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Inquiry into the Approach of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Devolved Government on European Union Issues

SESSION 2001/2002 SECOND REPORT

Ordered by The Committee of the Centre to be printed 20 March 2002

Report: 02/01R (Committee of the Centre)

REPORT AND PROCEEDINGS OF THE COMMITTEE RELATING TO THE REPORT

COMMITTEE OF THE CENTRE

The Committee of the Centre is a Standing Committee established in accordance with paragraph 10 of Strand One of the Belfast Agreement and under Standing Order No. 54 of The Northern Ireland Assembly. The Terms of Reference of the Committee are to examine and report on functions carried out in the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister and on any other related matters determined by the Assembly.

The Committee has the power to send for persons and papers.

The Committee has seventeen members, including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson and a quorum of five members.

The current membership of the Committee established on 15 December 1999, is as follows:

Table of Contents

Recommendations

Executive Summary

1. Introduction

2. Issues Considered by the Committee

3. Consideration of Evidence

4. Conclusions

Appendices

1. Minutes of Evidence

2. Proceedings of the Committee

3. List of Witnesses who gave evidence to the Committee

4. List of Written Submissions to the Committee

5. Written Submissions to the Committee

RECOMMENDATIONS

The recommendations in this report are based on information obtained by the Committee of the Centre through evidence sessions, submissions and informal meetings with various organisations and bodies.

1. The Committee recommends that the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) should be open and transparent on the work of the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) on European Union (EU) matters including membership of the working group, its aims and objectives, date of meetings, agenda and outcomes (Section 3, paragraph 50).

2. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM ensures that all Departments have in place the necessary contacts and formal networks with their Whitehall counterparts and that this is achieved by September 2002 (Section 3, paragraph 52).

3. The Committee recommends that a higher priority is given to the attendance of Northern Ireland Ministers at relevant Council of Ministers meetings in Europe particularly when policy or legislation is being proposed which will have a distinct impact on Northern Ireland (Section 3, paragraph 55).

4. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM brings its database on current EU Directives up to date and that this database is shared with the relevant Assembly Committees (Section 3, paragraph 58).

5. The Committee recommends that the Assembly receives from OFMDFM a 12 - 18 month forward programme of EU legislation which the Departments are expected to implement, by subject area with briefing notes on the expected impact on Northern Ireland (Section 3, paragraph 59).

6. The Committee also recommends that each Department should regularly brief its Assembly Committee on whether it is on target to meet the implementation timetables and on any likely infraction proceedings (Section 3, paragraph 60).

7. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM revises what is essentially a list of 100 priorities in order to achieve a more strategic focus. A small number of strategic priority issues should be set out which reflect the distinct needs of Northern Ireland, can be achieved with the limited resources available and reflect the top five policy areas of the European Commission. The Committee also recommends that the priorities of the incoming EU Presidencies are used to inform the Northern Ireland priorities (Section 3, paragraph 63).

8. The Committee recommends that structures are put in place which ensure that the Departments engage at an early stage with the relevant Assembly Committees in areas where a distinct policy need and position for Northern Ireland is being considered (Section 3, paragraph 65).

9. The Committee recommends that structures should be put into place to make use of all available expertise and networks including those outside the Departments (Section 3, paragraph 67).

10. The Committee recommends the establishment of a Standing Committee on EU Affairs but acknowledges that further work is needed on its remit, workload, membership and quorum etc (Section 3, paragraph 71).

11. The Committee recommends that the European Policy Co-ordination Unit should use all available sources to provide higher quality and timely information to the Assembly Committees (Section 3, paragraph 75).

12. The Committee also recommends that each Department has a contact point for its Assembly Committee and other interested parties. This contact point should provide advice/guidance on all aspects of EU affairs (Section 3, paragraph 76).

13. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM establishes a central resource which not only collates all the available EU affairs information but helps explain the context, the implications and the opportunities or threats. The establishment of a web based portal should be investigated as a method of sharing this information with non government organisations and local government (Section 3, paragraph 77).

14. To assist the Assembly Committees in taking a more proactive role the Committee recommends that the Assembly Commission considers the benefits and costs of staffing an Assembly "information desk" in Brussels. This could possibly be in the Office of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels. Alternatively it could be a shared resource with other regions eg the Scottish EU Committee has expressed an interest in a similar office to meet its requirements. This is a recommendation which is endorsed by many of the Assembly Committee submissions including the Employment and Learning Committee, the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee and the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee (Section 3, paragraph 80).

15. The Committee also recommends that the Assembly's Research and Library Services develop their specialised services to Assembly Committees on EU policies and legislation. Reference could be made to a similar pilot scheme currently being undertaken by the Scottish Parliament. Consideration should be given to enhancing linkages between the Research Services in other regions in this regard and to the possibility of sharing their research costs (Section 3, paragraph 81).

16. The Committee recommends that EU familiarisation training for Assembly Members, focused on their specific Assembly Committee responsibilities, should be considered (Section 3, paragraph 83).

17. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM ensures that the EU Strategy is in place before the Assembly is dissolved in March 2003 and that the Committee of the Centre is kept fully informed of progress on its development. This Strategy should include the policy on secondments and the strategy on interregional co-operation. In addition the Committee recommends that it receives regular bi-monthly briefings on progress on the EU Strategy and that OFMDFM addresses immediately the involvement of all key players in the development of the strategy so that a "Regional" EU Strategy is produced (Section 3, paragraph 89).

18. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM includes in the EU Strategy, systems for evaluation of its activities and for measuring its effectiveness and that these systems are open and transparent (Section 3, paragraph 90).

19. The Committee noted the lack of detail in the Framework document on resources and methodology for delivery and recommends that this is addressed urgently (Section 3, paragraph 91).

20. The Committee also recommends that the EU Strategy should have clearly defined, time bound and measurable targets (Section 3, paragraph 92).

21. The Committee recommends that the EU Strategy is equality proofed (Section 3, paragraph 94).

22. The Committee recommends that open and informed debate and wide consultation be used to inform the Framework document and to develop the EU Strategy (Section 3, paragraph 96).

23. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM should take immediate and urgent steps to address the lack of awareness of its approach on EU matters and also its lack of communication with key players such as the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), the Committee of the Centre, Economic and Social Committee representatives and Committee of the Regions representation. Formal structures should be put into place to ensure that this communication happens in a co-ordinated and regular manner. OFMDFM should refer to the European Members' Information Liaison Exchange (EMILE) group in Scotland as an example of good practice (Section 3, paragraph 98).

24. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM should also take immediate steps to address the lack of communication with non government bodies and local government in relation to EU matters (Section 3, paragraph 99).

25. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM brings its concept for a European Forum to the EU sub-committee by 21 June 2002 (Section 3, paragraph 101).

26. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM re-examines its position and addresses the issue of the lack of standing of the European Policy Co-ordination Unit and the uncoordinated and ad hoc approach by nominating one of the existing Junior Ministers to lead on EU issues (Section 3, paragraph 104).

27. The Committee recommends the establishment of a free standing European Policy Co-ordination Unit within OFMDFM and the unit should be resourced properly to fulfil its role (Section 3, paragraph 106).

28. The Committee also recommends that the European Union Policy Group comprising of senior officials from all Government Departments should meet at least on a bi-monthly basis and a briefing note of the meetings should be available to the EU sub-committee (Section 3, paragraph 107).

29. The Committee recommends that the Office of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels adopts a more co-ordinated and networking approach by providing access to offices for such organisations as local government, Northern Ireland Centre in Europe (NICE) and non government organisations. In addition the Committee recommends that OFMDFM provides bi-monthly briefings on this aspect (Section 3, paragraph 111).

30. The Committee further recommends that to encourage usage, the office space is provided at a reasonable cost. Consideration should also be given to a variety of tenancies, ie occasional to full time usage (Section 3, paragraph 112).

31. The Committee also recommends that the name of the "Office of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels" be changed to reflect the more co-operative approach proposed by the Junior Minister, Mr Haughey, when he gave evidence to the Committee on 6 February 2002 (Section 3, paragraph 113).

32. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM examines its current approach on EU matters, with particular reference to NICE, in order to build upon the expertise already available in a way that Scotland and Wales both built upon their existing structures prior to devolution (Section 3, paragraph 116).

33. The Committee welcomes the indications from the Junior Minister, Mr. Haughey, that communication has re-opened with NICE and recommends that the EU sub-committee should receive regular briefings on the progress of such communications (Section 3, paragraph 118).

34. The Committee further recommends that systems be put into place immediately to ensure that the in-depth knowledge that is available on EU policies and legislation, from the MEPs and the representatives on the Committee of the Regions and Economic and Social Committee, is taken account of in the future approach of OFMDFM (Section 3, paragraph 119).

35. The Committee recommends that regular briefing is provided by OFMDFM on the development of the Secondment Strategy. The strategy should ensure the inclusion of both long-term and short-term secondments (Section 3, paragraph 123).

36. The Committee recommends that European experience gained during secondments is fully recognised and utilised on return through appropriate placements and opportunities for promotion. Consideration could be given to some form of enhanced promotional opportunities for long term secondments (Section 3, paragraph 124).

37. The Committee recommends that "Central" funding be put in place to cover the costs to Departments of staff on EU secondments (Section 3, paragraph 125).

38. The Committee recommends that a scheme similar to the Welsh scheme, where funding is available for secondments from the non-government sector, is considered (Section 3, paragraph 126).

39. The Committee recommends that the Assembly Commission should investigate secondments for Assembly staff to the EU institutions (Section 3, paragraph 127).

40. The Committee recommends that the EU Strategy should also address those areas in which Northern Ireland expertise and experience, eg from local authorities, could be used to benefit other regions within the EU and in the candidate countries (Section 3, paragraph 129).

41. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM puts in place the systems to ensure that explanatory memoranda from the UK Cabinet Office is shared with the Assembly and its relevant Committees (Section 3, paragraph 132).

42. The Committee further recommends that OFMDFM explores how much of explanatory memoranda information can be valuably shared with other interests to ensure the best response for Northern Ireland (Section 3, paragraph 133).

43. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM considers following the Scottish model for nomination of the Northern Ireland representatives to the Committee of the Regions i.e. that such nominations are decided in consultation with the Assembly and are ratified by the Assembly. The Committee is also aware that OFMDFM will have some input on the nominations for the Economic and Social Committee and requests that the Committee of the Centre is consulted on this issue (Section 3, paragraph 135).

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Purpose

1. The Northern Ireland Assembly Committee of the Centre agreed the following Terms of Reference for its Inquiry into the Northern Ireland Approach to the Europe Union.

"An evaluation of the effectiveness of the current approach of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the devolved government in the engagement of Northern Ireland with the institutions of the European Union."

The Committee's Approach to the Inquiry

2. The Committee agreed that its approach to the Inquiry would include widespread consultation and gathering of evidence, analysis of other regions, benchmarking and best practise as well as visits to Edinburgh, London and to Brussels. This is discussed in section one.

Main Findings

The Mapping Exercise

3. Within the United Kingdom (UK), EU policy is a non-transferred matter and the majority of decisions are taken at national level. However, recognition is given to the fact that decisions taken are implemented at the regional level and it is therefore important that Northern Ireland can influence the UK policy line on issues with a distinct regional dimension. The main findings, which are set out in detail in section 3 are

Influence of the Devolved Government over EU Issues

4. EU policies and legislation impact on a wide range of matters in Northern Ireland - 80% of policies in the Programme for Government and up to 60% of all legislation. The degree to which Northern Ireland can influence EU policy depends primarily on its links with London. However, most of the evidence shows that informal networks and inter regional alliances could complement the formal channels to London. These are important tools in influencing policy at an early, discussion stage in Brussels. Limited resources mean that it is important to have a small number of clear and focused priorities where it is expected that some return can be had and measured. The evidence, as set out in section 3 shows that

The Northern Ireland Strategy

5. OFMDFM have set up a European Policy Co-ordination Unit (EPCU) and an Office for the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels. They are responsible for the production of the draft EU Framework document, which has been produced through a cross departmental steering group. During its considerations of the draft Framework document, referred to in section 3, the Committee found that

Comparison of approaches

6. The Committee used a comparative analysis to understand the effectiveness and efficiency of the Northern Ireland approach by looking at examples from other regions notably Scotland but also Wales and Catalonia. These examples, covered in section 3, suggest that

Recommendations

7. The Committee believes that the implementation of recommendations contained in this report will result in a professional, effective and partnership approach to Europe. Such an approach will involve not only the formal players i.e. Departments, the Northern Ireland Executive, the Northern Ireland Assembly, MEPs etc but local government and non government organisations. It will make use of the experience of the past, build institutional capacity and be focused on gaining maximum returns for what is essentially in an EU context and a small region with limited resources.

1. INTRODUCTION

Purpose

1. On 5 September 2001 the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee of the Centre announced that it would undertake a major inquiry into:

"An evaluation of the effectiveness of the current approach of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the devolved government in the engagement of Northern Ireland with the institutions of the European Union."

2. The Committee agreed that the key areas to be examined in its Inquiry would be:

(a) A mapping exercise of the various EU institutions and the Northern Ireland Government bodies who interact with them, including an understanding of what is gained from this information exchange. How such information is used within Northern Ireland? This can be defined as an analysis of the strength and weaknesses of the current approach.

(b) The degree to which the Northern Ireland devolved government (including the Northern Ireland Assembly) has influence over policies of the EU and how this influence occurs.

(c) A review of the Northern Ireland Strategy currently being developed by OFMDFM and an analysis of its likely impact ie what is the vision for Northern Ireland, how different is it from what has gone before, how is it to be delivered, and what impact is it likely to have. This will include a cost effectiveness of the current and future approach.

(d) Comparison of the approach and its mechanics with other regions with similarities to Northern Ireland.

(e) Recommendations for improvement or change in the current (or future as defined in OFMDFM Strategy) interaction of Northern Ireland with Europe.

3. The terms of reference and the key areas to be examined had arisen from a discussion by the Committee on 20 June 2001 when it considered a paper on possible areas for an inquiry. The issues considered were:

The Committee's Approach

4. The Committee agreed the methodology for the inquiry should include widespread consultation and gathering of evidence, analysis of other regions, benchmarking and best practice, a visit to the Northern Ireland Executive Office in Brussels, production of a report and a Work Programme timetable with a completion date of February 2002. It was also agreed a Specialist Adviser would be appointed to assist the Committee with the inquiry.

5. The Committee considered applications for a Specialist Adviser at its meeting of 3 October 2001 and selected Ms Claire Whitten assisted by Professor James Mitchell.

6. At its meeting of 17 October 2001 the Committee agreed that the commencement of its European Union Inquiry should be officially announced by Public Notice in regional newspapers. The public notice invited written submissions from interested individuals, groups and organisations by 21 January 2002.

7. The purpose of the inquiry would be to help inform members and the Northern Ireland Assembly and to produce a report which would complement OFMDFM's strategy for formulating, co-ordinating and implementing policy priorities for promoting the Administration's interests within the European Union. In undertaking the inquiry the Committee agreed, at its meeting on 7 November, to consult specific groups and organisations to assist with this. These included the three MEPs as well as the Northern Ireland representative on the Committee of the Regions and EU Economic and Social Committee. The views of wider society and the social partners were sought by writing to the Confederation of British Industry Northern Ireland (CBI(NI)), Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), The Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU), The Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association (NIAPA), Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA), The Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, The Northern Ireland Centre in Europe, The Queen's University of Belfast, The University of Ulster and Local Government bodies. The Statutory Committees of the Assembly were also invited to give written submissions.

8. The Committee recognised that it could only hear evidence from a limited number of organisations and representatives. Although there were a number of wide ranging groups, organisations and representatives with an interest in EU issues the Committee decided to take oral evidence from selected key witnesses. This included OFMDFM officials and Junior Ministers, academics, private sector representatives, Scottish Parliament EU Committee, a Scottish MEP and Scottish Executive as well as Scottish Non Government Organisations (NGOs) involved in EU matters and UKRep. In addition the Committee met informally with the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee, the House of Lords European Union Committee, the Northern Ireland MEPs or their representative, the Flemish Parliament, a European Commission representative and representatives from other Member States.

9. The Committee also agreed to a launch of its report, after the debate in Plenary, in order to make its views as widely known as possible.

The Committee's Methodology

10. At the Committee meeting on 5 December 2001 representatives from OFMDFM gave members an update and answered questions on the role of the European Policy and Co-ordination Unit within OFMDFM and the remit and role of the Northern Ireland Executive Office in Brussels.

11. On 9 January 2002 Professor Simon Bulmer, Head of Department of Government, University of Manchester, appeared before the Committee to make a presentation and answer questions about EU-UK relations prior to and after devolution.

12. The Committee of the Centre visited Westminster London on 10 January 2002 and met informally with the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee and the House of Lords European Union Committee to exchange information on the remit and work of the Committees in relation to European Union matters.

13. On 11 January 2002 the Committee of the Centre visited the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh and representatives from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Parliament European Committee together with a Scottish MEP and the former Chief Executive of Scotland Europa/former Chief Economist of the Royal Bank of Scotland appeared before the Committee to make presentations and answer questions about European Union matters from a Scottish perspective.

14. The Committee of the Centre visited Brussels from 22 January 2002 to 24 January 2002. On 23 January, at the Northern Ireland Executive Office, the Head of Scotland Europa, the Head of the Scottish EU Office and the Vice-President of the European Economic and Social Committee appeared before the Committee to make presentations and answer questions about European Union matters. In addition the Committee met informally with an MEP and an MEP's representative (both from Northern Ireland) to discuss European Union issues relevant to Northern Ireland. Later, that evening the Committee attended a reception hosted by the Flemish Parliament.

15. On 24 January the Committee of the Centre visited the European Parliament and observed Committee business. It also met informally with representatives of the European Commission, and other regions to discuss roles and remits and exchange information on European Union matters.

16. On 4 February 2002 at the Committee of the Centre meeting, via video conference, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, UK Permanent Representation to the European Union, gave a presentation and answered questions on the role and remit of the UK Representatives in Brussels.

17. At the Committee of the Centre meeting on 6 February 2002 the Junior Minister, Mr Denis Haughey MLA, accompanied by officials from OFMDFM appeared before the Committee to make a presentation and answer questions about OFMDFM's draft framework for developing Northern Ireland's participation in the European Union.

18. On the 13 February 2002 at the Committee of the Centre meeting representatives from the Federation of Small Businesses, the Confederation of British Industry Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe gave presentations and answered questions on key considerations for the business sector and current and future priorities for Northern Ireland within the context of the European Union. The Committee reviewed key issues arising from the evidence submitted to the inquiry and discussed options for recommendations to be included in a draft report. A number of points were agreed in relation to emerging recommendations. The Committee also agreed to include and exclude a number of written submissions and noted a revised timetable for the completion of the EU Inquiry report.

Acknowledgements

19. The Committee of the Centre would like to express and record its appreciation and thanks to all the contributing organisations and bodies for their kind assistance, sometimes given at short notice, during the course of the inquiry.

20. The Committee of the Centre would like to record its appreciation to the Specialist Adviser for her assistance during the inquiry.

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2. ISSUES CONSIDERED BY THE COMMITTEE

21. In undertaking this inquiry, the Committee set out a number of key issues, which it would examine in depth. All were designed to give the Committee an understanding of how the current system worked, what could and could not realistically be achieved by the current system and by a small region with limited resources. The Committee also considered who should be involved in EU matters and the level of skills, expertise and institutional capacity necessary. The issues considered are set out below.

The Mapping Exercise

22. This was a mapping exercise of the various EU institutions and the Northern Ireland government bodies who interact with them, including an understanding of what is gained from this information exchange. How is such information used within Northern Ireland? This can be defined as an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the current approach.

23. The Committee considered this at the three levels of Governance i.e. the European Union level, the State and the Regional levels. At each level there are different institutions and key players with a role in EU issues. The mapping focused on gathering background information and familiarisation of -

24. EU policy is a non-transferred matter and the majority of decisions are taken at national level. The Memorandum of Understanding and the Concordats do however give recognition to the role of the devolved administrations in this area, since many EU policies and legislation are implemented at devolved level. Thus within the UK policy line there is an opportunity to create Northern Ireland strategies for dealing with EU affairs and formulating a distinct Northern Ireland position for inclusion in the UK position.

25. A task for the Committee of the Centre in this inquiry was to consider the effectiveness of the devolved government in influencing the UK position and in communicating the implication of EU policies. To do this it explored if the necessary links with Whitehall are in place to ensure Northern Ireland is aware of the issues and is in a position to contribute any distinct requirements from a Northern Ireland perspective to the development of a UK position. The Concordats also allow the Northern Ireland Minister to take part in the European Council of Ministers, with the agreement of the UK Minister and the Committee explored this aspect.

26. The Committee considered the flow of information from Whitehall to OFMDFM, the Departments and their Committees. It also explored how much of that information can be valuably shared with other interests to ensure the best response for Northern Ireland.

27. The Committee considered-

Influence of the Devolved Government over EU Issues

28. The Committee also considered the degree to which the Northern Ireland devolved government (including the Northern Ireland Assembly) has influence over policies of the EU and how this influence occurs.

29. While the majority of decisions are taken at national level many are implemented at regional level. The Committee understands that EU policies and legislation impact on a wide range of matters for Northern Ireland (80% of the Programme for Government and it accounts for between 60 - 80% of legislation).

30. The Committee considered the degree to which a small region with limited resources can influence and shape the EU policies and legislation that it has to implement. The sheer volume of policies and legislation being created in the EU means that, given the limited resources available, a region, such as Northern Ireland, must prioritise and be selective to be effective.

31. This calls for a co-ordinated and planned approach to maximise resources and avoid a lot of activity that will have little benefit for Northern Ireland. Resources will be wasted through duplicating roles or by working on issues, which give little or no return for the region. It may also be possible to work with other regions with similar concerns.

32. In addition to the formal relationships, successful regions have used the European Union, its structures and networks of expertise, to develop a niche for the region and to open up new opportunities. This requires the co-ordination of all the available sectors and resources in a collective effort.

33. One of the tasks of the Committee of the Centre is to ensure that OFMDFM has focused on the right areas for the region to get maximum return. The Northern Ireland Departments each have a role across a wide range of policy issues. Their roles must include ensuring that the UK channels are informed of any policy area or impending EU legislation where there is a distinct Northern Ireland position.

