such as gender equality and the EU disability strategy, and EU sports policy.

25. The Committee also considered a special edition of the Brussels Bulletin which focused on the role and activities of the Scottish members of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).

Subordinate Legislation

26. The Committee does not consider the Scottish Government’s secondary legislation in the same way as subject committees. However, the Committee does scrutinise the Scottish Government’s transposition and implementation of EU legislation in devolved areas, through reporting provided by the Scottish Government. The latest transposition report was considered by the Committee on 16 November 2010 and the Committee welcomed the fact that the Scottish Government had performed well in terms of transposition.

Petitions

27. The Committee has not considered any petitions in this reporting period.

Networks and Visitors

28. The Committee continues to work closely with a number of key external partners, including Scottish MEPs, the European Commission, the European Parliament and other EU regional parliaments. The Committee also works closely with its colleagues at Westminster and the other devolved UK institutions through the European Chairs – UK Forum (Chairs of the European committees of the parliaments and devolved assemblies in the UK).

29. Along with the submission it made to the House of Lords on the EU budget review, the Committee also submitted written evidence on the European Union Bill to the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee and to the House of Lords Constitution Committee.

30. Visits by the Ambassador of the nation that holds the European Presidency have been hosted by the European and External Relations Committee since early in the life of the Scottish Parliament. During the reporting period, the Committee heard evidence, in September 2010, from the Belgian Ambassador to the UK on Belgium’s priorities for its Presidency.

31. The Committee hosted an annual meeting for the UK delegates of the Committee of the Regions (CoR) and Congress on 10-11 January 2011. As well as plenary sessions, political and national workshop sessions were held.

32. The Committee also received visits from the New Zealand High Commissioner in May 2010, the Federal and European Affairs and Media Committee, Ländtag of Saxony Anhalt in May 2010 and the Committee of Foreign Affairs of the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of the Czech Republic on 10 March 2011.

Equalities

33. While undertaking its Internal Engagement inquiry, the Committee specifically invited a number of organisations representing ethnic and other minority groups to submit evidence in order to incorporate this perspective into its work.

Meetings

34. During the reporting period (from 9 May 2010 to 22 March 2011), the Committee met 12 times and all meetings were partly held in private. 30 items were taken in private, 8 for consideration of key themes following evidence sessions, 8 for draft reports and 9 for consideration of approaches to inquiries and evidence.

35. All meetings of the Committee were held in Edinburgh.

36. The Committee received evidence by video conference on 1 occasion and discussed increased use of video conferencing where appropriate for evidence taking, committee meetings and fact-finding visits.