34. The Committee wishes to ensure that a well-analysed, strategic approach is taken which co-ordinates activities across Departments and sectors and is based on Northern Ireland's clearly defined needs. To assist in its examination of this approach the Committee looked at the priorities, resources, and objectives of OFMDFM in driving forward the work of the Departments on EU issues.

35. The devolved government in Northern Ireland is responsible not only for the implementation of EU policies and legislation but also for representing to the UK Government the distinctions of the Northern Ireland situation, where these arise. There is clearly a role for the Assembly in scrutinising this work, the papers emerging from the EU documents and in giving a political input to any Northern Ireland policy line. The Committee of the Centre therefore examined its own role and remit in relation to EU matters and sought the views of the Assembly Statutory Committees. It considered how the Assembly could receive timely, accurate and appropriate information. It also looked at the current performance by Northern Ireland in implementing EU Directives.

36. There is a clear need for high quality information and for this information to be shared with the Assembly, its Committees and social partners. This is crucial to enable the Committees and the Assembly to carry out their work as a legislature and in scrutinising the work of Ministers and in calling them to account, when necessary. The Committee considered -

The Northern Ireland Strategy

37. The Committee considered the draft Framework for a Northern Ireland Strategy on EU issues that has been developed by OFMDFM and its likely impact i.e. what is the vision for Northern Ireland, how different is it from what has gone before, how is it to be delivered, and what impact is it likely to have? This included an assessment of the cost effectiveness of the current and future approach.

38. OFMDFM has set up a European Policy Co-ordination Unit and an Office for the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels. It is also responsible for the production of the draft EU Framework document. The key areas considered by the Committee therefore focused on the effectiveness of the Unit and the Brussels Office in co-ordinating and planning in respect of EU issues; the draft Framework document (this is included at Appendix 5) and the ability to influence and shape EU policy in key areas.

39. Until devolution, the Departments in Northern Ireland were headed by Ministers who were answerable to London and strategic and policy direction on EU matters came from there. Post devolution, there is an opportunity for Northern Ireland to develop its own strategies and policy (within the framework of the Concordats and the overarching policy of the United Kingdom as the Member State). The Committee considered what efforts have been made to avail of this opportunity and to build on existing knowledge and experience within the Departments. The Committee also looked at the value of secondments as a method of increasing skills, expertise and institutional capacity.

40. Northern Ireland has three MEPs, with a wide and varied range of knowledge and experience and a proven track record of working for Northern Ireland; two Northern Ireland representatives on the Committee of the Regions and the Northern Ireland representation on the EU Economic and Social Committee. Within Northern Ireland there is a considerable volume of knowledge in the non government sector.

41. Within this context, the Committee considered if the current approach of OFMDFM builds on the learning of the past and looked at what use is made of non government bodies such as NICE and local government .

42. The Committee considered the draft EU Framework document presented to it by OFMDFM on 6 February 2002. In particular it looked at -

Comparison of approaches

43. In seeking to understand the effectiveness and efficiency of the Northern Ireland approach, the Committee compared the approach adopted by the devolved government of other regions with similarities to Northern Ireland. It looked at examples from other regions, most notably Scotland. Scotland was considered to be a useful model as it has similar institutional arrangements i.e. a Parliament and an Executive. It works within the same Concordats setting out the principles governing the relationship between the UK Government and devolved administrations. It also has a long history of engagement with Europe, both from government and non government organisations. A range of regional models were considered by the Committee including the Catalan and Welsh models and advice was taken from academics with extensive expertise in other Member States.

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3. CONSIDERATION OF EVIDENCE

Mapping Exercise

44. At the European level, the main institutions are the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament, the European Commission, the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee. A brief description of these institutions is given below.

(a) The Council of Ministers - is the main decision making body in the EU, made up of the Ministers of the 15 National States of the EU. The Ministers negotiate on draft policies and legislation arriving at an agreed position which is then implemented. It shares budgetary responsibility and some legislative powers with the European Parliament. It is supported by the Committee of the Permanent Representative (COREPER), who prepare the positions for the Ministers prior to their Council Meetings. Each country has its own permanent representation team. Sir Nigel Sheinwald heads the UK Permanent Representation (UKRep) with a staff of 140. It works to the UK Ministers and provides information to and from London.

(b) The European Parliament - is the directly elected institution of 626 members of which 3 are from Northern Ireland. The Parliament has the right to adopt some legislation in a co-decision procedure with the Council of Ministers. It can also adopt or reject the annual budget and approves the appointment of Commissioners.

(c) The European Commission - the Commission proposes new draft legislation to the Council and Parliament. It implements policies and legislation and manages the annual budget. It has a staff of over 17,000.

(d) The Committee of the Regions (COR) - is a consultative body representing the regions and local governments of the Member States. The Northern Ireland Executive can nominate two representatives (and two alternatives). The Commission must seek the opinion of the Committee on various issues - mainly those affecting the regions and local government.

(e) The Economic and Social Committee (ECOSOC) - is a consultative body made up of the various social and economic interest groups in the Member States i.e. employers, trade unionists etc. It has 222 members. As with COR, it must be consulted on certain issues.

45. At the UK level, EU policy is a non-transferred matter and the majority of decisions on EU policy are taken at national level. Prior to devolution, Northern Ireland Departments liaised with their UK counterparts in Whitehall and generally followed the EU line. Since devolution, as the decisions taken are mostly implemented at regional level, the UK government has recognised that the devolved administrations have a significant role to play in EU issues. This role is formalised in the Memorandum of Understanding and the Concordats on Co-ordination of European Union Policy and the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC). Policy is still made through London - the difference now is the ability of the Northern Ireland Departments to influence policy on specific issues, which have a clear regional dimension. The main Institutions in the UK Government include the Whitehall Departments who still liaise with the Northern Ireland counterparts; the Cabinet Office European Sub Committee and Secretariat who are responsible for policy co-ordination; the Foreign Office who hold responsibility for policy at the EU institutional level with the Foreign Secretary serving as Chair of the Cabinet Office European Sub Committee.

46. In July 2000, the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister set up a new unit called the European Policy Co-ordination Unit (EPCU), within its Economic Policy Unit. EPCU provides a central policy and co-ordination role for the Departments in developing their relationship with the EU. The EPCU provides liaison with the Cabinet Office European Secretariat and can send a representative to Cabinet and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) official meetings. It provides support for the Northern Ireland Ministers at the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) and UK Ministerial Committees on European Co-ordination. It approaches its work under six headings of -

47. The Office of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels was opened in May 2001 to liaise with the EU Institutions on issues affecting Northern Ireland. The Director and deputy Director work under the umbrella of UKRep, which gives them diplomatic accreditation and access to certain papers and information. The role of the office is to monitor the development of policies by the EU Institutions relevant to Northern Ireland; provide up to date information to Ministers and Departments; ensure Northern Ireland interests are fully represented in policy development by the EU institutions; raise the positive profile of Northern Ireland amongst European policy makers and to foster mutually beneficial links between Northern Ireland and other parts of Europe.

48. As the EU is a Union of Member States, a key point of influence is therefore London. The evidence presented to the Committee by OFMDFM in their written submission of February 2002 states that

"The primary means of contributing a Northern Ireland input to policy development in EU institutions is through the Northern Ireland Departments influencing the common UK policy in Council and through the work of the Northern Ireland MEPs in the Parliament."

This is backed up by the written submission from Professor Simon Bulmer which says

"The most important route is to have influence on the policy making process in London because, as EU policy is a reserved power, the key decisions will be taken there. Therefore ensuring that there is effective input from the Assembly, via the Executive, to the Whitehall process seems to me to be the best way to be effective."

This indicates that it is almost impossible to make policy changes without the support of the UK Government. However within the UK policy, there is room to develop a distinct Northern Ireland position.

49. The Concordats which govern the relationships on EU matters between the UK Government and Northern Ireland make specific reference to the involvement of the North South Ministerial Council. The detail on how this is to happen is not clear. The Framework document notes that a working group has been set up to take this aspect forward. In the draft EU Framework document OFMDFM states that

"The NSMC, meeting in institutional format on 17 December 2001, agreed to establish a working group to consider how this work can be taken forward."

50. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM should be open and transparent on the work of the NSMC on EU matters including membership of the working group, its aims and objectives, date of meetings, agenda and outcomes.

51. The Committee noted that according to the draft Framework document a key focus is to "ensure that all Whitehall links essential for our EU work have been checked out, and, where appropriate strengthened and that each Department ensures that they have designated staff who will keep up to date with all relevant developments" (para 15 of the draft Framework document at Appendix 5). The evidence presented to the Committee by the Queen's University of Belfast suggests that the focus pre-devolution (apart from Agriculture) was mainly on Structural Funds. The Committee is concerned that these contacts do not appear to have been developed to a sufficient standard across all Departments. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)/ Confederation of British Industry Northern Ireland (CBI(NI)) have stated that

"Links with UK Government Departments remain absolutely vital to ensure that Northern Ireland's interests are fully heard at UK level and that through that mechanism they are reflected in the European Union."

OFMDFM officials giving oral evidence to the Committee stated

"A major problem is that many Departments have not yet realised that they need our services, and that they need to get into Europe. We need to build capacity into our system. We have influenced policy in the Department of Finance and Personnel and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Those Departments are geared up and, although there are tight constraints, progress is being made."

OFMDFM also highlighted that

"It is vital, however, to ensure that all Ministers and officials ...... are, where appropriate, hammering on the doors of Whitehall."

52. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM ensures that all Departments have in place the necessary contacts and formal networks with their Whitehall counterparts and that this is achieved by September 2002.

53. The Committee also looked at the level of involvement of Ministers of the devolved government in meetings of the Council of Ministers. The Concordat makes provision for Northern Ireland Ministers to attend the meetings in support of UK Ministers.

54. The evidence presented to the Committee by the Statutory Committees indicated that Northern Ireland Ministers (with the exception of Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development) are not taking part in meetings of the Council of Ministers. The Environment Committee in its submission stated

"The Minister of the Environment has never attended the European Council of Ministers' meeting."

This evidence is re-enforced by submissions from the Committees for Employment and Learning, Enterprise Trade and Investment, Education and Culture Arts and Leisure. The absence of Northern Ireland Ministers from these meetings is in stark contrast to the situation in Scotland.

During the evidence session on 9 January 2002 Professor Bulmer stated

"It is more important to get things to the Council of Ministers - or at official level into preliminary discussions before the Commission publishes its proposals, an important pre-consultation phase."

During the evidence session of 6 February 2002, Mr Haughey, Junior Minister said

"Brid Rodgers has attended several Council meetings, but I am not sure if other Ministers have done that - I do not believe so. We have met several departmental Ministers in the Executive to point out to them when Council meetings in sectoral format are taking place to which they might reasonably seek an invitation. Ministers from other devolved Administrations attend fairly regularly, and on one occasion, Nicol Stephen, a Deputy Minister in the Scottish Executive, led the United Kingdom delegation at an education Council meeting. That gives rise to all kinds of intriguing possibilities whereby departmental Ministers from Northern Ireland might speak for the United Kingdom. If you consider the matter, you will see how intriguing it could turn out to be."

55. The Committee recommends that a higher priority is given to the attendance of Northern Ireland Ministers at relevant Council of Ministers meetings in Europe particularly when policy or legislation is being proposed which will have a distinct impact on Northern Ireland.

56. The Committee looked at the record of the Northern Ireland Departments on transposing EU Directives into local legislation and is aware that OFMDFM operates an EU Directive database. The Committee is also aware that although infraction proceedings would be taken against the UK Government, the cost of any financial penalties would have to be met from the Northern Ireland budget. The Environment Committee, in its submission drew attention to the backlog in implementing EU Directives in Northern Ireland in the Department of the Environment. OFMDFM officials, giving evidence to the Committee on 5 December 2001 outlined the process used when infraction proceedings are taken by Europe. They noted that there are many formal stages before a Member State or Region is taken to the European Court of Justice and, once at Court, there is another set of procedures before fines are introduced. In response to a question on possible costs of fines, the officials noted that the Italians have had fines of up to £50,000 per day. The officials noted that resources are needed to tackle infrastructural requirements so that Directives can be implemented.

"There are significant issues concerning the implementation of our Directives ..... we did inherit a major problem there ..... it is difficult to obtain the necessary resources and legal expertise. We must solve this problem as quickly as possible."

The Junior Minister, Mr Haughey, gave evidence to the Committee on 6 February 2002 and stated that many of the problems on Directives arose under direct rule. He added

"I also suggested that we should co-operate in approaching the European Commission on the grounds that it is unreasonable to hold the devolved Administration responsible for the difficulties that arose here during direct rule".

"We are in this position because of a serious underspend on infrastructure development. Therefore, we have to make an approach to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We cannot say if any of these approaches will be successful, but we will not know unless we try. Finally, the interdepartmental group on European policy has commissioned a comprehensive audit of all Directives and where we stand in each Department on each Directive. That will give us a global picture."

57. The Committee agrees that this is highly unsatisfactory and that when Departments are focusing on possible infraction proceedings it mitigates against working upstream and looking further ahead at EU policies under development.

58. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM brings its database on current EU Directives up to date and that this database is shared with the relevant Assembly Committees.

59. The Committee recommends that the Assembly receives from OFMDFM a 12 - 18 month forward programme of EU legislation which the Departments are expected to implement, by subject area with briefing notes on the expected impact on Northern Ireland.

60. The Committee also recommends that each Department should regularly brief its Assembly Committee on whether it is on target to meet the implementation timetables and on any likely infraction proceedings.

The influence of the Devolved Government over EU Policy

61. EU policy decisions are taken at national level and the Committee accepts that the main focus should therefore be for Northern Ireland to define the areas where there are distinctions in the Northern Ireland position, where returns can be maximized and the effort can be measured. Given limited resources, this means that only a limited number of areas can be chosen as priority areas. The experience from other regions suggests that if there is not sufficient planning or co-ordination, the outcome will be a lot of activity with little benefit for Northern Ireland. In his evidence to the Committee John Simpson stated

"The possible preparation in the OFMDFM of a Northern Ireland strategy in the relationships with the European Union is a welcome development. Perhaps it will incorporate some of the ideas expressed in this submission. One feature of such a strategy should be the identification of priority issues for more attention and development. The danger is that a poorly focused and too widely scattered approach will be unselective and not sufficiently targeted."

In addition NICE stated

"The key issue that has emerged as a result of the organisation's experience and extensive research is the need to analyse the available information and to put it in context to equip decision-makers.

A filter must be used to identify what is, and is not important. There is a real opportunity for Northern Ireland to progress in the next period if we begin to set the strategy now."

62. Resources will be wasted through duplicating roles or by working on issues, which give little or no return for the region. The evidence presented by OFMDFM suggests that there has been little progress on prioritisation beyond the narrow Departmental agendas. Annex B of the current Framework document by OFMDFM covers too many issues with 58 high and 42 medium priority issues. The advice from the Scottish Executive EU Office when giving evidence to the Committee on prioritisation stated clearly that it is not possible to successfully address a wide range of priorities. Both Scotland and Wales have identified a limited number of key strategic issues. The Scottish Executive EU Office said

"We consulted colleagues and tended to end up with a list of almost 120 priorities, which is too many to operate on. ....... Now we mainly focus our business plan on the basis of Council presidencies."

Backing them up is the written submission from the CBI(NI) which states

"In developing a strategic approach there is a requirement to identify the policy areas on which the Northern Ireland Executive should be focusing its limited resources."

NICE stated in its written submission to the Committee

"It is essential to ensure that plans are established which prioritise those key areas to be addressed over a five-year planning period. If this is not done the volume will quickly overwhelm the capacity."

The Committee is concerned that there are too many high and medium priority issues and is not convinced that the resources are available for a high quality delivery of this list. The list, as it currently stands, needs further prioritisation to produce a strategic focus. As it will not be possible to address the entire list at once, OFMDFM must co-ordinate a focus which shows which issues are to be addressed immediately and why.

63. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM revises what is essentially a list of 100 priorities in order to achieve a more strategic focus. A small number of strategic priority issues should be set out which reflect the distinct needs of Northern Ireland, can be achieved with the limited resources available and reflect the top five policy areas of the European Commission. The Committee also recommends that the priorities of the incoming EU Presidencies are used to inform the Northern Ireland priorities.

64. The Committee also looked at the level of involvement of the Statutory Committees. Many do not feel that they are currently being involved in discussions where there is a requirement for a distinct Northern Ireland position within the UK line. In its submission the Agricultural and Rural Development Committee stated

"Members also agree that they would wish to exert greater influence on the development and implementation of policy in these areas. Quite often, the first time that the Committee is made aware of European Directives or Commission decisions is when the Department brings forward sub-ordinate legislation to implement them. At that stage, it is too late for the Committee to influence anything other than the few areas in which there is regional discretion (eg the allocation of funds under the Beef National Envelope)."

This view is endorsed by the Enterprise Trade and Investment Committee who state in their submission

"The Committee has expressed its concern that by the time European Directives are implemented in Northern Ireland through either primary or subordinate legislation it is essentially too late to influence or change the policy. While some steps have been taken to be included in the process at an earlier stage - we now receive copies of MEP briefings - the Committee is of the opinion that more needs to be done."

65. The Committee recommends that structures are put in place which ensure that the Departments engage at an early stage with the relevant Assembly Committees in areas where a distinct policy need and position for Northern Ireland is being considered.

66. The evidence from the Northern Ireland Women's European Platform and the Scottish European Committee also suggests that it is possible for a region such as Northern Ireland to influence emerging EU policy in Brussels by using inter regional alliances and European networks. However, to be most effective in this approach requires the tacit support of the Member State. As Grant Baird stated in his oral evidence

"Unless you have the support of the UK Government - not your executive or region - you are dead in the water before you start on matters such as taxation and regulation."

The Northern Ireland Women's European Platform states in its written submission

"It is unnecessary to point out that influence occurs in many forms and at many levels. It is also obvious that 'influence' does not just happen like a bolt out of the blue. To exercise influence it is first important to know what is going on, to anticipate actions, to cultivate relationships. It is important to be well respected, have enduring good relations and be well positioned. To have influence at the EU level requires a commitment to prioritise the European context and to demonstrate a track record of engagement."

This however does require co-ordination mechanisms, informal networking skills and collective effort. According to the evidence presented to the Committee by The Queen's University of Belfast and the Scottish Executive EU Office

"To date there has been only partial exploration of the new possibilities and framework offered by devolution for informal representation of Northern Ireland at European level through a range of existing European networks and associations. Among these are the Assembly of European Regions (AER), a well-established network which can provide valuable links with the Committee of the Regions and the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions in Europe (CPMR), which includes the Atlantic Arc Commission and the North Sea Commission. Both provide the opportunity to develop strategic EU-wide alliances in order to influence EU policy, gather background intelligence about EU development from regions with similar problems and perspective and lobby key decision-makers." (The Queen's University of Belfast).

"The level of influence depends on the case; there are many ways of influencing. The best cases where we exercised influence is when we have worked as a team .... and also liaised with the UKRep and our MEPs" (Scottish Executive EU Office).

OFMDFM and other Departments are ignoring this key opportunity to influence EU policy at an early stage.

67. The Committee recommends that structures should be put into place to make use of all available expertise and networks including those outside the Departments.

68. The Committee of the Centre has a wide remit and EU matters is only one of a number within the Committee's terms of reference. These include equality issues; community relations; victims issues etc. It is not therefore possible for the Committee to devote a great deal of time to EU matters.

69. The evidence from a number of organisations suggests that the lack of a dedicated EU Committee or sub Committee within the Assembly is seen as a weakness in allowing the Assembly to fulfil its role of scrutinising EU policies and legislation which is to be implemented in Northern Ireland. In its written submission the CBI(NI) stated

"Overall the EU dimension is of such importance to Northern Ireland that we recommend that there should be an Inter-Departmental/Ministerial Standing Committee charged with overseeing the co-ordination on EU policy interactions, and funding opportunities across the entire body of government in Northern Ireland and to ensure that the strategy developed is effectively implemented and reviewed."

When giving oral evidence to the Committee on 9 January 2002 Professor Bulmer said

"The principal question for your Assembly is whether there should be a European Committee ...... the no argument is based on the premise that Committees shadow Departments or Ministers, and as OFMDFM needs to be shadowed, the Committee of the Centre is the appropriate forum. The yes argument is that European policy is a major area of activity that would be at risk of being crowded out by the Committee of the Centre's large agenda."

70. The Committee considered, and a majority of members agreed that there should be a dedicated Standing Committee on EU Affairs. However, the Committee recognises that the practicalities of establishing such a Committee means that it is unlikely to occur within the current lifetime of this Assembly. In the interim, the Committee of the Centre has agreed to establish a sub-committee to oversee the implementation of its report recommendations and to consider in detail the remit, workload, membership etc of a Standing EU Affairs Committee.

71. The Committee recommends the establishment of a Standing Committee on EU Affairs but acknowledges that further work is needed on its remit, workload, membership and quorum etc.

72. It will therefore establish a sub-committee to develop the details on this recommendation (and to oversee the implementation of its report recommendations). Ideally this work should be completed before the Assembly is dissolved for elections in May 2003 so that every consideration can be given to the establishment of this Standing Committee in the next Assembly mandate.

73. Throughout the inquiry the evidence from Assembly Committees including the Employment and Learning Committee indicated that there is a need for clear, higher quality information to be provided in adequate time to enable both members of the Assembly Committee's non government bodies and local government to engage fully in EU matters. The Employment and Learning Committee stated

"It is the Committee's experience that the information provided tends to be reactive not proactive. There should be one source of high quality, user-friendly, proactive early warning information for all Committees in the Assembly."

A number of sources have been identified, for example -

74. Evidence taken from the business sector also indicated that they would like advance warning on proposed legislation and EU policies, particularly those which could impact on businesses. In their oral evidence session on 13 February 2002, the FSB/CBI(NI) told the Committee that

"However late in the day the policies come to the political table, they are coming to the business table even later."

The Northern Ireland Centre in Europe has had a role over the last number of years working across a range of organisations and sectors. They have provided an independent analysis to assist organisations increase their understanding and develop their skills. The benefits of this work were outlined in the evidence from the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe

"NICE tends to be the focal point for people who see value in our approach. It has networks within the European institutions and networks of expertise. Over the ten years of NICE's existence it has developed a large network of experts from throughout the European Union. It provides independent analysis. We have been through most of the corridors of Europe and most of the issues .... NICE seeks to make a resource available to the Northern Ireland administration and to the sectors in Northern Ireland, including the councils, the private sector and the agricultural and rural sector. It has had a strong track record. We can work together effectively."

75. The Committee recommends that the European Policy Co-ordination Unit should use all available sources to provide higher quality and timely information to the Assembly Committees.

76. The Committee also recommends that each Department has a contact point for its Assembly Committee and other interested parties. This contact point should provide advice/guidance on all aspects of EU affairs.

77. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM establishes a central resource which not only collates all the available EU affairs information but helps explain the context, the implications and the opportunities or threats. The establishment of a web based portal should be investigated as a method of sharing this information with non government organisations and local government.

78. The Committee considered the flow of information between it and OFMDFM on EU issues. Despite repeated requests the draft Framework document prepared by OFMDFM was only received in the final stages of the inquiry - and over 7 months late. The Committee considers that this is unacceptable. The Committee also finds it unacceptable that it had to ask who were the Northern Ireland nominations to the Committee of the Regions. Such information should be freely available not only to the Committee of the Centre and the Statutory Committees but also to local government and non government organisations.

79. Many of the Assembly Committees felt that access to early and accurate information was essential to allow them to work upstream and to provide an early warning system on legislation, which could have a distinct Northern Ireland impact. In its written submission the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment stated

"Committees need to be informed at a very early stage what policy issues are being considered, what legislation is being planned and what stage of the process has been reached." .

80. To assist the Assembly Committees in taking a more proactive role the Committee recommends that the Assembly Commission considers the benefits and costs of staffing an Assembly "information desk" in Brussels. This could possibly be in the Office of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels. Alternatively it could be a shared resource with other regions eg the Scottish EU Committee has expressed an interest in a similar office to meet its requirements. This is a recommendation which is endorsed by many of the Assembly Committee submissions including the Employment and Learning Committee, the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee and the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee.

81. The Committee also recommends that the Assembly's Research and Library Services develop their specialised services to Assembly Committees on EU policies and legislation. Reference could be made to a similar pilot scheme currently being undertaken by the Scottish Parliament. Consideration should be given to enhancing linkages between the Research Services in other regions in this regard and to the possibility of sharing their research costs.

82. The Committee also considered the level of knowledge and experience that Assembly Members have on EU matters. The Agriculture and Rural Development Committee in its submission to the Committee advised that

"Members have a varied level of knowledge and understanding of the institutions of the European Union and believe that they may benefit from some training or information on these, tailored to their specific needs."

Assembly Members are therefore keen to develop and advance their own knowledge, skills and expertise on relevant EU issues.

83. The Committee recommends that EU familiarisation training for Assembly Members, focused on their specific Assembly Committee responsibilities, should be considered.

The Northern Ireland Strategy on the EU

84. The OFMDFM Business Plan indicated a delivery date of the EU Strategy by July 2001. The draft Framework document is only the first stage in delivery of the strategy and was received by the Committee in early February 2002, towards the end of the Committee's inquiry. The Junior Minister, Mr. Haughey, in his oral evidence to the Committee on 6 February 2002, indicated that OFMDFM hopes to submit the full Strategy document to the Assembly before the elections in May 2003. In its written submission to the Committee of February 2002, OFMDFM states

"The European Union Policy Group (EUPG) has been instrumental in developing the EU Strategy Framework paper, through members reporting back on their department's EU priorities and considering cross-Departmental priorities. It has also considered issues in which Northern Ireland as a region needs to participate, for example the Commission's Cohesion Report. It has discussed and assisted in the development of a paper setting out the strategy for developing the EU awareness of staff through secondment to Brussels, and regularly considers the current state of implementation of EU Directives across departments.

Identification of priority areas for OFMDFM therefore arises both out of the European Commission's work agenda, the current issues contained within it and their relevance to Northern Ireland, and from the development of the cross-Departmental priorities set out in the Framework document. The identification of priorities in relation to EU related policy which fall within their remit, and the related consultation with their Assembly Committees, is a matter in which individual Ministers and their Departments take the prime lead."

85. The draft Framework document makes reference to a number of other strategies and related documents such as a strategy for inter regional co-operation and a policy on secondments for the Northern Ireland Civil Service to the EU institutions. However no indication has been given of when the Committee can expect to see these documents developed, nor if any consultation will take place on them.

86. OFMDFM has not developed any form of evaluation for the activities listed in the Framework document nor do there appear to be any measurements for its effectiveness. The Committee considers that this is essential in order to be able to address the issue of cost effectiveness.

87. The Committee's concerns about the approach of OFMDFM to prioritisation in the Framework document have already been raised in this report. The need for prioritisation and long term planning was drawn to the Committee's attention in the evidence from the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe. This suggests that long term planning is needed now regarding the loss of large amounts of Structural Funds in 2006 and the impact of enlargement. The Committee is concerned that this does not appear to have been adequately addressed in the draft Framework document.

88. The Committee is concerned that the Framework document is based solely on the needs of the Executive only. No recognition is given to the involvement of the Assembly and other key players. The Assembly Committees, in responding to the Committee of the Centre on the Framework document have noted that no consultation took place between them and their Departments on the priorities in the document. The Committee does however welcome the comment by the Junior Minister, Mr Haughey, that a regional perspective must be developed.

"The draft strategic framework paper that we have put in front of you provides a basis for us to develop policy as an Administration. I would hope that we would then go on to develop a policy and a strategy as a region in relation to Europe."

89. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM ensures that the EU Strategy is in place before the Assembly is dissolved in March 2003 and that the Committee of the Centre is kept fully informed of progress on its development. This Strategy should include the policy on secondments and the strategy on interregional co-operation. In addition the Committee recommends that it receives regular bi-monthly briefings on progress on the EU Strategy and that OFMDFM addresses immediately the involvement of all key players in the development of the strategy so that a "Regional" EU Strategy is produced.

90. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM includes in the EU Strategy, systems for evaluation of its activities and for measuring its effectiveness and that these systems are open and transparent.

91. The Committee noted the lack of detail in the Framework document on resources and methodology for delivery and recommends that this is addressed urgently.

92. The Committee also recommends that the EU Strategy should have clearly defined, time bound and measurable targets.

93. Referring to the proposed OFMDFM strategy the Northern Ireland Women's European Platform (NIWEP) stated

"When the strategy for Northern Ireland's relationship with the EU is prepared it is important that it is equality proofed. We draw attention to the necessity to ensure that women are positively included in all parts of the strategy; in EU language, it should be apparent that gender mainstreaming is being addressed."

94. The Committee recommends that the EU Strategy is equality proofed.

95. The draft Framework document does not contain any reference to consultation with the Assembly, its Committees, the three MEPs, Committee of the Regions, Economic and Social Committee representatives, local government and non government bodies on the priorities. Nor does there seem to be any plans for future consultation with these individuals and organisations. The Economic and Social Committee representatives, local government, and all non government organisations that contributed to the inquiry showed there is little awareness, if any, of the OFMDFM approach and the Framework document and Strategy. In its submission to the Committee the ICTU advised

"It is not possible for us to comment on the Northern Ireland strategy referred to ..... as we have no knowledge of it. Contact with other social partners would indicate that no consultation has taken place on this issue."

This clearly demonstrates to the Committee a complete lack of communication by OFMDFM. This view is shared by the Assembly Committees and by the CBI(NI). In its submission the CBI(NI) stated

"We are not aware that the authorities in Northern Ireland are taking a comprehensive holistic view of the implications of Northern Ireland's place as a region within the EU. A number of 'actors' are involved in European affairs although little is heard from many of them. We are unclear on the level of co-ordination across Departments, although this must be critical if we are to maximise our impact and ensure a strategic approach."

It is worth noting that during the evidence session on 5 December 2001 an OFMDFM official stated

"Before devolution, an EU steering group that was run by the Department of Finance and Personnel was responsible for wider EU issues. However, the pressure of the structural funds meant that almost all that body's time was spent in dealing with structural funds. Frankly, there was no wider debate on EU issues."

The role and input of the members of the Committee of the Centre and the Assembly has not been fully recognized within the draft Framework document. It is greatly disappointing that the draft Framework document prepared over the last 2 years has only addressed the needs of the Departments.

96. The Committee recommends that open and informed debate and wide consultation be used to inform the Framework document and to develop the EU Strategy.

97. John Simpson in his written submission stated

"One suggestion for the improved and more co-ordinated effort on behalf of Northern Ireland with the European institutions is that the OFMDFM should co-ordinate the work of the representatives that sit on the institutions by a regular briefing of those representatives and creating a forum for informal debate. Efforts in this direction have, in the past, proved ineffective."

The Scottish European Committee stated

"We do not always operate on an informal basis. However, there are informal parts to the system, for example the EMILE working group, which brings together Executive Ministers, members of the European Committee and Scottish members of the Committee of the Regions and the European Parliament. In that sense we have a Scottish forum for bringing together everyone who is working in different ways to co-ordinate Scotland's position on Europe. That forum is chaired by the Scottish Executive."

98. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM should take immediate and urgent steps to address the lack of awareness of its approach on EU matters and also its lack of communication with key players such as the MEPs, the Committee of the Centre, Economic and Social Committee representatives and Committee of the Regions representation. Formal structures should be put into place to ensure that this communication happens in a co-ordinated and regular manner. OFMDFM should refer to the European Members Information Liaison Exchange (EMILE) group in Scotland as an example of good practice.

99. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM should also take immediate steps to address the lack of communication with non government bodies and local government in relation to EU matters.

100. OFMDFM refers to a Forum on Europe in the Programme for Government, in their Business Plan and the draft Framework document. The Committee welcomes this idea as a method of improving communication and awareness with non government bodies and local government but would like to see its objectives, roles and remit more clearly defined. The Committee favour an ad hoc forum meeting as and when required rather than a more elaborate arrangement.

101. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM brings its concept for a European Forum to the EU sub-committee by 21 June 2002.

102. As noted above many of the non government bodies indicated that they were unaware of the EU draft Framework document and have expressed concerns that Northern Ireland's relationship with the European Union is uncoordinated and that planning is done on an ad hoc basis. The evidence from FSB/CBI(NI) suggests that the European Policy Co-ordination Unit and its Policy Steering Group would have more standing if it came under the remit of one Junior Minister.

The FSB/CBI(NI) stated

"Our proposal is not that an additional Junior Minister be appointed, rather that one of the existing two Junior Ministers in the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister be given responsibility for European affairs. We feel that Europe is such an important subject, and will become even more important, that there is a case for a full-time Junior Minister to take charge on a day-to-day basis, to look after relationships with the European Commission, the European Parliament, and so on and to take a lead and spearhead co-ordination. That Minister would seek to co-ordinate and to ensure that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet. The appointment would also ensure that someone is working there full-time. The key point about a Junior Minister taking responsibility is that it is very much a co-ordinating role. However, we also see the role as supporting and encouraging joined-up government."

The nomination of one of the existing Ministers as having a "lead role", and acting as a primary contact point was also suggested to the Committee by The Queen's University of Belfast and Professor Simon Bulmer as bringing greater clarity to this important area of work. The Queen's University of Belfast stated

"Consideration should be given to designating a European Minister within OFMDFM and with the brief of developing a European vision for NI. The existing arrangement is impractical, unaccountable and militates against a strategic approach. It would be a welcome sign of political maturity if sufficient trust were shown to allow one Minister to speak for the administration collectively in this area, irrespective of Party. In order to maintain a coherent European strategy, he/she should also lead for the administration at meetings of the NSMC and the JMC on European matters."

103. The Committee considers that there is some merit in this and has examined the relevant section of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 dealing with Junior Ministers and the Determination produced by OFMDFM. While there is nothing in the Act that prevents the nomination of one of the Junior Ministers to take a "lead" role in one policy area, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister have taken the position that the Junior Ministers will act jointly.

104. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM re-examines its position and addresses the issue of the lack of standing of the European Policy Co-ordination Unit and the uncoordinated and ad hoc approach by nominating one of the existing Junior Ministers to lead on EU issues.

105. The Committee notes the establishment by OFMDFM of the European Policy Co-ordination Unit. However, serious consideration needs to be given to the role and remit of this unit against the resource levels allocated. Evidence from The Queen's University of Belfast in its written submission questions the placement of the OFMDFM European Policy Co-ordination Unit with the Economic Policy Unit of the Department and asks if there is not a need for a "larger and free-standing unit" as "an essential condition of a more far ranging policy advice to underpin a new vision". The evidence from The Queen's University of Belfast also points to the fact that the EU Policy Steering Group, which is a cross-Departmental group of officials at grade 3 or 5 level and is chaired by the Junior Ministers and is administered by the European Policy Co-ordination Unit, does not have a regular schedule of meetings nor is there any indication of how long they last or what is discussed. The Queen's University of Belfast written submission stated

"The Steering Group on EU matters - which can call on the specialist knowledge of the European Unit - continues the practice of its predecessor under DFP of having no fixed timetable of meetings and therefore lacks incentive or opportunity to take on a strategic role. Its joint allocation to two Junior Ministers may also detract from its authority. The removal of a European co-ordinating role from DFP was an acknowledgement that the scope of NI's dealings with the EU had widened from the arena of the structural funds and their negotiation. The present arrangements do not help develop a wider perspective, the more so when set against the Executive's Programme for Government commitment that it sought to develop European strategies in a number of major areas."

In its written submission to the Committee in February 2002 OFMDFM explained

"Junior Ministers chair the EU Policy Group and its members are drawn from all Departments at either Grade 3 or 5 level. The Group meets every 2 months, but there is no set schedule of meetings."

The Committee has also considered the resourcing of the European Policy Co-ordination Unit. It has a budget of £163,000 and 4 staff working under a director with other responsibilities. The Committee does not feel that this is sufficient to enable it to carry out its duties as outlined in Section 3.

106. The Committee recommends the establishment of a free standing European Policy Co-ordination Unit within OFMDFM and the unit should be resourced properly to fulfil its role.

107. The Committee also recommends that the European Union Policy Group comprising of senior officials from all Government Departments should meet at least on a bi-monthly basis and a briefing note of the meetings should be available to the EU sub-committee.

108. As already stated OFMDFM has established an Office for the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels. While recognising the need for such an office and welcoming it the Committee was disappointed that it did not have a more pro-active approach in involving other sectors of the Northern Ireland community.

When giving evidence to the Committee SOLACE stated

"In our view, the decision to establish an office solely for the Northern Ireland Executive would appear to conflict with the co-operative and constructive work which had been built up over the previous decade and, in our view, does not provide the most appropriate model for Northern Ireland. We regret that decision."

109. The Committee also noted the Scottish and Welsh models in this respect. At the round table discussion in Brussels both Scotland and Wales explained that they built on their experience pre devolution. In both cases the current approach is to work along with Scotland Europa and Wales European Centre respectively, not against them. This allowed them to build on the existing contacts and networks and use them as a platform for the region as a whole. In Catalonia they developed a public consortium to deal with EU issues as the government did not want to act alone. The Committee considers that OFMDFM could learn from the experience of both Scotland and Wales.

110. The Committee also considered the costs of running the Brussels Office. The budget for the Office for 2001/02 is £465,000. The Committee considers that better use could be made of what is excellent office space in an exceptionally good location. Referring to the Brussels Office during the evidence session on 6 February 2002 the Junior Minister said

"This week we formally opened the Northern Ireland Executive Office in Brussels. That was the first building block being put in place to enable the Administration to conduct normal, formal, routine business with the European Union........ it will provide a facility for the whole community. It will provide facilities for this Committee in pursuing its perfectly legitimate objective of scrutinising the Administration and the work of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. We want to ensure that you are provided with full facilities so that you can carry out your functions with the best assistance possible. We also want to ensure that the business community, universities, trade unions, voluntary sector and community sector can avail of the office's services. We are determined that that will be so."

The Committee welcomes this more co-operative approach to the Brussels Office.

111. The Committee recommends that the Office of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels adopts a more co-ordinated and networking approach by providing access to offices for such organisations as local government, NICE and non government organisations. In addition the Committee recommends that OFMDFM provides bi-monthly briefings on this aspect.

112. The Committee further recommends that to encourage usage, the office space is provided at a reasonable cost. Consideration should also be given to a variety of tenancies, ie occasional to full time usage.

113. The Committee also recommends that the name of the "Office of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels" be changed to reflect the more co-operative approach proposed by the Junior Minister, Mr Haughey, when he gave evidence to the Committee on 6 February 2002.

114. The evidence from Dr Ian R K Paisley MP, MEP, MLA, the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe, SOLACE and others suggest that the current approach by OFMDFM has not taken account of the wide range of experience available outside of Government. A considerable volume of knowledge and expertise has been developed over the years that has assisted a wide range of organisations from all sectors to function more effectively in Europe. This resource should be built upon. In specific subject areas, many organisations have established good networks and contacts. An approach should be established to co-ordinate these for the benefit of the region. The MEPs and Economic and Social Committee members felt that their expertise and contacts were not being used to the best return for Northern Ireland. Similarly the wide range of evidence from business organisations, local government, agri-rural, voluntary organisations, universities etc would indicate their expertise is not being used. In his submission Dr Paisley said

"Critically your Committee inquiry should consider why there is no co-ordination between the Departments and the MEPs. There are no regular briefings and there is no strategic approach in general from the Executive. I continue to make approaches directly and receive the briefing papers that the Scottish, English and Welsh MEPs receive on behalf of the Government Departments there. Quite frankly the Northern Ireland Departments and the Executive are not at the same game. In fact, in my experience it is now more difficult to get information from the Northern Ireland Departments about European matters than at any previous time due to the defensive nature of the ministerial run Departments."

The FSB/CBI(NI) also stated

"There is currently no formal relationship or communication between members of the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions, MEPs, the Northern Ireland Assembly and also with ourselves, the social partners including businesses, trade unions, and so on. While we did not wish an elaborate arrangement akin to the Civic Forum, an ad hoc forum could meet from time to time to discuss issues of obvious mutual concern arising from the European Union."

115. The Committee is particularly concerned that it appears that the experience of the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe in producing models and approaches to assist organisations and sectors to gain a better understanding of the context and implications of EU issues and to develop a future strategy has not been used. The Northern Ireland Centre in Europe said

"The Northern Ireland Centre in Europe made detailed proposals for a Northern Ireland presence in Brussels which would be open to the collective efforts ..... These proposals were rejected in favour of an office which is solely for the Northern Ireland Executive and its Departments. Following the rejection of proposals developed by the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe to work along side the Executive Office we had no option but to close our Brussels Office. We regret this was the decision taken and do not believe it to be in the best model to serve the interests of Northern Ireland.

There are clear issues that still need to be addressed in Northern Ireland through an approach that involves personnel other than those in the Executive and the civil servants who work in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. NICE's role has always been to develop issues dynamically."

116. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM examines its current approach on EU matters, with particular reference to the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe, in order to build upon the expertise already available in a way that Scotland and Wales both built upon their existing structures prior to devolution.

117. Referring to Northern Ireland Centre in Europe during the evidence session on 6 February 2002 the Junior Minister said

"After all our difficulties we are now in a position to redefine a relationship between this Administration and a NICE reshaped to meet the needs of a new situation. We will be taking that work forward at maximum possible speed.

It is my firm intention - and the intention of the four Ministers in my Department - that we build on the work done by NICE and that we begin to put it together again where that work was rudely and crudely interrupted."

118. The Committee welcomes the indications from the Junior Minister, Mr. Haughey, that communication has re-opened with NICE and recommends that the EU sub-committee should receive regular briefings on the progress of such communications.

119. The Committee further recommends that systems be put into place immediately to ensure that the in-depth knowledge that is available on EU policies and legislation, from the MEPs and the representatives on the Committee of the Regions and Economic and Social Committee, is taken account of in the future approach of OFMDFM.

120. In the post devolution situation, Northern Ireland has greater scope to develop its own strategies and policies towards Europe. This is different to the pre devolution period where the policy was established in London and engagement at official level in European policy making in Northern Ireland was limited. This narrowed the exposure of Northern Ireland officials to European issues, and particularly to broader issues, which could impact on all Departments. The Committee feels that a more pro-active approach should be taken now by OFMDFM to build the capacity within all the Departments to become engaged with European issues - particularly beyond the narrow remit of implementing legislation.

121. Professor Simon Bulmer in his written submission stated

"The Northern Ireland Office maintained links into Brussels on agriculture and the structural funds. However, engagement at official level with European policy-making in Whitehall seemed limited, and to be conducted predominantly by liaison staff in London, thus limiting the exposure of NIO officials in Belfast to broader (horizontal) European policy issues."

The Environment Committee in its written submission stated

"In its introduction, the Framework document describes OFMDFM as having a co-ordinating role in EU policy. The Committee is concerned that the experience of direct rule may have had a negative impact on the skill levels within individual Northern Ireland Departments and believes that all Departments, including the Department of the Environment, must address the growing need for a radical change in organisational culture to meet the demands of the devolved administration."

The Junior Minister, Mr Haughey, stated in his evidence to the Committee

"Due to devolution, we are now in the position to make our own strategies, but the Northern Ireland Civil Service administrative machinery is a big machine. It takes considerable time to build capacity in that machine and to reorient it so that it begins to think in ways that have not been natural for about a quarter of a century. That takes time."

The Committee was alarmed at the lack of information provided by OFMDFM on the placement of secondees on their return to Northern Ireland in the pre devolution period and the small number of individuals currently on secondment. The Committee also recognises that there is a need to build such skills and expertise within the Assembly and the social partners. The Committee considered the possibility that some form of enhanced promotional opportunity may be an appropriate method to encourage long term secondments as well as attracting high quality candidates. The Committee recognises that personnel issues are within the remit of the Department of Finance and Personnel, not OFMDFM, but considers the issue of secondments to be of such importance that it would encourage OFMDFM to engage with the Department of Finance and Personnel on this issue. The Committee welcomes the indications within the Framework document that a clear policy on secondments is to be developed.

122. From Scotland the CoSLA representative said

"We are trying to encourage short-term secondments, for example for three or four months.

If an officer is seconded we must give their council some sort of financial help."

In the submission to the Committee, the Scottish Executive EU Office in Brussels said

"We now have a substantial budget to support secondments. We currently have 12 Scottish Executive officials in the EU institutions plus five in the Scottish EU Office. Similarly we have done a lot of work on the training side. That way you are building institutional capacity to deal with issues in the future."

The round table discussion in Brussels on 24 January 2002 highlighted that it is important to ensure that the region has the capacity to deal with EU issues. In Wales they have set aside a budget to finance secondments to the European Commission (EC) and UKRep for both officials and outside individuals from NGOs. The objective is to develop and make use of this expertise for the good of the region.

The written submission from NIWEP stated

"There is a wealth of talent and experience on European matters among public, private and voluntary players that could be better harnessed in Northern Ireland. In addition more opportunities could be availed of at EU level to place people from all these sectors in a variety of capacities - secondments/advisors/experts."

One of the Scottish MEPs - Professor Sir Neil MacCormick said

"You should also ensure that civil servants serving the Administration are from time to time seconded to the United Kingdom Permanent Representation and gain experience in those institutions.

Over the years there have been many instances of people who, having had part of their careers in Brussels, have come back and occupied very senior positions in what was the Scottish Office - now the Scottish Executive and Administration."

Sir Nigel Sheinwald UKRep said

"In UKRep we welcome secondments."

The Scottish Executive EU Office in Brussels emphasised

"The importance of getting as many civil servants as is feasible out to gain hands-on experience. When they come back good use should be made of them."

123. The Committee recommends that regular briefing is provided by OFMDFM on the development of the Secondment Strategy. The strategy should ensure the inclusion of both long-term and short-term secondments.

124. The Committee recommends that European experience gained during secondments is fully recognised and utilised on return through appropriate placements and opportunities for promotion. Consideration could be given to some form of enhanced promotional opportunities for long term secondments.

125. The Committee recommends that "Central" funding be put in place to cover the costs to Departments of staff on EU secondments.

126. The Committee recommends that a scheme similar to the Welsh scheme, where funding is available for secondments from the non-government sector, is considered.

127. The Committee recommends that the Assembly Commission should investigate secondments for Assembly staff to the EU institutions.

128. The Framework document mentions a strategy is being developed for inter-regional co-operation. However this has the overall objective of co-operation between administrations (with some facilitation of engagement at other levels). Evidence from many of the submissions indicated that Northern Ireland should also be looking at "selling" its skills and expertise in peace building and community issues. In its submission NIWEP advised that

"Efforts to influence are more likely to succeed when willingness to make a contribution to a shared goal is part of the equation. Otherwise they can be marginalised as opportunism for selfish short-term gain. Europe is a co-operative project with ambitious goals - a more united Europe, an enlarged Europe and hopefully a socially cohesive as well as financially strong Europe. The outworking of all this will have a significant impact on Northern Ireland. We can choose to drift on the tide of change taking little direct interest after funding to this region is significantly reduced. Alternatively we can help shape the future picture of Europe, sharing our experience, engaging in joint endeavours, developing cultural understanding. In return we will continue to learn new and/or different things and gain more expertise to assist us to succeed in an increasingly global and constantly changing world."

129. The Committee recommends that the EU Strategy should also address those areas in which Northern Ireland expertise and experience, eg from local authorities, could be used to benefit other regions within the EU and in the candidate countries.

Comparison with Other Regions

130. The Committee compared the approach of the devolved government with that of other regions in particular Scotland and Wales.

131. During its evidence session with the Scottish Parliament EU Committee on 11 January 2002, the Committee learnt that it receives the explanatory memoranda from the UK Cabinet office on EU issues. OFMDFM advised the Committee in its written evidence that it receives information from a number of sources.

132. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM puts in place the systems to ensure that explanatory memoranda from the UK Cabinet Office is shared with the Assembly and its relevant Committees.

133. The Committee further recommends that OFMDFM explores how much of explanatory memoranda information can be valuably shared with other interests to ensure the best response for Northern Ireland.

134. The Committee also considered the nomination process of OFMDFM to the Committee of the Regions and compared it to the process used in Scotland. In its written submission to the Committee of February 2002, the Scottish Parliament EU Committee noted that the White Paper on the establishment of the Parliament allows for the "Scottish Executive to be responsible for making proposals to the Scottish Parliament on nominations to Scotland's established share of representation within the Committee of the Regions and Economic and Social Committee."

"With regard to the new situation of Members' appointments (to the COR), there was consultation at political and official levels between the Parliament, the local authorities and the Executive, and agreement was reached on how the seats would be shared. In the Executive, that is endorsed by the Cabinet; in the Parliament it is discussed with their Bureau. Similarly, CoSLA has its own means of carrying out the procedure. It was debated in the Parliament then put forward to the UK." (Scottish Executive EU Office).

OFMDFM in a reply (February 2002) to a query from the Committee on this issue stated

"The Devolution White Paper, which preceded devolution in Scotland, stated that the Scottish Executive would be responsible for making recommendations to the Scottish Parliament in respect of nominations to the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee (ECOSOC). A similar commitment does not appear in relevant Northern Ireland documentation.

As previously explained, the nomination process to the Committee of the Regions had to be considerably compressed last year because of the short time available between the appointment of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) deadline for the receipt of nominations."

135. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM considers following the Scottish model for nomination of the Northern Ireland representatives to the Committee of the Regions i.e. that such nominations are decided in consultation with the Assembly and are ratified by the Assembly. The Committee is also aware that OFMDFM will have some input on the nominations for the Economic and Social Committee and requests that the Committee of the Centre is consulted on this issue.

136. The evidence presented by Grant Baird, CoSLA and Scotland Europa points to the necessity for a region to work in a well co-ordinated framework. This was apparent from all the Scottish witnesses who gave evidence in the oral evidence session on 11 January and 23 January 2002.

Grant Baird, former Chief Executive of Scotland Europa explained

"Although Scotland Europa started simply as an economic development body, it rapidly acquired a more mixed nature as people compromised back in Scotland.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) took its own office in Scotland Europa, as did the Highlands and Islands Development Board (HIDB), which was something of a rival to Scottish Enterprise.

Universities and even commercial people - one or two firms of lawyers and accountants - followed them so that we constituted a kind of collective. Our work still tended - in the nature of the Commission's powers - towards the financial, industrial and commercial areas, lobbying for rules and regulations that would be favourable to, or at least not disadvantage, Scottish industry and commerce.

The most helpful thing to have is a degree of unanimity for any European project among your supporters at home. Once or twice in Scotland we found that ideas were negated because people could not agree. It was therefore necessary to have everyone pull in the same direction."

Mr Tom Sullivan CoSLA stated

"A small country such as Scotland cannot achieve very much on its own, we take a networking approach."

The current Chief Executive of Scotland Europa stated

"Scotland Europa has two objectives - firstly, to network Scotland to EU institutions and secondly, to build alliances with other regions across Europe."

While the Scottish representatives admitted their joint working could be improved, they recognised the benefits to date of a co-operative approach. Working together in a co-ordinated manner and networks can yield positive results for Northern Ireland.

137. The current Northern Ireland approach appears to focus only on the needs of the Northern Ireland Executive and makes use of expertise only from the Northern Ireland Departments. This would seem to go against good practice.

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4. CONCLUSIONS

The Mapping Exercise

138. The Committee considered all "points of entry" for influencing EU policy and concluded that the Member State is the priority channel. It is therefore concerned at the linkages to the Whitehall Departments and at the level of communication between the Departments and the Assembly Committees. It also concluded that urgent action is needed on the backlog of implementing EU Directives. The Committee believes that OFMDFM should produce a forward programme of EU legislation that they expect to be implemented in Northern Ireland and would like to see greater clarity on the role of the North/South Ministerial Council in its EU format.

Influence of the Devolved Government over EU issues

139. With up to 80% of the Programme for Government affected by EU policies and 60% of Northern Ireland legislation arising out of the EU, it is vital that some influence can be exerted by Northern Ireland. The Committee concluded that there was too much focus on the formal methods and that informal networks were being largely ignored. It also concluded that with limited resources there should be a focus on a small number of areas where results can be obtained. The Committee concludes that the current Framework document does not have this approach. There is concern that the current approach is narrowly centred on the Northern Ireland Departments and the Committee concludes that this does not make best use of existing skills and knowledge amongst non-government organisations.

140. The Committee also accepts the evidence indicated that the Assembly should have a separate EU Committee but recognises that there are practical difficulties in establishing it in the immediate future. In the interim, the Committee will set up a sub committee. The Committee concludes that there is a need for high quality and timely information from the Departments to allow the Assembly members to carry out their scrutiny role. The Assembly may also wish to consider developing specialist research skills, an information office in Brussels and focused training for its members.

The Northern Ireland Strategy on the EU

141. The Committee concluded that the timescale for delivery of the EU Strategy was unacceptable and that it should contain clearly defined measurable targets, details of resources, be equality proofed and have evaluation systems. The Committee further believe that the EU Strategy should be advised by informed and open debate and that the structures should be established as soon as possible to help address the issue of an uncoordinated and ad hoc approach, and to ensure the knowledge of the key players, such as the MEPs, are considered.

142. While welcoming the establishment of the European Policy Co-ordination Unit, the Committee feels that it should be a free standing Unit and that one of the Junior Ministers should be allocated the "lead" role for EU affairs. The Committee also welcomes the opening of the Office of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels and would like to see it adopt a more co-operative and pro-active approach to working with non government organisations.

143. The Committee concluded that systems for networking with key players such as the MEPs should be improved, that institutional capacity needs to be developed and that secondment is an ideal method of achieving this.

Comparison with Other Regions

144. The Committee concludes that the joint working and co-operative approach with all key players and non government organisations demonstrated in other regions should be emulated by OFMDFM. The Committee also considered that OFMDFM should explore using the Scottish systems for nominating the Committee of the Regions representatives and for passing on the Explanatory Memoranda received from London.

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Appendix 1

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

Wednesday 5 December, 2001

Members present:
Mr Poots (Chairperson)
Mr Gibson (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Beggs
Dr Birnie
Mrs Courtney
Ms Lewsley
Mr Maskey
Mr McMenamin
Mr K Robinson
Mr Shannon

Witnesses:
Mr Will Haire ) Office of the First Minister
Mr Murray Cameron ) and the
Mr Tony Canavan ) Deputy First Minister

1

The Chairperson: Before the evidence session begins, members should declare any interests that they may have. I am a member of the Community Support Framework Monitoring Committee of the Northern Ireland Partnership Board.

2

Mr K Robinson: I am a member of a partnership board that disperses European funding.

3

Mr Beggs: I am a member of a partnership board.

4

The Deputy Chairperson: I am a member of a partnership board.

5

Mr McMenamin: I am a member of a partnership board.

6

The Chairperson: The Committee welcomes Mr Will Haire, Mr Murray Cameron and Mr Tony Canavan from the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. The witnesses will give a presentation, which will be followed by questions from Committee members.

7

Mr Haire: This is a valuable exercise, as the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister is working with other Departments to develop a framework for European Union issues. The task in the first year was to get the basic institutions up and running. The institutions are the European Policy and Co-ordination Unit (EPCU), which Mr Cameron leads, and the Brussels office, which Mr Canavan leads. The major focus has been to establish those basic structures and to develop work with Departments.

8

We are now working, especially with the European Policy Steering Group, to develop a framework for European issues. The major focus of our work now is building capacity across Departments in Northern Ireland to deal with European issues. The focus in the past, during direct rule, was very much on the structural funds, with which many of us are familiar. There was also a focus, especially for our colleagues in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, on the CAP and fisheries.

9

Devolution has provided an opportunity for much more interplay and involvement in European institutions. However, that was not a focus across Departments under direct rule. We are still working on that. It is a major issue for us all, as European policy affects about 80% of policy areas under the Programme for Government. Some areas such as agricultural and fisheries policies are affected directly; other policies are affected to a lesser degree. The challenge is to ensure that it is integrated into our thinking; that it is of benefit and that we become involved.

10

The aim is to ensure appropriate participation in the EU that is to our benefit. The key aspect of the work is establishing and pursuing our agreed priority aims across all Departments. We must also ensure that Her Majesty's Government, which have responsibility for EU policy and our position on Europe, take Northern Ireland's interests into account when formulating UK policy.

11

We have also been charged with improving the understanding of the EU in Northern Ireland. A major part of that responsibility lies with the Departments and the Administration, although we recognise that there is a wider role. We must also increase the influence of Northern Ireland in the European institutions. Finally, we see the important issue of raising Northern Ireland's profile in Europe as a key objective. Our work is split between the work of ECPU in Northern Ireland and the overseas office in Brussels. I hope that the papers give a sense of that.

12

Mr Maskey: Before devolution, the Department of Finance and Personnel was the structure through which all Directives were implemented and the Civil Service was the body that engaged with the EU. How has the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister dealt with the transfer of power? Has it been successful?

13

Mr Haire: Before devolution, an EU steering group that was run by the Department of Finance and Personnel was responsible for wider EU issues. However, the pressure of the structural funds meant that almost all that body's time was spent in dealing with structural funds. Frankly, there was no wider debate on EU issues.

14

We work very closely with the European Union Division of the Department of Finance and Personnel on several issues. I must declare that I am also on a monitoring committee in that capacity. The Department of Finance and Personnel clearly leads on the structural funds. We co-ordinate the lead on other aspects of policy, and the Department of Finance and Personnel - with which we work closely - is an integral part of our European Union Policy Group that looks at wider matters. Our colleagues in the Department of Finance and Personnel work with the important budgetary aspects of EU issues. That works well, and there is no conflict of interests in that process, but I hope that we bring a more policy-oriented role to the system.

15

The Economic Policy Unit (EPU) is responsible for dealing with the Programme for Government. The Programme for Government increasingly takes EU issues into account, and that is important - 80% of our policies have had an effect on that procedure. The Programme for Government has challenged us to consider that and to state our objectives clearly. We must ask whether we want to be aware of EU questions and on what areas EU policies will have an affect for which we must be geared up. We also need actions in our Programme for Government.

16

The reform of the CAP, for example, must be central, as is the regeneration of the rural economy. That sort of integration is a priority of the Programme for Government, and that is why it is logical that EPU thinks along those lines.

17

Mr Maskey: Does that mean that you would set the priorities? You advise the Department regularly, but how would you set priorities and give briefings, guidance and so forth?

18

Mr Haire: The Executive sets priorities collectively. Our colleagues in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development have more expertise in how to approach their policy areas.

19

We try to build consensus as opposed to being prescriptive from the centre. We do that with the Programme for Government, and that approach is collective. Several of our Departments are strong in Europe and are used to working there. However, some of our Departments have not had that exposure, and we try to work with those Departments that do not have the resources or experience. We try to get them to Brussels and we work with them through that process and we also attempt to get them to Whitehall to make sure that they get the flow of information. Some basic steps are necessary, and that is our role.

20

Some Departments, such as the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, have wide priorities. It is undoubtedly important that the Department keeps its focus on some areas of public health and understands the European issues. On the other hand, there are many other pressing domestic matters, and realistically we must help them where we can but we must accept that they have other important priorities beyond their EU ones.

21

Mrs Courtney: How do you ensure that Northern Ireland's interests are taken into account in the formulation of UK and EU policy?

22

Mr Haire: As the EU is a union of member states, the key things are the formulation of the UK view and ensuring that Northern Ireland's interests are represented. There are two aspects to that. The first is to get early intelligence - we pick that up from our contacts in UK Permanent Representation (UKRep) in Brussels, and the second is to ensure that Whitehall listens to us.

23

Mr Canavan: The European Union is a union of member states, and the Council of Ministers is its ultimate political decision-making organ. The permanent support for the UK Ministers in the Council of Ministers is UKRep, which is based in Brussels and which employs approximately 120 staff. Along with our Scottish and Welsh colleagues in Brussels we operate under the umbrella of UKRep.

24

We work closely with UKRep's desk officers, who are charged with responsibility for specific matters, for example, aspects of agriculture, the environment and structural funds. We must identify the desk officers who are involved with issues regarding Northern Ireland and liaise closely with them. They inform us about matters that will be discussed by the Council and when they will arise. We can exert influence through that bilateral link but we cannot shape the big contours of policy in Brussels as that responsibility lies in the links between Stormont and Whitehall. However, sometimes we can influence details at the point of delivery, and that is where the links with UKRep, and to a lesser extent our links with the Commission, may help. Direct contact with someone in the Commission can create a favourable bias towards decisions on Northern Ireland.

25

Mr Cameron: We facilitate meetings for Ministers with their Scottish and Welsh counterparts and where appropriate we arrange meetings between our Departments and their equivalents in Great Britain. We also maintain contact with the Cabinet Office.

26

Mrs Courtney: Do MEPs visit your office?

27

Mr Canavan: It is not so much a matter of MEPs visiting, because we are right beside the Parliament. It is easier for us to visit MEPs. We had a meeting with Jim Nicholson, but the other two MEPs are less frequent visitors to Brussels and we have not met on site in Brussels. However, we keep in close contact with the two permanent assistants to MEPs; although Dr Paisley does not have a permanent assistant in Brussels at the moment.

28

We have consulted Jim Nicholson about establishing a routine in due course and we should also like to hear from the other MEPs about how best we might brief them when issues come before Parliament. As a matter of course, MEPs receive UKRep briefing on United Kingdom policy, but sometimes there is a requirement for supplementary briefing on Northern Ireland, and we are trying to devise the best possible system. That may be face to face meetings, or it may be a quarterly meeting; it may be simply a matter of sending an e-mail, depending on which is the quickest and most effective way.

29

Mr Haire: Junior Ministers have had meetings here with our MEPs and they are keen to develop that contact. That is vital for us in order to operate in the Parliament, because it is responsible for many areas; therefore it is important that we work with our MEPs and with others in the European institutions.

30

I stress the influence of Whitehall. Our Ministers are members of the Ministerial Committee on European Co-ordination (MINECOR) which deals with broad policy and which is chaired by Peter Hain of the Foreign Office. For example, MINECOR deals with the debate on the future of Europe and with the euro, and our Ministers are actively involved.

31

There is also a Joint Ministerial Council of Europe, which has met twice. Together with our Scottish and Welsh colleagues we are keen that that method is used frequently, because it gives us access to many areas.

32

It is chaired by the Foreign Secretary and it gives our Ministers a real opportunity to make their points clear on major issues. At the same time, however, the key element for all of us is that the Whitehall Ministries often dominate because of their technical knowledge. There is a very strong structure in agriculture, and Ms Rodgers meets the other agriculture ministers frequently to develop policy. A similar system exists for the structural funds when regulations are being introduced. It is vital, however, to ensure that all Ministers and officials - and this is especially important in the Department of the Environment - are, where appropriate, hammering on the doors of Whitehall. Very often key issues are dealt with by the technical experts in that area.

33

Ms Lewsley: Is Northern Ireland in full compliance with the requirements of EU Directives? Are any not being met? Many councils are worried about next year's EU Directive on waste management. If that is not in place by June 2002 we could face £400,000 in penalties.

34

Mr Haire: In several areas legislation has not been passed in time with the European Directives, and we monitor those. There are several technical aspects. It is complex because in some areas Directives can be operative in Northern Ireland without our passing a law. People therefore have the protection of the European Directive; in a sense, the law is not necessary, so the problem is solved.

35

We may be several months behind in other areas. In this process those areas will be technical and are not likely to cause problems for the Commission. There is, however, a significant backlog in Environment. In the first Programme for Government the Department of the Environment got the largest budget increase of any Department. That was partly in recognition of the real need to get resources into it.

36

I am not a technical expert, but in certain matters the Directive can only be implemented if the required building and sewage works are in place to do it. I understand that these matters are among Mr Foster's priorities. Infraction proceedings have begun against us in some areas. However, infractions take a long time. Many countries go into those procedures and there are ways of dealing with them. The Department of the Environment is conscious of the issue, and we are keen to work with the Department to help. However, significant questions must be answered.

37

Mr Canavan: None of the member states has a completely clear record in the matter of Directives. Also, there are two types of infraction. The first is where a date is set out clearly in the initial Directive for what is called transposition, and legislation must be brought in by that date. That is fairly clear. Usually, the legislation is either in place or it is not; or it is going through and the date on which it is likely to come into effect can be indicated. It is more problematic when there is a difference of interpretation on whether the Directive has been correctly implemented between the member state and the Commission. If both stick to their guns, the matter might go to the European Court of Justice for a decision.

38

In the summer, the EU's Environment Directorate -General produced a raft of statements about various member states and the procedures they were taking. We monitored those which were critical of the United Kingdom and in particular of Northern Ireland. The United Kingdom was not the worst of the member states. France and Belgium were taken severely to task by the Commission.

39

Infractions are to be avoided if at all possible, but if an infraction procedure is begun it is not the end of the world. There are many formal stages before it reaches the European Court of Justice. When it reaches the European Court of Justice, there is another set of procedures before fines are introduced.

40

Ms Lewsley: Does that process not cost money? Infractions may take time; however, if the case does go to court and the member state is found guilty and fined, does it not have to pay the money back? How big do the penalties tend to be?

41

Mr Haire: There are costs. The Italians have had fines of up to £50,000 a day imposed upon them. This is a very serious issue. In some cases, a state may be slightly late with its payments but will respond immediately to an infraction letter, and the matter will therefore be dealt with very quickly. Certain technical areas of law are constantly being tested in the court. A decision must be made about whether to fight the case or take the Commission's view.

42

I am not aware that these infractions are particularly problematic for us at the moment. However, there are significant issues concerning the implementation of our Directives. The problem is not one peculiar to the Department of the Environment, but we did inherit a major problem there. The issue is top of Mr Foster's agenda, but it is difficult to obtain the necessary resources and legal expertise. Infrastructural problems must also be tackled. We must solve this problem as quickly as possible.

43

The Chairperson: Is it correct that the Department of the Environment was advised when the Commission's regulations would come into effect but that it did not have the money to carry out the Directives?

44

Mr Haire: Some of the Directives date back many years, so I do not know about those. Undoubtedly, the Department knew about the Directives and was aware of the situation.

45

The Chairperson: Therefore the information system was working correctly, and the problems must have started once the Department received the information. I am not apportioning blame but I want to make sure that the information system was not at fault. If the problem was due to finance and budgeting, that is another matter, but I want to be clear on how the European issues were handled.

46

Mr Haire: Some of these issues have been around for many years. At the moment, there is a clear procedure for informing people of Directives and the time scale for dealing with them. Many of the major problems concern budgets. A new director is working in the Department of the Environment to resolve the problem. I do not have the details to answer all the questions. However, we are strongly under the impression that there is a backlog of work and that budgetary constraints make it difficult to resolve the problem.

47

Mr McMenamin: What effort is being made to connect the networks that have been developed in Measure 4.1 of the EU's Programme for Peace and Reconciliation with those that the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister hope to build in Europe? How will the sustainability of the networks be assessed and encouraged?

48

Mr Cameron: We shall study all applications for funding closely and we shall apply stringent measures, including economic appraisals, to test their sustainability. We shall bring whatever expertise is necessary, and all applications will be considered by a panel drawn from the community sector. Until we see the number and type of applications we cannot be definitive about what we do.

49

We shall examine the applications we receive to ensure that they represent all sectors and all communities. However, it will be difficult for us to link individual applications with networks that we are trying to develop; networks that we hope will be more formal. I expect to receive some applications from projects that are less formal and more community-based.

50

Mr Haire: An important point is that there are networks where, from a policy standpoint, the Executive, the Departments and other institutions use their own resources. We must not use European funding for activities that we have a duty to carry out ourselves as part of our policy work.

51

Mr Shannon: What would be the best way to improve Northern Ireland's position in relation to EU legislation?

52

Mr Haire: It is our duty to comply with EU regulations. Our prime objective is to ensure that, through the Assembly and the Executive, we have effective systems that will enable us to comply with all EU Directives. To improve our position we should identify several key strategic policy issues that are essential to Northern Ireland's future and to ensure that we have the knowledge and understanding to play our part.

53

European structures are complex: there is so much going on, much of which is technical. Agriculture and fishing are key elements. The change in structural funds and the use of cohesion funds are important, although enlargement will result in there being less finance available from those sources. A key aim will be to fit that in with our environmental issues. We must consider how trans-European networks (TENs) will help to strengthen our economy. We will have to focus on several areas where change is evident. The danger is that if we try to do everything at once we might achieve little.

54

My experience in Brussels is that those countries that focus do well. That is a difficult lesson to learn but it is the key point. The important consideration is, therefore, to get the focus right.

55

Mr Canavan: I agree. The Northern Ireland Executive Office in Brussels has a relatively small staff. Two civil servants represent Northern Ireland. We cannot cover the entire waterfront, and neither can the Scottish Executive Office, which has slightly more staff, so it has to specialise. Even UKRep, which has 120 staff, includes desk officers with a wide range of notional responsibilities, but who have to focus on specific topics.

56

EU institutions form an enormous bureaucracy, perhaps not so in respect of the numbers of individuals concerned, but certainly through their responsibilities. The element of competition between the EU institutions - the Parliament, the Commission and the Council - results in each continually trying to protect or extend its powers. That is particularly the case in the European Commission. The outcome of that is an ever-expanding output from the EU. We must take account of that while trying to focus on what is relevant to Northern Ireland.

57

Mr Shannon: Fishing is an activity that is close to my heart, and it is important to my constituency. A great failure of the EU has been the fact that it has not safeguarded the Northern Ireland fishing industry. The quota system has affected the industry. Representatives are going to Brussels this week to examine the new quota limits, and cuts seem inevitable. Is there any way to help or to encourage the fishing industry? That has not yet happened, and the industry's representatives are concerned, as are we all.

58

Mr Haire: I am sorry; I do not know enough about the subject. There has been extensive debate about the successes and failures of the common fisheries policy. The Commission has made a proposal on the matter, but, cleverly, it holds the Fisheries Council meeting just before Christmas so Ministers are obliged to make decisions quickly. They usually reach an agreement by 23 December. It will be several weeks before some matters are finalised. However, in the past the European Union has introduced community initiatives to deal with the adjustments to fisheries regulations. Now that we have devolution, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development must take the opportunity to focus on such options.

59

Last Christmas, nephrops in the Irish Sea was the subject of the discussion. Ms Rodgers represented Northern Ireland on the Fisheries Council. One of the advantages of the system is that our voice is heard. However, I am afraid that I cannot comment on technical aspects or policy issues.

60

Mr Shannon: The Fisheries Council has been the bearers of very few gifts for the fishing industry, irrespective of who Northern Ireland's Minister might be.

61

Mr K Robinson: Paragraph 4 outlines Northern Ireland's interest in contributing to the formulation of policy. How can that be achieved? Can you give us examples of how Northern Ireland has been able to benefit from that? Paragraph 5, "Raising Northern Ireland's positive profile" does not state the aim of the programme of visits. How will you measure the success of those activities? I am particularly interested in how you propose to have regular contact with the Committee of the Centre.

62

Finally, are you aware of the danger to the Larne end of the TEN route in the island of Ireland? In particular, I am concerned that the TEN route was diverted recently. The TEN routes throughout Europe were reviewed at a recent conference in Luxembourg. Will you ensure that the Northern Ireland link to our one remaining seaport with a railhead, at Larne, is not lost?

63

Mr Cameron: Measurement in a policy area is difficult at any time. We must be careful, and we wish to concentrate on outcomes, rather than output only. Northern Ireland is still developing its policy. The office in Brussels has not been open for long, and we are still devising our framework for strategy. We will be developing measures of our performance, but they are not yet completed.

64

Mr Haire: I set targets for both teams, and, in regard to several measures, I have drawn up an initial set of objectives to be achieved in the next six months, including the number of meetings that are held and the contacts made. However, those targets relate solely to input. We have not yet devised targets relating to impact. As a group, we provide a quality service. We must make sure that we help our customers, whether they be Ministers or policy makers, and ensure that they are satisfied.

65

A major problem is that many Departments have not yet realised that they need our services, and that they need to get into Europe. We need to build capacity into our system. We have influenced policy in the Department of Finance and Personnel and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Those Departments are geared up and, although there are tight constraints, progress is being made. For example, work has been done to establish a Northern Ireland position on the significant problems of BSE. I worked in UKRep in the 1990s, before devolution, and at times the UK approach to structural fund negotiations was dictated by the needs of Northern Ireland. We were clear about what we needed, we sold that to the UK Government as something that was valuable to them also, and we succeeded in our aims. That can be done, but focus is needed.

66

We work for Ministers, one of whom is a representative on the Committee of the Regions. The Commission 3 (Trans-European Networks, Transport and Information Society) met in Belfast last week or the week before. We must develop this important area, and focus on the work of the Commission, the Parliament and the Council because the Directives are derived from those institutions. The Committee of the Regions provides a wider area for policy debate where members from different regions can learn from one another and the inter-regional aspects of policy can be built on. The Committee does not have legislative powers but it is useful, because representatives sit alongside other significant players. We should learn about other regions' policy making and should focus on that in our work. However, we must learn to walk before we run.

67

Mr Beggs: Assembly Committees are becoming more aware of the number of EU Directives that are being issued. We are told that we must approve them because they come from the EU. I am concerned that, as an Assembly Member, I have never been consulted on an EU Directive. I understand that such decisions are made at a high level, but there is a problem with democracy because a small number of people make decisions that are then enforced on everyone. I recognise that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Directives, but have any recent instruments been particularly relevant to Northern Ireland? I refer to those in which Northern Ireland politicians should have been involved at an earlier stage. It is important to intervene early in the process because, once it has begun, the procedure is too complex to allow for a change of direction. Have we already missed out on being involved with matters that concern us?

68

Is there anything to be learnt from the Scottish model? The Scottish Parliament has a Committee that selects Directives that might affect them so that they can work on the relevant areas. Your briefing states that you plan to establish a local EU forum. What format and structure would that have?

69

Information on secondments to Europe is not collated centrally. The Committee was given information about the Department of Finance and Personnel, but it would be useful to have an overall picture of secondments, so that any gaps in the system can be filled. Is there enough encouragement of people to take a two-year secondment in Europe to gather information, and will that work be recognised when they return?

70

Mr Haire: Mr Cameron will discuss secondments and Mr Canavan will talk about Directives. The Committee's discussion on Directives with its Scottish counterparts will be an important element of its inquiry. Mr Beggs is correct that it is necessary to focus at the right stage. Involvement is needed before a Directive has been written, because by the time it reaches us as part of the formal process, the ambassadors and member states have negotiated it and the lines are set. Your Scottish counterparts became directly involved in the discussion of some Directives, but when they came to discuss their ideas on them, they had already been set.

71

In my experience of working in Brussels, the same problem exists at Westminster. Although EU legislation is subjected to a scrutiny process at Westminster, the Parliament has little scope for manoeuvre and, in many respects, the Directive is presented as a fait accompli. The Parliament has the option to reject the Directive, but that is a nuclear option.

72

Mr Canavan: A European Commission representative, if asked whether such legislation is subjected to sufficient scrutiny, would say that the European Parliament provides a democratic check on the passage of Directives. Over the last 10 years there has been a large increase in the number of areas of co-decision, which are those in which a Directive must not only be approved by the Council, the ultimate political decision- making organ representing the 15 member states, but by the European Parliament. If there is a difference of view between the two, a conciliation process allows the institutions to thrash out a compromise.

73

A Eurosceptic would argue that national Parliaments or regional Assemblies should have an input at an earlier stage. I agree with Mr Haire that it is difficult to influence a procedure once the Commission publishes a proposal, which is when the juggernaut starts rolling. It is important to establish good contact with desk officers in the Commission, before a proposal is published, so that people here can be alerted of any Northern Ireland dimension that needs to be taken into account. Many others will be lobbying at the same time. In Brussels there are approximately 170 offices representing various regions in Europe who will try to influence the Commission from their perspective.

74

Scrutiny structures have been developed in Westminster, but in some circumstances, because the issue is routine or urgent, Ministers may agree a Directive in Council before scrutiny has been completed in the House of Lords and by the Commons Scrutiny Committee.

75

Mr Cameron: We can work with all the Departments to organise secondments and to encourage them to change their perspective. We are examining the pluses and minuses of secondments for Departments and individuals. Awareness of the opportunities for and benefits of secondments in the Northern Ireland Civil Service is being examined. However, not everyone wants to work in Brussels, and an official's willingness to do so will depend on the stage of his or her career, his or her responsibilities, commitments and the age of his or her family. We want Departments to regard secondments as an investment for the future. However, the harsh reality of the existing system is that if someone is seconded the Department not only has to pay the salary of the seconded individual, but pay for someone to fill the home post.

76

There are pluses and minuses for the individual and for the Department. We want to work with Departments to iron out some of those difficulties. We want to increase awareness of secondment opportunities and find out whether the Brussels office could facilitate some secondments. We also want to ensure, with personnel officers, that individuals who have benefited from an experience in Brussels are deployed usefully when they return. The aim is to make all Departments aware that such secondments can be facilitated and that they are a valuable investment.

77

Mr Beggs: Mr Canavan said that an issue must be followed up before a proposal for the relevant Directive is published. How do you know what is being talked about?

78

Mr Canavan: That can be done through good contacts in UKRep, who have fairly close relations with the desk officers at the Commission, and, ideally, through our own contacts at the Commission. In the past few months we have been building up a network of contacts in the Commission, initially with people from Northern Ireland who work there and with those who work on specific portfolios, such as structural funds or employment policy, with a geographic focus on Northern Ireland. We are widening that network to incorporate many other areas and Directorates General such as environment and competition policy, which can be hard nuts to crack. There will be quite a good network in due course. However, to work that system well, Northern Ireland's priorities must be identified. We cannot be reactive: priorities must be pinpointed and contacts developed.

79

Mr Gibson: How successful have you been as a team to date? How are you funded? Are there adequate numbers of staff to deliver on the four major roles that the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister has given you? What more do you need to be able to deliver on the four core aims?

80

Mr Haire: We would like to have established the Brussels office and contacts with the institutions more rapidly than we did. In the last two years, complex disruptions in the process have affected our work. To work with builders when trying to build one's own house in Northern Ireland is a pain; to work with Belgian builders can also be complex. Mr Cameron and his team had a tough job and they did it well. Those are bricks and mortar aspects.

81

I am conscious of the matter of resources. I am considering whether there are sufficient resources and support for the team at home. The difficulty is in distinguishing between our responsibilities and those of the Departments. Much of our job is to leverage action in Departments. Departments cannot thrust tasks upon us. A careful balance must be made, which must also be balanced against other pressures on us.

82

Four staff work in the Brussels team. One suggestion, which we want to pursue and for which we will need additional resources, is the introduction of six-month secondments for middle-ranking officials in Departments. That would be good for them though we would get less of a return - it would be a training investment, but, undoubtedly, those officials would be helpful on the ground in that area. Short secondments would limit the cost, and although individuals would get only a taste of the work involved, that might be useful for some high-flying officials.

83

We are open to the idea that our colleagues from other Departments, for example, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, may want to second staff to our office so that they can specialise. That option is interesting, but the question of resources must be dealt with. However, our office is there for all Departments. I must bid against other important priorities, but we are conscious of the need to examine the work and the effectiveness of secondments, which are important.

84

Our Ministers and I want our offices in Brussels to be used regularly. Although the direct flight service from Belfast to Brussels has been withdrawn, which has made it difficult for all of us, we want officials, Members and Ministers to visit the office in Brussels regularly, perhaps for a day or two each week. We need to examine that cost-effective way of working. We want the office to be heavily used and to ensure that it is sufficiently resourced so that we can give the best advice. I hope that your report will raise awareness in Departments, the Assembly and the Executive that everybody, not just the two teams here, is involved in Europe now.

85

Mr Gibson: How do we encourage our Departments to be more proactive and interested in Europe? How can we encourage them to send senior officials to Brussels once a week so that they are fully aware of the importance of Europe and their need to co-operate on that level? Are Departments willing to do that, or are they restricted by insufficient resources?

86

Mr Haire: Everyone has resource limits, but I recently offered senior departmental colleagues the opportunity to come to the Brussels office and to tell us their wish list so that we can organise the necessary meetings. I am getting good responses to that offer. Once those officials have done that, I want them to share their experience with their colleagues. People are sometimes reticent because they believe that the Commission is complex. It is an open system, and it is one of the most welcoming around. People there are extremely open and willing to explain matters, and we can learn much in that way. I am hopeful that we can help to send senior officials to the Commission.

87

Mr K Robinson: All of the Committee members here are local councillors. How do you build on the expertise that local councils have built up through their work on Europe, economic developments and so forth?

88

Mr Haire: We are still discussing the possibility of an EU forum with our Minister, but it is still a loose idea. Many people are interested in forums, and my gut reaction is that initially we should not have a formalised system, rather we should ask how we could tap into that experience to identify the expertise that exists in each field.

89

The Chairperson: If the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Department of Finance and Personnel have been the key success stories of the Northern Ireland Executive in Europe, what added value has the European Policy and Co-ordination Unit brought?

90

Mr Haire: We now have a system that incorporates every Department so that the other nine can deal more effectively with European issues. It will enable the discussion of cross-cutting issues, such as cohesion funds, the effects of enlargement on structural funds in Northern Ireland, how we should respond to that, and the wider question of the future of Europe. We are creating a basic system whereby we can address issues that would not have been dealt with before.

91

Secondment and the means of building up that capacity would not be dealt with in that way. In the past we regarded Europe as a money issue. Our job is to ensure that we view Europe in policy terms, consider the wider implications, and deal with legislative aspects early in the process.

92

The Chairperson: How do you measure success based on output and impacts as opposed to activities?

93

Mr Haire: A large aspect of our job will be facilitative. We have not got a good handle on that yet. The first few years will involve getting feedback from Departments that we have helped, and asking them if they could have achieved their aims without our support, or finding out what Departments need next. Initially our job will be simple, but when it becomes more sophisticated we will be able to create strategic priorities and pinpoint changes that are required in certain areas. However, we are not yet at that stage.

94

The big organisations such as UKRep would give the same response to your question. I am not trying to be complacent or flippant. It is a difficult area and you are right to point out that is an expensive process. We must be ambitious, set ourselves targets and define our areas. We need to measure in some way the impact of our activities to determine our achievements. In addition, I must write annual reports on my staff, so I need to know what they deliver in that process; I am also reported on. Clear definition is therefore necessary.

95

Mr Canavan: We must project ourselves five or 10 years into the future, to a situation where Northern Ireland is part of the rich West in a much bigger Europe. By that stage, the Department of Finance and Personnel and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development will have received the bulk of their funding from Brussels. By that time, however, we shall no longer be able to measure our success in monetary terms alone. The question will be whether we can benefit Northern Ireland in non-material ways, or in more oblique material ways, and how we can make a contribution. At present, organisations such as Northern Ireland Public Sector Enterprises Ltd. are doing a great deal of work with accession countries to help bring them up to entry standard. When we become part of the rich half of Europe, I hope that Northern Ireland will be contributing as well as receiving support.

96

The Chairperson: Thank you for your time. We may write to you with some further questions.

97

Mr Haire: We would be happy to reply, and we look forward to seeing you in Brussels.

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

Wednesday 9 January 2002

Members present:
Mr Poots (Chairperson)
Mr Gibson (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Beggs
Mrs E Bell
Dr Birnie
Mr C Murphy
Dr McDonnell
Mr McMenamin
Mr K Robinson
Mr Shannon

Witness:

Prof S Bulmer, Department of Government, University of Manchester

98

The Chairperson: I welcome Prof Bulmer.

99

Prof Bulmer: Thank you very much for inviting me. I hope my comments will be of value to your inquiry. I will summarise one or two of the salient points from the paper that I circulated, make a few additional observations and highlight some of the challenges for the Assembly and the Executive.

100

The main defining feature of British/European policy making is its contested political nature. Nevertheless, the Government have developed effective machinery for European policy based on a collective Cabinet approach, the sharing of information between ministries and civil servants and singing from the same hymn sheet in Brussels. The Government are pursuing a constructive European policy and have taken a more proactive role in European Union policy, notwithstanding their absence from participation in the euro. The developments under the Blair Government highlight a point relevant to your deliberations: it is one thing to organise European policy well by taking what comes from Brussels and distributing it through the ministerial machinery and the Assembly; but to exploit the opportunity that the European Union represents may require a different organisation that takes into account how the European Union works.

101

A second point is that the United Kingdom Government will not want the strengths of the existing system to be weakened by devolution - they want every area to sing from the same sheet. It is relevant to mention that the current arrangements in Scotland and Wales seem to work in the prevailing political climate where the Labour Party is common to all three systems of Government - United Kingdom, Wales and Scotland - but of course it is not present here.

102

In models elsewhere in the European Union one can distinguish between two patterns of regional engagement with national, European policy. In one there is co-operative regionalism, where the regions or sub- member state entities work together co-operatively in joining the national debate, and in the other pattern there is the more competitive regionalist approach that is characteristic of Spain and Belgium. At the moment we have a co-operative regionalist approach in the United Kingdom, but under different political circumstances or rules in Edinburgh, Wales or London it might become a more adversarial system moving towards competitive regionalism.

103

A further point is that the United Kingdom has a good record in implementing European Union law. To ensure that that continues post devolution, pressure must be put on the devolved authorities, especially those with law making powers in Scotland and Northern Ireland, to keep that record. The legislation passes on financial liabilities that might arise from European court cases to the devolved authorities for any failure to comply with European law, so enhanced strategic capacity is needed to monitor the transposition of European legislation to devolved levels of government.

104

You are paying particular attention to Scotland in your inquiry, so I should say that on European Union policy, both prior to and after devolution, Scotland has been the most proactive part of the Kingdom, apart from the Government themselves. The 1991 management review undertaken by the Scottish Office was pioneering in one sense. It was an early attempt to assess the impact of the European Community across all departments of the Scottish Office and to draw lessons for strategic capacity, the allocation of resources, training, placements in Brussels and central co-ordination on broad policies relating to the development of the European Union. Scotland has led the pack in preparing and then establishing arrangements for European policy making in its Executive and in its representation in Brussels and in the Parliament.

105

The Welsh Office and the National Assembly for Wales have more limited resources and competencies. Those factors, combined with the Assembly's novel constitutional status, have led to Wales being somewhat behind Scotland.

106

It is important to note the asymmetry of the devolution settlement. The Executive and Assembly arrangements in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland differ. Lessons cannot necessarily be transferred from one system to another. On the other hand, they must all try to maximise their impact on UK European policy making so as not to be relatively disadvantaged.

107

There is a problem with the position of England post devolution. There is no formal arena in the UK for an English position on European policy to be considered with Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish ones, and that will not change through devolution to the English regions as currently envisaged or through plans to reform the House of Lords. This sets the UK apart from countries with comparable systems, such as Germany, Belgium and Austria. Spain is more like the UK in this since Catalonia and the Basque country interact with and have an impact on Spanish national politics. However, how that happens is different from how it happens in the UK since devolution.

108

The issues that confront Northern Ireland present challenges. In theory, Northern Ireland's effectiveness in the European Union should be enhanced by devolution because policy will be derived from the democratic base rather than be overseen by Government Ministers with no political base here. The flow of information to the Northern Ireland Executive - and thence to the Assembly - from Whitehall and the UK permanent representative in Brussels should be the same as it is for Scotland and Wales because that is set out in the concordats.

109

The challenge for Northern Ireland is to maximise effective input into European policy making. A review is under way in the Executive which must enhance their strategic capacity to ensure that Northern Ireland engages with wider issues than structural funds, reconciliation and peace funds and the common agricultural policy (CAP). For example, we must think about such matters as the status in the constitutional reform process of EU regions with legislative powers. The report from the Scottish European Committee that was discussed earlier refers to that.

110

Co-ordination with Whitehall remains central because the UK Government are the official channel into EU policy making. That is obviously a priority. As and when the Assembly begins more detailed scrutiny and management of EU policy, the Executive will have to increase their resources for ensuring a good flow of information to the Assembly - cover notes, briefing notes and so on. The Assembly and the Executive will enhance their European capacity through the Executive's Brussels office, which will also be valuable for the whole input process to Whitehall.

111

I assume that European policy will be assigned to the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM). However, from 1971 to 1972 all systems of Government in Scotland, Wales, and the UK had to consider whether it was better to establish a department for Europe or have all Departments think and act in a European way, with some light central co- ordination. I expect that that consideration is relevant to current debates here.

112

The principal question for your Assembly is whether there should be a European Committee. As an outsider, I believe that the no argument is based on the premise that Committees shadow Departments or Ministers, and as OFMDFM needs to be shadowed, the Committee of the Centre is the appropriate forum. By contrast, the yes argument is that European policy is a major area of activity that would be at risk of being crowded out by the Committee of the Centre's large agenda, its resource problems and so on, particularly if the Committee were to try to scrutinise EU legislation alongside its other functions, and it might institutionalise a democratic deficit over the longer term if the Committee did not scrutinise such legislation. The Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and Westminster have dedicated European Committees.

113

What would the scope of a European Committee be? There are two extremes. At one extreme, it could deal with all EU business, and at the other it could simply exercise oversight while the relevant departmental Committee handled the substance of European policy such as CAP business. Some compromise is most likely to be viable, and both the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales have tried to achieve a balance through cross-membership of their European Committees. Initially, that was not entirely successful in Scotland - the Agriculture and Environment Committees were not represented despite the importance of those policy areas.

114

What could such a European Committee do? First, it could sift out key EU legislation and developments to ensure that they were discussed, allowing the Executive to make their voice heard in London with greater legitimacy. Secondly, it could oversee transposition and the implementation of European law while leaving actual legislative scrutiny to the relevant policy committee. Thirdly, it could liaise with the Westminster Committee. I am a bit sceptical about how much of an impact that would have on EU policy down the line, but there are certainly benefits to be gained from information sharing. Fourthly, it could contribute to the broad debate on EU issues in Northern Ireland, and devolution will prompt greater discussion on EU policy here. The Assembly is the appropriate forum for that, and it could link to civic society. Finally, there is scope for links with its Scottish and Welsh counterparts to exchange information on good practice among politicians, clerks and so on.

115

The Committee of the Centre has a wide range of responsibilities, and it seems to me, as an outsider, that a European Committee might be the better way. There is a lot of work to be done, and various preoccupations must be taken into account.

116

The Chairperson: Thank you, Prof Bulmer. You handled that last issue delicately. We do not mind that at all; the Committee is here to listen and to take advice. You indicated that since devolution there has not been much change in how Whitehall handles its EU policy. How can a devolved region such as Northern Ireland, the smallest region, realistically have an impact on EU issues?

117

Prof Bulmer: There are two routes available. The most important one is to have an impact on the policy making process in London because, as EU policy is a reserved power, the key decisions will be taken there. Therefore, ensuring that there is effective input from the Assembly, via the Executive, to the Whitehall process seems to me to be the best way to be effective.

118

However, important flanking steps can be taken through contacts in Brussels, particularly through liaison with the European institutions and MEPs. They are important so that one is not reliant for all one's information on Executive agencies, and informal soundings and information gathering follow the flanking approach.

119

Dr McDonnell: Our junior Ministers are members of the Ministerial Committee on European Co-ordination (MINECOR). How much value can be derived from Northern Ireland representatives attending meetings of the Joint Ministerial Council of Europe? Northern Ireland is represented on the Committee of the Regions. How much value is there in our representatives attending those meetings? A lot of these things seem like optical illusions. Have they any value? Our biggest difficulty is distinguishing the areas in which attendance and involvement are vital.

120

Prof Bulmer: The Committee of the Regions has not lived up to the expectations that the larger sub-national levels of government had for it when they pushed for its establishment - I am thinking of Belgium and Germany. It has diverse membership - from French mayors to people from North Rhine- Westphalia, which is bigger than some member states. As a result of that, it has lacked focus and may be reformed in the forthcoming EU constitutional reform process. However, it is not a major target for feeding Northern Irish input into policy process. It is more important to get things to the Council of Ministers - or at official level into preliminary discussions before the Commission publishes its proposals, an important pre-consultation phase.

121

You said that Ministers are on the Ministerial Council for European Co-ordination, which I call MINECOR. That is a rather unusual Committee - it is not part of the Cabinet Committee, and those Ministers could not be on it if it were. The Labour Government set it up to give greater emphasis to a constructive European policy. It is an arena for exchanging views and so on, not a policy-making body. That sets it apart form the Joint Ministerial Committee, which has a different status. When the Joint Ministerial Committee meets in its EU guise, it is to resolve any disputes between the UK Government and the devolved authorities. It only has an advisory status as European policy is reserved to the UK Government, but it is a forum in which such disputes can be thrashed out. However, its meetings are largely ceremonial. The Cabinet Committee is the key policy-making Committee in the Government, and thence to Brussels. None of the sub-national levels are represented on that, but there may be informal input at official level.

122

Mr C Murphy: Your last point is important. The Cabinet in London, to which we have limited access, takes the key decisions.

123

The purpose of Assembly Committees is to scrutinise the work of Ministers and assist and advise them. Since almost all Ministers interact with Europe, the primary drive for scrutiny will come from individual Committees. Would it not be more appropriate to make each Committee more conscious of Europe? If there is a single committee on European affairs, other Committees will refer all relevant matters to it, and it will not have the same access to or influence over Ministers over whom we want to have influence. A devolved region's influence is limited.

124

Prof Bulmer: I agree. European policy should not be ghettoised. The Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have tried to counter that with overlapping Committee membership. Cross-membership is a compromise that ensures that Europe does not slip from view and that the departmental Committees do not lose sight of the importance of Europe. It is quite a good compromise.

125

Mrs E Bell: One of our problems in developing European policy is that for many in Northern Ireland Europe and the EC mean one thing - money and grants. It is difficult to develop policy and connection, and we have to remember that. Your study identifies a key post-devolution issue - the capacity of devolved regions to plan ahead on European matters. To a certain extent, we have tried to do that, and I hope that our inquiry will build on that. Can you give some useful examples of this from other regions? What expertise and instructions are required?

126

Prof Bulmer: First, I will review some key issues. For instance, the future of European Union governance has been placed on the agenda, and the relationship with the so-called third level beneath the member states should be taken into account in the forthcoming intergovernmental conference reviewing the EU treaties. That is one concern, and subsidiarity is linked to it.

127

Beyond that, it depends on the objective - whether one is focusing on specific proposals or trying to engender the sort of broad debate which will, for instance, review the impact of the euro on Northern Ireland. That will happen after the euro has been in operation for a year, and not in response to a European Union proposal.

128

Mrs E Bell: Do you agree that debate is needed before proposals are considered? There is a debate on the euro, but it is amazing how some people have just switched off, which is why I raised the point.

129

Prof Bulmer: That is right. Such a debate would be started on the Assembly's initiative, providing that it is possible under Standing Orders. I am trying to think of other big issues. In 1998/99 the reform of the CAP, the review of the structural funds and the so-called Agenda 2000 debate had profound implications for Northern Ireland yet they were not incorporated into a single piece of legislation. Oversights or linkages with enlargements to central and eastern European countries were needed. Those bigger matters are separate from technical proposals and would be appropriate issues with which to engage.

130

Mr McMenamin: Prof Bulmer, your briefing paper said that the Scottish Executive have established a clear Scottish identity as it got devolution first. Would it give us an advantage if we formed a separate committee to look after European affairs? We differ from GB in that we have a border with a country already using the euro - the Republic of Ireland. Perhaps this does not relate to your remit, but does not using the euro mean that we are staying further out of Europe? My constituents and I deal with the euro daily, and in the next few months businesses throughout Northern Ireland may be doing the same. Will the euro be accepted as legal currency here?

131

Prof Bulmer: It seems probable that there will be a growing acceptance of the euro on a utilitarian basis - if it is necessary for business from people coming across the border, it will be accepted just as it is from tourists in Oxford Street. It will have more of an effect here than it will have in Manchester.

132

From my limited awareness of the situation here and of devolved assemblies a suitable approach would seem to be to have a separate committee with representatives who sit on other functional committees so that there would be no ghettoisation of European policy.

133

Mr Shannon: I am keen to see how the Scottish Parliament has worked its successful system. It seems to have established good communication with Brussels although it has not been as successful in its liaison with Westminster. Is there any reason for that failure? How effective is the Scottish Parliament's relationship with Brussels when the real power lies with and can be sidetracked to Westminster?

134

Because of the impact that fishing has on my constituency and others I have quite a parochial interest in the Scottish Parliament's position on that. According to your information the Scottish Parliament has built up relationships with Brussels on fisheries. How successful has it been in retaining its quotas and thereby strengthening its fishing industry? Perhaps we can learn from it.

135

Professor Bulmer: A difficulty with timing arises when using Westminster as a channel of input into European Union policy. To be effective an Assembly has to give tabled opinion to the European Scrutiny Committee before it meets. There are tight deadlines in the European legislative process, and you can only do it if you have a prompt supply of information from Brussels via London to the Northern Ireland Executive and the Committees, and that long chain of command militates against it. Good communication with Brussels was attributed to the Parliament. In my report I talked about fisheries' Ministers being present in the Council of Ministers.

136

Mr Shannon: If Ministers cannot attend, can they delegate other Ministers to take their places?

137

Prof Bulmer: Yes, they can lead a delegation if the appropriate Minister or Secretary of State agrees. In Northern Ireland, that usually means assigning it to a fellow Minister from another devolved authority. There are questions of trust, and I do not know how the UK Government would regard it, but there is no reason for participation in a delegation not being at Ministerial level. However, there is a limit to the size of a delegation. If Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all wanted to be represented at the same Council meeting with the UK Minister, I do not think that would be feasible. Some sort of mechanism would have to be set up to allow it. My colleagues and I will be looking at how successful that has been with regard to fisheries in a future research project.

138

A particularly delicate matter in Scotland was that it differed with England on how to respond to reduced quotas. One wanted to tie up the boats, and the other wanted decommissioning. Some issues must be agreed - only one system can operate in the UK. This happened with agricultural policy. The UK Government did not want to spend any more on the sheep industry, whereas the Welsh Assembly wanted to assign the money and then found that that was not possible under European law. It may have greater capacity, but whether it has been possible to pursue a distinct Scottish line under European Union law is another matter, and I cannot fully answer that yet.

139

Mr Shannon: Is it possible to be as parochial and do something specifically for Scotland, when the policy may be different elsewhere in the UK?

140

Prof Bulmer: That depends on the European legal framework. It is not possible to have different arrangements for state aid within a single member state.

141

Mr Shannon: You are doing another report on the Scottish Parliament on statistics and quotas. I would be interested in having that information if it were short term.

142

Prof Bulmer: It is longer term, but I would be happy to supply it.

143

Mr Beggs: It is sensible for the Committee to concentrate on the Scottish link, and, as you say, they have established good practice. However, you also say that they have greater administrative resources than the Welsh Assembly and ourselves. Are many of the issues that are particular to Scotland relevant to Northern Ireland? I am thinking of rural communities, agriculture and fishing. Could there be benefits in developing a relationship with the Scottish Parliament and somehow sharing its valuable resources?

144

Secondly, you said that Scottish civil servants have been included in UK delegations. Have Northern Ireland civil servants been included? Have we any input into Europe in areas other than agriculture and structural funding? Have our civil servants had any input into recent directives?

145

Prof Bulmer: You are correct to say that there are many overlapping policy issues where information could be exchanged. I am trying to think of examples where there is no overlap. For example, forestry is a big concern in Scotland, but I am not sure how big an issue it is in Northern Ireland.

146

The Chairperson: What about football transfers and transfer fees?

147

Prof Bulmer: There are cross-border and peace and reconciliation issues here, which have no counterparts in other member states. The idea of sharing resources is interesting, because, if the Assemblies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland had a lot of resources, the exchange of good practice might make it worth considering having a joint office in Brussels exclusively dedicated to parliamentary work. It could provide information alongside the information channel that goes via the executive branch of Government. Such a joint office could ensure that any problems over the timeliness of information were solved early enough in the process to allow you to have an input.

148

Civil servants from here regularly attend meetings. I have no figures, but I think their attendance is second only to that of Scottish civil servants. They are involved principally in structural funds, agricultural policy and peace and reconciliation matters and have much less input beyond those areas.

149

Mr K Robinson: I want to take you back down the road a bit. In the past, Northern Ireland has had a high profile for unfortunate reasons. However, because of that, we have been able to make good contacts at Commissioner, parliamentary and civil service levels in Brussels and the EU. Can we tap into the contacts that we already have even though they are coming from Europe to us? Can we redress the situation, use those contacts as a channel in reverse and approach certain key players in Brussels, whether they are parliamentarians, civil servants, advisers or others?

150

Given what Mr Beggs has said about our lower levels of resources, it seems that we must target resources specifically, if we are not sharing them with the other regions. From your experience, can you tell us what sort of regions under the European umbrella we should be targeting to ensure that the Northern Ireland Assembly makes the maximum impact?

151

Prof Bulmer: There is a limit to how far you can take your policy directly to Brussels in a formal sense, because the UK Government would interpret that as interfering with the reserved status of European -

152

Mr K Robinson: We are working on the Zulu principle of flanking.

153

Prof Bulmer: Yes. There are informal opportunities for contact, so that the distinctiveness of Northern Ireland's situation in agriculture, for example, can be brought across to Commission officials. That is one way of doing it. A subtle approach is needed. Links with MEPs can be part of that as well as the Assembly et cetera. For instance, you can invite people here on fact-finding visits so that they can see how the situation here differs from that in the rest of the UK. As for which regions to target, the body that you should be engaged with is the new body to do with regions with legislative capacity. Unlike the Committee of the Regions which encompasses all sorts of levels of government, such as local government et cetera, you are really dealing with groupings with the German Länder, parts of Spain, Belgium and so on. That is the group to link up with.

154

Mr K Robinson: I want to tease that out. Up to now we have been somewhat reactive with Europe; how can we become more proactive? How can we get in at the early stages of policy when you are beginning to envisage how it might be coming together? With Franz Fischler and other commissioners, we are tending to come in and react to situations; how can we be more proactive?

155

Prof Bulmer: There are two ways. One is by taking an interest in the kind of debates that I was referring to earlier such as on governance generally - if you can get the EU to be less blind to the sub- national Government, that will have an impact on all your responsibilities. The second way is through the listening-post approach, which is dependent on resources. This is where a shared office in Brussels might be useful. Keeping an eye on what is coming up means that one can have an input in a timely manner. Once it is a formal proposal, it is quite late in the proceedings.

156

Dr Birnie: Thank you for coming and for your written briefing. We are looking at how the UK could or should change the means by which it has an input into EU policy. Is it your perception that the European Commission has any view on this? Officially it is neutral, but would it privately prefer to deal more with the devolved units and bypass London, perhaps with a touch of divide and rule?

157

Secondly, I was particularly interested in what you said at the end of your briefing about the German model. While we sometimes feel that Northern Ireland suffers because of a common UK negotiating position in Europe, if we ever moved away from that, as some might propose, would the trade-off be a reduction in the UK's negotiating or bargaining power in Europe? I gather that there is a perception that Germany has suffered in that way because of the different Länder sometimes pulling in different directions from each other and the Berlin Government.

158

Prof Bulmer: The European Commission is entirely agnostic about internal arrangements in member states. The only time I have seen it having an impact in the background was when it encouraged the north-west of England to put together a regional strategy because it is a region in EU terms but lacked any political organisation. There is already a political structure here so that does not really arise.

159

Would a move from the centralised approach bring disadvantages? That is an interesting question, and were this an academic seminar, we could debate the answer for days. There is a risk that the UK would become less coherent. Of course, Germany is not ineffective in the European Union. People often ask how Germany has such a big impact despite its being so disorganised. That is because Germany has been proactive with kite-flying at European summits, and, as a federal system, it has often had policy and institutional models that it connects to the EU. By moving towards continental mainstream state structures, we may be able to shape that debate, and the Blair approach of putting forward ideas on defence co-operation and so on at an early stage is also a move in that direction. Such a move would involve a trade off. However, as Germany shows, just because a country is disorganised does not mean it is ineffective.

160

Mr Gibson: I would like to follow on from an issue that Dr Birnie raised. Northern Ireland is unique in that it has a devolved system and a large number of representatives who are extremely anti-British - ranging from those who barely tolerate the British to those who are violently opposed to them. There is, therefore, a determination to downplay British influence, even in Europe. Experience has taught us that such sentiments are not likely to diminish - it is a fairly insatiable sort of animal that will keep on at the system. In light of that, should the role of the Assembly be simply to manage European policy or continue to influence it?

161

Prof Bulmer: I appreciate the political circumstances here. If Northern Ireland wants to affect European policy, rather than simply manage it, it must be proactive in trying to influence it. It must work upstream and move in a manner that takes account of the large anti-British grouping in the Province. I do not feel qualified to make a comment on how to go about that.

162

The Chairperson: Thank you very much, Prof Bulmer. I would have liked to cover some of the issues in more detail. Perhaps we can continue the debate at a later stage.

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

Friday 11 January 2002

Members present:
Mr Poots (Chairperson)
Mr Gibson (Deputy Chairperson)
Mrs E Bell
Dr Birnie
Mr Ervine
Mr C Murphy
Mr K Robinson

Witness:

Mr Tom Sullivan, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities

163

The Chairperson: I welcome Mr Tom Sullivan, head of the European office of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA). Please make your presentation, after which Committee members may ask questions.

164

Mr Sullivan: I will make three main points. First, I will tell the Committee about CoSLA and its work. Secondly, I will provide an overview of CoSLA's approach to the EU; what it was previously; how it has evolved since devolution, and how it will change with the impending enlargement of the European landscape. Thirdly, I will cover CoSLA's co-ordination and co- operation with the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive since devolution.

165

CoSLA was established in 1975 to provide a common front for local authorities to work with central Government. It has three main functions. First, it negotiates pay and conditions for local authority employees. Local authorities are the largest single employers in Scotland and CoSLA negotiates pay and conditions for teachers, social workers and similar posts. Secondly, CoSLA negotiates the local Government finances, which does not always make us very popular. CoSLA negotiates the grant from central Government and its distribution between the councils. Thirdly - and this is where the European department fits in, CoSLA represents local Government interests in the Scottish Executive, the UK Government and the EU.

166

Scottish local Government has a long history of engagement with the EU. One of the first offices was established in the early 1980s representing the Strathclyde region, mainly to access European funding. Local authorities across the EU have that in common, and our first motivation for getting involved in Europe was monetary. That has not changed much. However, CoSLA is trying to change that because the impact of legislation is costing more than the benefits from funding across the country.

167

Communities who benefit from Objective 1 funding would not agree with that, but legislation is costing more overall. One example is the Landfill of Waste Directive, which became operational last year. That Directive is costing more money to implement in the central belt of Scotland than all of the Objective 2 funding that we receive. While the Exchequer offsets the amount, local authorities still have to collect the tax, which does not make them very popular.

168

The impact of that Directive indicates that we are perhaps not doing enough upstream work, and that we need to look at what will be coming from the EU in the next five to 10 years rather than reacting constantly to proposals, or only getting to grips with them when they have gone to the European Parliament. Proposals will often get into the newspapers, but it is usually too late then. We need to influence European legislation at pre-proposal stage, and that is also why we have been happy with the debate that is going on in Europe about European governance.

169

The European Commission is open to engaging with local authorities and other players at an early stage, and CoSLA has worked jointly with the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament in trying to influence that debate.

170

We cannot influence EU policy proposals on our own. Generally, in the old style of lobbying, the local authority saw the Cabinet of the Commissioner, or brought delegations over to lobby directly. We found that that does not have much effect. It is difficult to quantify it, but when we lobbied on structural funding we found that individual lobbying did not have a very big impact - working through networks was more effective.

171

At present, for example, organisations such as the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions of Europe (CPMR) have a lot of influence in the European Commission. The Commission is more prepared to listen to regional networks saying similar things than to individual authorities saying different things.

172

We also work through the Committee of the Regions, and until now CoSLA has provided the secretariat for the Scottish group. We operate a UK joint secretariat with the Local Government International Bureau, which is the local government association's (LGA) European wing. We are reviewing that situation now that we have nominations from the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament.

173

Although we do not normally say it on the record, people are generally disappointed with the Committee of the Regions. It has not had the type of impact that we would have liked to see. However, at the same time it is the best body for networking because representatives from other regions - such as the President of the German Laender and delegates from the Spanish regions- attend its meetings. It is useful to be actively involved in the Committee of the Regions, not because of the impact of its reports, but because of what comes from the networking aspect.

174

Generally, we have found that informal co- operation with the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive has worked well. We have formal concordats that have been worked out between local government, the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive. However, we believe that if we have to refer to these then somehow our co-ordination has failed.

175

The Convener of the European Committee was the spokesperson for CoSLA on European Affairs prior to being a convener. The present Convener was also a member of CoSLA. As everybody knows one another so well, we do not necessarily need formal structures. Spokespersons from CoSLA generally meet the Convener of the European Committee and the other conveners regularly. In fact CoSLA was probably swamped by requests to give evidence to the Committees of the Scottish Parliament in the first couple of years after the Scottish Parliament was established.

176

We want to make that co-ordination and co-operation more structured. We have a forum called the European Members Information Liaison Exchange (EMILE). It consists of the Scottish MEPs, Committee of the Regions members, Economic and Social Committee members, the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Executive, Ministers and MSPs involved in European affairs.

177

EMILE has been meeting biannually. CoSLA believes that this activity will now be stepped up because of the involvement of the Committee of the Regions, as the First Minister and also Minister Nicol Stephen are members. Additionally, two MSPs have been nominated to join the Committee. We will therefore change our approach to the Committee of the Regions and have a joint secretariat between the Scottish Parliament, the Executive and CoSLA. We hope that we can use this work in the Committee of the Regions as a starting point for more structured co-operation between local government and the Scottish Parliament.

178

Last year we obtained good experience of beginning more formal work on the European Governance White Paper. We decided from the outset that we would not have a separate local government position to that of the Executive. We tried to set ourselves an example of negotiating governance at home before trying to influence European institutions. We managed to agree a joint position on the changes that we wanted to see in European decision making, and which recognised local government and the Executive as equal partners.

179

We also organised a hearing with the Scottish Parliament's European Committee, in conjunction with the Committee of the Regions, as part of their overall inquiry into European governance. We expect to continue this before March, the closing date for reactions to the White Paper. The White Paper is already starting to bear fruit. We have had many requests from the European Commission and from the Directorate-General responsible for environmental policy for example, to send experts from local government to advisory committees.

180

As you are probably aware there are over 1,000 advisory committees and specialist committees advising the European Commission and these mould policy before it gets to the proposal stage. We have always been keen to have local government influence in these forums, as that is generally reserved for member states. Civil servants from the member state Governments and the devolved Administrations have access, but local authorities do not, even when it involves issues that local authorities are administrating. However, we have noticed that this is changing with a general shift in culture in Brussels recently, and we hope to follow this up.

181

I would like to mention co-operation between local authorities in the devolved Administrations, and also within the context of the British-Irish Council. Co-operation is already taking place between local government associations. The local government association of England, the Welsh local government association, CoSLA, and until recently, the Association of Local Authorities of Northern Ireland (ALANI) meet twice yearly to exchange information. We will be keen for this to go beyond just exchanging information.

182

Over a year and a half ago, within the context of the Committee of the Regions and the European Parliament, we held a meeting of the English, Irish, Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh members of the Committee of the Regions and European Parliament. The idea was to try to look at joint approaches to harnessing EU funding, particularly into regional programmes. The INTERREG programmes are worth over 1 billion euros. One hundred and twenty million euros has been allocated to the UK for INTERREG III(b), and we only need two countries to co-operate.

183

We are interested in issues such as coastal-zone management between Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. We hope to advance that within this form of co-operation between local government associations. We look forward to achieving concrete results, but not just through talking and information exchanges. We want to get some real projects, which we can point to, that will demonstrate some added value from the EU.

184

The Chairperson: Thank you, Mr Sullivan. You said that at an early stage the local authorities had set up their own office in Europe and it was fairly well established there. What has been the difference since the Scottish Executive has come on stream? Are local authorities still exercising the same functions? Have they been pushed to one side, or are the Scottish Executive and local authorities co-operating and integrating with each other?

185

Mr Sullivan: There was a perception prior to devolution that local authorities would no longer have a role in Europe. People were asking us what they would do when the Executive sent representatives over to the EU. That perception could not have been further from the truth because since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament and an Executive office in Brussels the profile of Scotland has been raised incredibly. We are approached by other regions, particularly Spanish and German regions, to co-operate on policies, lobbying and project development. Other regions do not distinguish between whether you are operating at local or regional level. Local authorities have not been pushed to the side, because there are different areas of competence. There are specific competences of local government that do not necessarily conflict with those of the Scottish Executive in the European context.

186

Our joint working could be better than it has been. We would have preferred a more integrated office. We have looked at examples from other countries and parts of the UK where there are more integrated approaches because we have sometimes found a duplication of work between the Executive and local government. There are few conflicts of interest, and when we have worked together we have not found that there have been differences of opinion. Everyone is working toward the same goal and everyone is trying to maximise the benefits to the country from the EU. It has created a higher profile for Scotland overall, and local authorities have benefited from that.

187

There might be a test now, with the new membership in the Committee of the Regions, to see whether we can work jointly because we do not want to be seen to be singing from separate hymn sheets at public meetings. We do not want to see situations where local authorities and the Executive are contradicting each other unnecessarily. That would weaken both positions.

188

Mr Gibson: Thank you for your presentation. You said that during your seven years' experience you discovered that it is important to start the influencing process at the pre-legislative stage and that this has started to bear fruit. I did not catch the detail of how you got to that point? What are local authorities doing by way of suggesting to Europe other areas that would benefit Scotland so that you could anticipate proposed legislation? I presume that as well as influencing you are anticipating future legislation, or trying to create a climate in which such legislation would operate.

189

Mr Sullivan: I did not take enough time to explain how we have reached the stage of placing experts in advisory committees to influence proposals at the early stages. That has been developing for a couple of decades since the Single European Act, when it became clear that the EU was beginning to legislate in areas that were directly under the competence of local government, and regional government.

190

The German Laender really have clout in the EU at sub-national level, and they made a great fuss about having to implement legislation that they were not consulted on.

191

Therefore it has been a long process in reaching the stage where the European Commission is formally seeking the views of regional and local authorities prior to publishing proposals. There has been a protracted lobby right through the 1990s, which has stepped up in recent years, mostly through organisations such as the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR). This organisation comprises the local government associations of most countries and also those of central and eastern Europe. It has lobbied long and hard to have access to these advisory committees and it has representatives on several committees, such as the Consultative Committee on Rural Development and the Industry Waste Management Committee. The Commission has also asked some local authority associations to provide them with the expertise it lacked.

192

The greater access that we have seen, and will continue to enjoy, is mostly due to President Prodi's initiative to reform the EU and seek new ways of governance. Last year's consultation clearly showed that not enough stakeholders were involved in framing the legislation, and that reflects a tendency in member states to involve local communities in more of the decision-making process in their own communities. It also reflects a general regionalisation of Europe and greater devolution to municipal government. That is found in Scandinavia, in particular, and its influence has been quite important.

193

The second point was about local authorities being more proactive in influencing the EU's agenda. We have some examples of that from quite far back, of which Strathclyde, because it was our biggest regional authority, is the best. It proposed part of the ECOS- Ouverture Programme, which was a co-operation programme that centred on Eastern Europe. It has since been stopped, but it was set up as a pilot project that the EU subsequently turned into a programme.

194

There are other examples. I am sure that you know that the EU has annual employment strategies, and we must adopt national employment action plans. Since the establishment of the plans three years ago at a meeting of the European Council at Lisbon local authorities generally were not involved in the framing of these plans, despite the fact that it is well recognised that they mostly stimulate employment at a local level.

195

Two to three years ago, the Commission began to hold informal meetings with local government associations to ask what changes they would make to the plans if they had input. The Commission has begun to hold direct dialogue with the local authorities. Whether the national governments do this is another question. The dialogue does not have any status, but eventually it takes on a life of its own. It is increasing because of the recognition that policy making is better if people are involved in influencing it at the earliest stage.

196

Mr K Robinson: I was interested in your suggestion about how countries could work together, for instance, on issues such as coastal zone management. That would be a practical application that people in Northern Ireland would welcome. As you know, Scotland and Northern Ireland share the Irish Sea and we are both concerned about the nuclear impact on it. How would you, on a practical level, envisage local government in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland working together, under the Committee of the Regions to project, not just the local problem in the Irish Sea, but, perhaps, things that may be happening in the North Sea or along the coast of France? Could you give us a practical demonstration of how those local interests might be transferred through local government to the regional Government and, therefore, to the Committee of the Regions?

197

Mr Sullivan: We must begin with a practical project; we need to implement something. There are many plans for the Atlantic and the North Sea areas: you will be aware of the European Spatial Development Prospective (ESDP). Quite a lot of studies have been done on the management of the Irish Sea. A proposal is up and running in the south-west of England to look at integrated coastal zone management in the Irish Sea area. In a couple of weeks' time, we intend to send a representative to attend a meeting in Bristol about that.

198

We need to start with a practical project that will look at the common problems we have in managing pollution in a fairly well polluted sea. We have funding for that under INTERREG. It is extremely important that Committees such as yours are aware of such a project opportunity, and that it has political support and commitment, otherwise it is hard for local authorities to find the resources to get the project off the ground. The development of one of these co-operation projects takes quite a lot of travelling and face-to-face meetings between experts.

199

This work is not always supported by local authorities because they cannot always see the final benefits. We could put issues such as this higher on the political agenda in Europe, promoting inter-regional groupings, which are already there in the Committee of the Regions. Unfortunately there has been much resistance to them because certain elements in the Committee of the Regions prefer to see things developing along party political lines - more or less emulating the European Parliament. From a CoSLA perspective, this has always caused us a problem. We do not necessarily see the Committee of the Regions as a forum in which the European Peoples Party and the Party of European Socialists pit their wits against each other on issues because the issues will normally be territorial and not party political.

200

We could promote a greater co-operation within an inter-regional group. For example, we could examine the zones that INTERREG looks at, such as the Atlantic area and the North Sea. There is already a precedence because there is a trans-alpine group and an islands group, which you may be aware of. The islands of Scotland are heavily involved in this, looking at joint solutions to the common problems of islands. We could certainly do this. A good forum for this kind of co-operation already exists within the CPMR, which is on the ascendancy at the moment - they really do have the ear of the Commission. We need to approach this issue from a number of fronts, from a technical front, from a political front within the Committee of the Regions and in the CPMR.

201

Mr K Robinson: You said that there has been a culture shift recently. Is there a reason for that? Are the regions flexing their muscles, or is the Commission becoming more reflective?

202

Mr Sullivan: The regions flexed their muscles in Nice. The German Laender had representatives there and one made it quite clear that if they did not start getting concessions on more access to decision making they would not ratify the Nice Treaty in the Bundesrat. That is why this convention has been established for the next inter-governmental conference. It will have six members of the Committee of the Regions representing cities, regions and what they call regions with constitutional powers. I believe that the constitutional regions are picking straws to see who gets to go to the convention. There has been a flexing of muscles, but it has also been about pushing at an opening door. The Commission had wanted this for a long time, so it is a combination of the two.

203

Mrs E Bell: I have been greatly impressed by your own personal commitment and enthusiasm to the whole project. If we had someone like you over in Northern Ireland we would further the case for Europeanisation.

204

I come from the voluntary community sector and I am aware that to a lot of people in Northern Ireland the EU means money, and perhaps that attitude has actually restricted any other developments. We are trying to work against that perception, which is one of the reasons for our inquiry. In trying to build up contacts between the different levels do you find that trying to bring the public on board sometimes militates against you?

205

Mr Gibson mentioned influencing legislation. Does CoSLA learn about the issues and policies it wants to influence by building up contacts and structured approaches between local government, the Commission and Governments? Is that one of the reasons why you favour a structured approach, apart from anything else?

206

When we talked to the House of Commons European Committee, we sensed a tension between Scottish Members of Parliament and the others. There was a feeling that there was not a great level of contact between them and the European Committee in the Scottish Parliament. Is it necessary to try and ease that tension?

207

Mr Sullivan: I wish that the CoSLA spokesperson on European and international affairs were here because I need a politician to answer that question. I might have to pass on that one.

208

Mrs E Bell: I accept that you want to pass on that, but it is relevant. It would be necessary to deal with that issue.

209

Mr Sullivan: We are very keen to address the problem. There is a lack of co-ordination. We have been pleasantly surprised at the amount of goodwill in the Civil Service, the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament to work jointly since devolution. In simple terms, it takes more than two and a half years to get these things off the ground. It is still at a very early stage.

210

I agree with your suggestion that the value of the structured approach is in addressing the problem that Europe is perceived as being only about money. We can see that in areas where structural funds are not likely to be received any longer. Local authorities are beginning to disengage from European affairs. That is the value of the structured approach. The European Committee in the Scottish Parliament has the onerous task of scrutinising all the legislation coming through from Whitehall. It is not easy to get on top of all that work and then begin your upstream preparation.

211

The public need to be educated. We have tried to make European Parliament elections feel less like domestic elections. Several councils have had promotional events to show people the benefits of the EU. It is a very slow process, because there is political resistance in some areas. The EU was always perceived as being about money; now councils are being told that European legislation affects them more, and as a result some of them may not want to be involved in Europe. That is why we need political commitment from council leaders who are pro-European. We need them to work with the MSPs and speak more openly about European issues.

212

Mr Ervine: It is easy to get resources if you know that there is going to be a specific return. How can we create circumstances in which resources are poured into the networking process that ensures that we affect proposals rather than adjust legislation? It seems to me that the view for Scotland is a bit hopeful. You have outlined the tensions that are beginning to grow, and have not even dealt with the real political issue of who is for Europe and who is against it. How do you maintain a single Scottish vision given the tensions that exist and are likely to increase as you begin to deal with all manner of reserved matters?

213

Mr Sullivan: You have hit the nail on the head. We get resources if we can prove that we can provide a return. European lobbying is extremely difficult to quantify. It is extremely difficult to prove that we have actually won out on a piece of legislation, taking into account the amount of lobbying on behalf of industry or other interest groups that has taken place.

214

The single Scottish vision has its weaknesses. We go for the lowest common denominator so that we do not upset people from one side of the country or the other, and that sometimes ends up suiting nobody. It is a problem. The Highlands and Islands will go it alone when it comes to Objective 1 funding. The Highlands and Islands Councils and Highlands and Islands Enterprise already have a well-organised outfit and they are prepared for lobbying. They achieved Objective 1 status twice without being strictly eligible on both occasions and they have a chance of doing something similar again. Whatever forum we have for looking at a single Scottish vision between local government, the Scottish Parliament and the Executive has to recognise that we have a common vision on areas that are non-controversial.

215

Mr Ervine: Thirty years have passed, and in some ways we are still ambivalent about the concepts of networking in Europe other than to see what we can get out of it. Scotland is a model, and it is more easily identified as such because it is further down that road than we are. Nationalism is almost at its core, rather than the recognition that the nations of Europe are coming together for reasons other than money. I do not see much evidence to suggest that Europe is about much more than money. That is the reason why many people will become involved in it. There may be spin-offs, but people are not going in for intellectual reasons.

216

Mr Sullivan: That is because it has been sold to the electorate in that way. Countries are perceived to have benefited if they received cash. People have not been told that their representatives sit in the Council of Ministers making decisions that are affecting their daily lives - decisions on employment legislation or public expenditure. There must be some straight talking on that point. There are benefits from networking. I understand what you mean when you mention nationalism and that self-interest may be involved.

217

Mr Ervine: Perhaps we are selling Europe on a negative basis by saying that we will give in a lot less than we get out: however, that is the only reason why we are there. The positive aspect may be that we receive more money than we put in, but essentially Europe is sold on a negative basis.

218

In some cases even the most vociferous pro- Europeans sell membership or involvement in Europe in a style and nature that panders to the lowest common denominator that you have suggested. Europe is not seen as a concept for people, rather it is something for people to take what they can from. Someone else pays for it, and there does not seem to be an honourable appreciation of that point.

219

Mr Sullivan: That is because for years the EU has been used as a scapegoat. Even pro-Europeans are very defensive about it.

220

Mr C Murphy: I would not ask you to make a political comment on how relationships are working, but I assume that CoSLA dealt directly with Westminster and Europe pre-devolution. Do you now operate three sets of relationships via the Scottish Parliament and Westminster since devolution, or is the Scottish Parliament your access mechanism to Westminster? Without making a political comment about how the Scottish Parliament and Westminster are directing over Europe, how has CoSLA adapted in dealing through Westminster and directly into Europe?

221

Mr Sullivan: Since the Scotland Act 1998 we are only answerable to the Scottish Executive. However, as European issues are still reserved matters we also work with Whitehall. We worked with the UK permanent representation pre-devolution, and we continue to work with them, but to a lesser extent. We go straight to the European Commission, and we work within networks.

222

We do not ask for approval from the Scottish Executive or anyone else. As an independent layer of Government we work through the UK Government for initiatives such as INTERREG, which is administered directly by the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. I have regular meetings with Colleagues in that Department alongside Scottish Executive officials.

223

It is important for us to keep those three layers of relationship because we gather valuable intelligence from networking with English and Welsh Colleagues. Obviously, we know that decisions in the EU are made by the Council of Ministers, and if we cannot influence that final outcome we have wasted our time working in the Commission and the European Parliament. In order to lobby Westminster we exchange information with Colleagues from south of the border.

224

Mr C Murphy: Are you obliged to work through the Scottish Executive to lobby Westminster? Is the direct link that you had before devolution being maintained?

225

Mr Sullivan: Yes, we still maintain a direct link on specific areas. We do not need to do so in all areas because we estimate that approximately 70% of EU legislation is dealt with in this House.

226

Dr Birnie: You mentioned the role of Strathclyde local authority and that each Scottish local authority differs in size, revenue and population. How does your association manage that diversity and create the benefits of co-operation that will prevent individual authorities, especially the larger ones, doing their own thing?

227

Mr Sullivan: I intended to explain that at the beginning of my presentation. We have huge variations in council populations, for example, our smallest council, Clackmannanshire, has a population of 50,000 people, and the largest, Glasgow, has over 600,000. I do not know if you are aware that Glasgow City Council is not a member of CoSLA: it pulled out of the organisation last year in a complicated dispute relating to local government finance and other political issues. Two smaller councils led by the SNP also pulled out at the same time, Clackmannanshire and Falkirk. That was partly due to the difficulty of managing resources between councils of varying size and the perception that the allocation of the local government finance settlement was not always equitable. You may be aware that Glasgow City Council covers a small land area but is densely populated. That makes for an extremely difficult situation.

228

I am only qualified to speak about local government issues from the European perspective. We have four consortia within Scotland, separately funded from the National Association. We have the East of Scotland European Consortium, the West of Scotland European Consortium, the Highlands and the Islands European Partnership and the South of Scotland European Partnership, which recently established a consortium. The latter comprises two large counties.

229

Until now these consortia have been almost completely dedicated to administrating structural funds, but that may change. One way forward for us might be to focus on regional groupings within the country where we do not necessarily have to have a common approach. There is no easy answer. It is difficult to administer.

230

The Chairperson: What are the staffing arrangements and running costs for your office?

231

Mr Sullivan: Our office costs are below £100,000 per year. An average office in Brussels, staffed with two people, would cost approximately £150,000 per year. The reason for our low running costs is that the office is under-resourced. It is run by a seconded council officer, a student and myself. Generally we find that you cannot operate in Brussels without having an office manned by two or three people. In Edinburgh we had four or five people working on European affairs within CoSLA, but each council in Scotland has at least one European officer. Edinburgh City Council has about 10 European officers, so they are a resource that we use on projects and for policy advice.

232

The east Scotland and west Scotland consortia also have European officers. CoSLA's core staff is very low at the moment. Since we ran into difficulties with Glasgow pulling out, we have had severe resource problems, which affected Europe as well. There were suggestions about pulling the plug on the European operation, but the political commitment is too strong to let go of it. However, as with many other areas, it is affected by resource difficulties.

233

The Chairperson: Has local government seconded people to work in Europe?

234

Mr Sullivan: Yes. However, that happened only once in recent years. We have tried to encourage it, but we found that if someone was seconded for too long, it caused difficulties for their council. We are trying to encourage short-term secondments, for example, for three or four months. They can be beneficial for officers to gain expertise, particularly those who do not normally work on European affairs, for example, environmental health officers or those working on social affairs. We have not had much success in that area because it requires funding. If an officer is seconded we must give their council some sort of financial help.

235

The Chairperson: You said that your focus has changed from the money you get from Europe to how European Directives are to be implemented, because they are costing more money than you receive. Realistically, what can a small region like Scotland achieve, with a population of five million people within a European community of 320 million? Can you achieve something by working closely with regions such as ours and with the German Laender? How do you hope to achieve things, make changes and have a real impact?

236

Mr Sullivan: A small country such as Scotland cannot achieve very much on its own, so we take a networking approach. One of these networks is called the European Local Authority Network (ELAN). It comprises Brussels representatives of local government associations from across northern Europe. Southern Europe does not have any representation at national level in Brussels. Within ELAN, we have lobbied the European Parliament on specific matters, such as employment guidelines. Eight countries jointly tabled an amendment to our respective MEPs, when the legislation was at Committee Stage in the European Parliament, to provide an obligation for member states to consult local authorities on the plans. That is one concrete example of our success. We can work for very long periods and not see anything tangible, so we are happy when we get a result.

237

Another example was the INTERREG programme, where we tried to get special emphasis on maritime co-operation. I know that Northern Ireland was active in that lobby too. Northern Ireland and Scotland have the biggest influence in this aspect in the north-west European programme of INTERREG. It has a chapter reserved for maritime co-operation, which to a certain extent, is aimed at Northern Ireland and Scotland.

238

We can make a lot of progress on lobbying. We must look at the big picture and jointly lobby central Government, because, ultimately, Whitehall calls the shots for the UK within the Council of Ministers.

239

We can also have an influence in the European Commission on the early stages of policy if we can identify some limited common priorities. We can do that easily with colleagues from the German Laender. The German Laender have had a lot of success in influencing environmental policy. Their Secretary of State for the Bundesrat wrote to Commissioner Walstrom and arranged for the Laender to have monthly meetings with the Commission to find out what its future proposals will be. We are trying to get that kind of access; we have a network of regional offices in Brussels. At the moment, the Scottish Executive is representing the rest of the UK offices, but that will rotate. We have meetings with the Commission every two months. They are not as high level as the German Laender meetings, but we aim to copy that model.

240

We must know what is coming up before we can exert influence. We may need to be more proactive as was suggested, and that could be done through joint proposals. We must establish priorities and hold the line together at home, but it would probably be easier to do that through Brussels because the networks are there.

241

Mr Gibson: How do you operate your office at Scotland House in Brussels? Are the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament in harmony? Do you have a one-stop shop for Scotland?

242

Mr Sullivan: Unfortunately, it does not operate that way. We were aiming to establish such a system when we set it up. Several other countries have looked at it as a model because it appears to work. All Scottish interests are under the same roof, which is great. We can walk down the corridor and knock on each other's doors, but, at the same time, we are very compartmentalised. We work in our own offices, and we do not have joint working practices.

243

Mr Gibson: What are your working arrangements with that office and with the MEPs? How does it all gel together?

244

Mr Sullivan: We only co-operate with each other when we have a reason to do so - when we share a point of interest. We lobby the MEPs separately. The Scottish Executive provide briefings to the MEPs, and we brief them when have a reason to. We do not brief the MEPs across the board. The UK permanent representation and the Executive brief all MEPs. I must admit that local government simply does not have enough resources to properly brief all MEPs. I wish that the situation were different because MEPs can be quite influential.

245

For some time we have tried to join up the various parts of Scotland House. The Scottish Parliament has been influential and now has hot-desking facilities. Many national, member state parliaments have offices in Brussels. The UK Parliament has a representative in Westminster, and the Scottish Parliament is looking into the idea because some regional parliaments, such as Germany, have offices too. However, we are still working on that and on working in a more joined-up way. There are some very good examples of working practices in Brussels. For example, the Catalonia representation is a one-shop stop - everyone works for everyone.

246

Mr K Robinson: A trans-European network (TEN) route runs through my constituency in Northern Ireland to the port of Larne; crosses the North Channel; continues through Stranraer and Cairnryan; and via the A75, eventually - and I stress eventually - reaches Carlisle. How do we integrate the lobbying of local government in Northern Ireland; the Northern Ireland Executive; the local authorities in south-west Scotland; the Scottish Parliament; and the Committee of the Regions to make the point that this is a trans-European network route?

247

Scotland controls the A75. Northern Ireland will attract funding and Scotland will attract funding. We want our exports and Scotland's exports to be transported through Hull to the expanding EU nations in eastern Europe. Therefore how do we bring such a package together? How do we lobby? Where do we lobby? How far up the system do we need to lobby to highlight the problem, so that each tier of Government and each level of European influence is focused on how to crack that nut?

248

Mr Sullivan: It is interesting that you mention that subject because only yesterday we had a meeting of all the councils in CoSLA about the new INTERREG programme, and Dumfries and Galloway Council raised the matter with me. The council had been lobbying in Brussels on this matter. It has also spoken to people who you have been involved with, and dealt with people from the Directorate General for Transport. This issue is on the table in Brussels - people are aware of it.

249

Mr Sullivan: Fife Council has been successful with its work on a pilot scheme to promote combined transport (PACT) programme with the European Commission. The council received funding for a feasibility study, and ferries will be up and running, direct to Zebrugge, later this year. Lobbying must be carried out at a very high level - the European Transport Commissioner needs to be lobbied directly. The Directorate for Transport Policy is aware of the matter. However, senior politicians, such as yourselves, from both the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the Scottish Executive, are needed to deal with such big issues, to arrange the highest level meetings in Brussels.

250

Mr K Robinson: Whose door should we be knocking on?

251

Mr Sullivan: You should take the matter to the European Transport Commissioner. You may not always be able to make contact with the Commissioner, but UK local and regional interest groups are often not brash enough, and certainly not as brash as the other member states, when looking for that kind of access. The Italians will demand to meet Romano Prodi. We are feeble; perhaps we should be more brash. We should take these matters to the Commissioner.

252

MEPs were involved in the last meeting that I saw take place in Brussels. It is useful to involve the MEPs because they can raise matters in written questions to the European Commission. My colleagues have found that the Commission always take questions from MEPs seriously. The Commission does not want the trouble that MEPs can cause by saying that it does not respond. It is useful to involve MEPs to petition the Commission.

253

The Chairperson: Thank you for coming, Mr Sullivan. Your presentation and the question-and- answer session were very useful. They will contribute to the outcome of our report.

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

Friday 11 January 2002

Members present:

Mr Poots (Chairperson)

Mr Gibson (Deputy Chairperson)

Mrs E Bell

Dr Birnie

Mr Ervine

Mr C Murphy

Mr K Robinson

Witness:

Prof Sir N MacCormick, MEP

254

The Chairperson: I welcome Prof Sir Neil MacCormick, who is an MEP for the Scottish National Party (SNP). He is an eminent professor, having lectured in many universities, including Oxford, and has a special interest in European matters. We are delighted to have someone of his ability to give us some background on European issues.

255

Prof Sir Neil MacCormick: It is a pleasure to be here this morning. I hope that I can be of help to you in your inquiry. It is probably best to say very little in the introduction, since more will come out of dialogue than monologue.

256

One of the interesting effects of the type of proportional representation introduced in Great Britain for the 1999 European election is that we have a list of members for single large constituencies - Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and nine regions in England. The upshot is that there are eight members of the European Parliament who can stand up and say, in all seriousness, that they are the Member of Parliament for Scotland, or that they represent Scotland in the House. That has had a dynamic effect, making it easier for us to pull together on issues of shared interest, and the effects are considerable.

257

Shortly before Christmas, six of the eight Scottish MEPs happened to be free to go and speak to Commissioner de Palacio, who is in charge of transport. The Directorate General for Energy and Transport and the College of Commissioners had been asked whether it would be lawful to give a grant to the port of Rosyth to improve the facilities for the direct ferry to Zeebrugge. It was urgent not just that we received a "yes" to that question, but that we received it before Christmas. To have the ferry running by early summer required approval before winter, and that was already very tight.

258

Last night I attended a meeting in Glasgow at which the Secretary of State spoke. If the United Kingdom and the Scottish Executive had not had their shoulders to the wheel, there would clearly be no pushing for the MEPs to do. However, everyone is pushing in the same direction. The fact that the MEPs are there is a useful warning to the Commissioner that unless her colleagues pay attention there could be cross-party trouble in Parliament. Alternatively, if something a Commissioner wishes to do can be represented as something about which Scottish MEPs are up in arms, it is a further argument before the College of Commissioners to encourage them to do something.

259

We had similar influence with the Caledonian MacBrayne ferries in the Western Isles and the Northern Isles, or the "CalMac" ferries, as we call them. We tried to do something, though it was somewhat less effective in respect of the Campbeltown to Ballycastle route. That problem was different, and there was much less European Commission involvement. Winnie Ewing used to say that the ferry should be routed to Ballycastle and on to Dundalk or somewhere, so that it would serve two member states, in which case it would attract all sorts of money. It does not count if it serves two parts of one member state.

260

There have been other arguments of that kind. In the case of BSE, we exercised pressure to secure the same as Northern Ireland, namely, recognition of being free from the disease ahead of other regions. Collective influence was exercised on some aspects of foot-and-mouth disease. Commissioner Bolkestein was certainly made aware of the great concern for the interests of rural post offices. If a post office is closed, the shop is closed; if the shop is closed, the village is destroyed. Some styles of postal liberalisation would have that effect in rural Scotland. We were able to pull together on several issues.

261

We are able to keep up very good relations with the Scottish Parliament, partly through links with its European Committee, and also to a very considerable extent through our own political parties. There is a great deal of interaction between SNP Colleagues and myself, and the same is true of the other three parties represented. There is an increasing three-way stretch with our Westminster MPs. Until the last general election, all SNP Westminster MPs were also Members of the Scottish Parliament and had dual mandates. As such, one was not conscious of having to relate to one institution rather than the other.

262

The Executive maintains a presence in Brussels at Scotland House, which is headed by Mr George Calder. Scotland House is shared by the Scottish Executive as a listening and talking post in Brussels with Scotland Europa, a public/private partnership of organisations and institutions representing Scottish interests in Europe, including the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, Scottish Enterprise, the Scottish universities, some of the large law firms and so on. Scotland House is in Rond Point Schumann in the heart of the European Union quarter of Brussels.

263

That is a good starting point. The Committee of the Regions should be mentioned, but we shall, no doubt, return to it. That gives you an impression of the tentacles stretching out from here to the European Union as seen from the lowly position of an MEP.

264

The Chairperson: Thank you. First, do you feel that the role of the MEP has changed since devolution? If so, how? Secondly, how closely have MEPs worked together with the Scottish Executive in negotiating for structural funds and so on?

265

Prof Sir Neil MacCormick: Structural funds decisions had effectively been taken before this Parliament commenced, so I had no part in them. Of the eight MEPs who were elected, only three had any input. Bill Miller and David Martin were in the previous Parliament, and Ian Hudghton, who was elected in a by- election only six months before, would have had a small input. There was no actual pressure exerted then. However, Winnie Ewing, as MEP for the Highlands and Islands, had a decisive effect in the old days of single- member constituencies by pressing for Objective 1 funding for the region, although that was before devolution.

266

There was an argument in the Scottish Parliament concerning additionality and whether the UK Treasury had interpreted it correctly in respect of the Scottish block. However, there are two points of view on that argument. Those taking one point of view have harried the Commission to say that the Executive have got it wrong, whereas the other side has said that the Executive had it right all along. It depends on whether there is divided or shared opinion on an issue. The style of interaction with the Commission and the things we do differ, but important questions will arise for us all after enlargement, especially whether there will be any structural funds whatsoever available for countries not in central or eastern Europe.

267

Dr Birnie: Our inquiry examines the relationship between the Administrations in Belfast and Brussels and, crucially, the relationship between Belfast and London through to Brussels and how it might be changed and improved if possible.

268

Based on Scottish experience, do you feel that the relationship between the territorial units in the UK, the Government in London, the Commission in Brussels and the central EU bodies is strong enough to bring about pragmatic piecemeal reform, or is there a set of conundrums which cannot be resolved, meaning eventually the only way for a unit to get the best deal in Brussels is independence? Of course, as a member of the SNP you would welcome that, while as a Unionist I should see it as a bad outcome. Is it possible to achieve piecemeal reform, or is there an inexorable disintegrative logic of the EU's impact on the United Kingdom as a political pawn in the -

269

Prof Sir Neil MacCormick: I am not a great believer in historical inevitabilities, so people certainly have real choices to make. My party will give the people of Scotland the choice between seeking the position of a full member state or being part of one, and on that people will differ.

270

Perhaps we might bracket that off. You asked whether it would work if people decided to make that type of arrangement more or less permanent, with other possible adjustments. There are genuine difficulties in the variable geometry of the UK, where the English regions - or England as a region in the technical European sense - do not have a specific voice, being wholly subsumed in the United Kingdom Ministries, whereas Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have a dual capacity, meaning they are represented by UK Ministers for some purposes and by their own for others.

271

Specific representation will often be sought for specific purposes. For example, fisheries matters are a much more substantial and salient part of the Scottish economy than that of the UK as a whole, and I imagine, though I am not entirely certain of the current state of things, that the same is true of Northern Ireland. When the Fisheries Council meets, we are particularly anxious to be assured that there is real and serious Scottish input. Frequently the possibility for a Scottish Minister to put the UK case is realised.

272

I was very concerned after the Helsinki Council, where the brakes were taken off regarding justice and home affairs matters and topics such as the mutual recognition of criminal judgements. Issues such as a possible European prosecutor - which has been put on the back burner for the time being - or, most recently, the European arrest warrant, are very important where a separate legal system exists. It must be considered fully in the drafting of a United Kingdom position. For example, Scotland's criminal law system has the beneficial 110-day rule, which is 300 years old. Someone detained pending trial must be tried within 110 days or, if not, released and the matter dropped forever. That creates pressure for speedy, effective trials.

273

That will be badly qualified, for people could be picked up on the streets of Edinburgh, verified in the High Court and sent to Lisbon, for example. MEPs hear of the problems of many citizens of this country who, for good or bad reasons, have been arrested and detained pending trial in other parts of Europe. None of the planespotters is a constituent of mine, but I do not refer only to them - I seem to run much more for allegedly criminal lorry drivers. Truck drivers are currently having problems, and their families can be put in great distress. Drivers suddenly disappear off the radar screen while driving home, and 10 or 11 days later it turns out that they are in a jail in the north of France because of items found in the truck.

274

While it cannot be the case that everyone in whose truck things have been found is totally ignorant of their presence, that must sometimes be so. At the moment the pre-trial detention and treatment of prisoners in such a situation is not good at all in some neighbouring countries. The arrest warrant is justified on the grounds that we all subscribe to the European Convention on Human Rights, but that is interpreted differently in different places. A remedy takes a long time if the only recourse is the court in Strasbourg.

275

I do not wish to labour the point, but in such areas as criminal justice there is a distinct interest based on the separate systems in Scotland and Northern Ireland. A Northern Ireland Minister of Justice would have the same interest as a Scottish Minister of Justice in being present - in Justice and Home Affairs Councils - or at least in being involved early and deeply in preparing a United Kingdom position to ensure that all aspects have been taken into account. That is an instance of distinct Scottish and Northern Irish interest, but not of Welsh interest, since the Welsh legal system is - more or less - rolled in with that of England.

276

Interest depends, therefore, on the topic being considered, but it is important that there is an effective Scottish presence. My party, which is the Opposition, is always at the heels of the Executive, telling them that they are not doing enough or not getting in there enough. When I visit, as I not infrequently do, the United Kingdom Permanent Representation or talk to its Parliamentary Liaison Officer, I want to ensure that, on issues in which there is a distinct Scottish interest, that interest is fully and properly taken into account in the preparation of the United Kingdom position.

277

Preparation is important. Once a matter has reached a Council meeting, it is far too late. It is decisive to participate in the early stages of discussions to ensure that distinctive points of view are taken into account then. One effect of devolution has been to make that necessity yet more visible. I have no doubt that in the old days a Secretary of State or Lord Advocate - or Attorney General in the case of Northern Ireland - would regularly make representations in Government, but that was invisible and no one knew what representations were made, whereas now there is much more transparency, and that is altogether positive.

278

There will be stresses and strains, and this asymmetry is more or less permanent unless someone can find a way to deal with it. Where there is goodwill - and there is normally goodwill - real efforts are made to put together positions that make sense. It will be funny in a few years when the Republic of Slovakia, with its extensive coastline, sends a Minister to the Fisheries Council while Scotland sends none.

279

Mr C Murphy: I should like to develop the discussion about stresses and strains and the relationships between the devolved Administrations, the member states and the European Union. The ideal situation would be if devolved Administrations could influence whatever policy or approach the member state adopts. You mentioned BSE and foot-and-mouth disease as cases where you must react. There were tensions between Ireland and the policy that Westminster was adopting regarding the labelling of agricultural produce and our desire to distance ourselves from animal disease in Britain. In such cases, how do you envisage the EU dealing with the varying approaches of member states and regions?

280

The last witness said that the Commission was pushing at an open door when it came to regions trying to exert influence. Will the Commission use that device for dealing with member states, muddying the water somewhat and attempting to lessen or divert their influence? Is the Commission encouraging that for a reason other than developing the region's potential? It is getting round that relationship. How will the EU view the tensions that inevitably arise between a member state and a constituent region, their interests not always coinciding?

281

Prof Sir Neil MacCormick: That is a tricky question. The Governance White Paper produced on behalf of the Commission by Mr Prodi and Commissioner Barnier contains some tepid comments about the Commission being ready to talk to non-governmental organisations and regional and member state governments to ensure that policy-making is close to the people. That caused a storm of protest among some Members of Parliament, and it was not insignificant that members from Spain in particular took the line that it was interfering with the state's constitution. It is up to the state to make the relationships it thinks right with the regions and to make the desired inputs through that mechanism. The regions may have representation on the Committee of the Regions, and it has its own official and direct avenue. However, all the stuff about the Commission doing things behind closed doors and talking to this person and that will end up, as you suggest, with muddy water and unclear lines of responsibility.

282

One of the questions that will be taken very seriously by the convention set up under the Laeken declaration last month is how to prescribe a sensible definition of, and approach to, subsidiarity and how to cater for the different levels of government in Europe. Everyone acknowledges that, if you take areas where the implementation of policy falls within devolved subjects, it must be the case that the Northern Ireland Administration or the Scottish Executive are responsible for taking a Directive, turning it into law and ensuring that it is properly observed and respected as such. For example, environmental Directives come straight through to your Administration or our Executive, and they must be transposed and then implemented.

283

There are rows about the seal colonies off Islay, and there are some problems relating to whisky production there. Once a day, in the name of preserving the environment, a fleet of six tankers arrives solemnly at Laphroaig on the east side of the island. They load up with waste water and drive across to the Caol Ila distillery on the far side of the island, where they pour it into the Atlantic. Otherwise it would pollute the waters in an unacceptable way. Whether such large tankers are a good idea on narrow roads is an interesting question.

284

That issue is being settled in Scotland. It is an issue between the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the local authority, the whisky industry and, ultimately, the legislative framework for which the Parliament is responsible. It is important to have a direct nexus between the Scottish Executive in their implementation of European law and the European Commission.

285

For example, for a long time the rules about the liberalisation of marine transport were not properly observed in the Hebrides, on the west coast, or by the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry services. However, that fact was eventually noticed, and Scotland was instructed to put its house in order.

286

For most of the time I have been in Parliament, the Scottish Minister for Transport has been having talks with the European Commission to establish, on the one hand, a legally acceptable system - from a European point of view - for putting the ferry services out to tender. On the other hand, there has been dialogue between the local authorities, the island communities, the Scottish Parliament, and the MEPs and MSPs on the necessary parameters for a safe and successful ferry service to the islands such as those on the west coast, some of which can run perfectly profitable services, but most of which cannot do so all year round. A lifeline service to the island of Colonsay, which has approximately 150 inhabitants, cannot be provided without a subsidy. The question is whether all the problems of cross-subsidy should be bundled together. That is a big argument, but there is no point in Whitehall becoming involved, since it has nothing to do with the services - it must be solved by input from those directly involved. No one doubts that those directly involved should have input at the enforcement stage; the question is how much influence they should have at the legislative design stage. If a law is being designed for use in country places, the people who represent those places must have some say when it is being drafted. Of course, with formal law-making one must be strictly constitutional - only the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament and the European Commission together can make laws.

287

Mr C Murphy: Is there any suspicion that the European Commission's encouragement of the regions to engage with it is an attempt to do down member states?

288

Prof Sir Neil MacCormick: On the contrary, the Commission is keen to relate as closely as possible to the regions, but also to reassure member states that it is not its objective to make spiky relations which were previously smooth. The Commission is conscious of its duty to respect the constitutional order of the member states. There is suspicion among some European political thinkers that aspects of European regionalism may involve stirring things up, but that is a bottom-up movement - the restless natives calling for better action on their behalf. The European Commission is not attempting to foment unrest.

289

Mr Ervine: With the previous witness, I explored the theme of incoming resources versus outcome for member states. In your comments on European expansion, you mentioned that greater resources would be required to enable you to do the networking necessary to influence proposals before they become law. However, the prospect of member states having access to more money and resources has allowed those reticent about European enlargement to feel more reasonable about it. Will the diminishing return to member states and the greater need for resources heighten existing tensions in a society already perceived to be reticent about the European Union?

290

Prof Sir Neil MacCormick: That is quite likely. The European Commission and the Council of the European Union will have to decide if it is necessary for the budget to grow considerably larger to accommodate the structural funding required for the new countries while at the same time accommodating the continuing needs of existing member states. Spain and Portugal will be the hardest test because of the support there. Anything that might arise in the UK - and we are indignant about the devolution of structural funds - will be nothing compared to the indignation in parts of Spain. One of Mr Aznar's conditions was the retention of the right to veto eligibility rules, a potential point of conflict.

291

The common agricultural policy (CAP) is an acute problem clearly in profound need of reform. Perhaps the upshot of that reform will be positive, but not without a great deal of pain. If the CAP's large slice of the community budget could be reduced, we might be able to find other ways to support some of its activities more widely.

292

The further question of shifting resources in member states will arise, and the German Laender are already doing so. If EU structural funds were used primarily to shift resources from what, crudely put, is the rich west to the poorer east, there would be some pressure to change other countries' state aid rules. There would then be greater local power than now to shift resources from prosperous to less prosperous parts of a member state. You can see many difficulties with it, for as soon as you allow too much of that, the market is no longer a level playing field.

293

There will therefore be a great deal of stress and strain, and I do not know how it will work out. The idea of arriving at the end of the process with a single market consisting of upwards of 500 million people with growing prosperity - particularly rapidly growing prosperity in those areas which were hitherto poorest - presents better long-term opportunities than otherwise. There can be choppy waters, but they may be calmer on the far side.

294

Mr Ervine: We have 30 years' experience of the European Union. There are those who wish to leave one union and join another, and you seem to fit that bill; you seem genuinely pro-European. However, if we dig deep enough, we may find that many who have advocated greater involvement with the European Union have done so apologetically. Many are not gung-ho Europeans, and in the United Kingdom there are certainly not that many people who are totally committed to and accepting of the European situation. Those tensions worry me most.

295

Given the wars and so forth, if after 30 years our population has not been convinced of the intellectual benefits of the European Union and the sense of well-being that come from that, will it ever be?

296

Prof Sir Neil MacCormick: Do you not think, Mr Ervine, that that is a little apocalyptic?

297

Mr Ervine: I did not say that they would shoot anyone or anything of the sort, but the major opposition party essentially says that it is anti-European. It may not be anti-European, but that phenomenon is similar to how Unionists sell the Good Friday Agreement.

298

Prof Sir Neil MacCormick: You must draw a distinction between those who favour what is sometimes called deeper integration and a stronger European constitution and those who wish to keep the interaction between all the states as loose as possible. There is a difference between intergovernmentalists and supranationalists. In the UK as a whole, people who have an opinion about Europe mainly hold one of these positions. Judging by election results, quite a small number favour the "Let's get out of the whole thing" position. There is a second set of issues about whether to accept the single currency. The focal dispute about the currency is more about Government, governance and independence than economics. In this sense, if Mr O'Donnell is getting a terrible row, he is getting it for telling an obvious truth; that the issue is fundamentally political, though like all political issues, it has strong economic overtones.

299

However, I do not read the opinion of the entire country, as you do, as hostile or against the European project in one of its forms; it is a strong debate about which form. That debate will become much clearer in Europe as a result of the convention meeting with representatives of Parliaments, the European Parliament, Governments and so on, which will debate what changes to European structures are needed to enable it to make sense in the context of enlargement. The answer may come out wrong; I do not deny that.

300

I take your point that there is a general air of ennui and disillusionment. No one is pleased about the European Union in the way that many people were at one time. This does not amount to a constitutional attitude of secession from it; it amounts to a widespread lack of enthusiasm. Those matters will make a difference in that respect.

301

Mr Ervine: Essentially you are saying "Thank goodness for United Kingdom acquiescence", since that is what people are doing. Is that what you are suggesting?

302

Prof Sir Neil MacCormick: No, I am not saying that. I am not in a position to speak for the United Kingdom as a whole. I understand opinion in Scotland well, and what I have said is a good representation of that opinion. There is a certain lack of enthusiasm. There is no widespread sense, however, that it is time to come out. Even in respect of the currency issue, opinion is rapidly shifting in favour of joining.

303

The Chairperson: That was an interesting exchange.

304

Mrs E Bell: My own thoughts are not a million miles from those of Mr Ervine, but I shall bring the volume down a notch or two. As I come from the voluntary community sector and deal with a large number of grants and so on, I find that the concerns of ordinary people are focused on money and Directives. Their attitude to Europe is that the EU is either handing out money or issuing Directives about how people should live their lives.

305

Our MEPs are noted for being able to facilitate the granting of money and so on, and that is one of the good things. However, people are detached. Our remit is to see how we can make the European picture and the development of Europe much more relevant, and how we can benefit from it in every way rather than simply financially. One of the issues concerns legislative design and drafting. I have been led to believe that approximately 60% of our legislation originates in Europe. As an MEP, what is your role in that? Do you see the evolving nature of devolution and the establishment of the European Committee in Scotland as a vehicle for you to be able to bring Europe back to Scotland along with its benefits so that we are all one Europe? Do you see that as a role you need to work? We are talking about an integrated approach, good relationships, and all of those basic things that seek to develop Europeanisation. Is it essential to have a good relationship with the European Committee, or do you view your role slightly differently?

306

Prof Sir Neil MacCormick: It is very important that MEPs have a good relationship with the European Committee of the Scottish Parliament, but, for the reason you mentioned, it is also extremely important to relate to the other Committees. In a sense, all the Committees are European Committees in part. The European framework and the Directives affect all that we do.

307

Sometimes, as I said earlier, one can get very cross with certain of the side effects. Some of the Directives affecting the environment - the Water Framework Directive and so on - seem to have silly consequences locally, and it is easy to highlight those. On the other hand, none of us anywhere in Europe would be happy with a general attitude of neglect for the environment and sustainability. Given the costs of working in sustainability requirements, the competition would drive you from the face of the earth if there were not reasonably similar environmental standards across the whole of the Union.

308

That is the argument with so many of the things on which we have tried to devise Europe-wide laws. They must be the same, or more or less the same, across Europe. If it is going to contain something stupid, it is terribly important that MEPs as well as members of the Council of Ministers and the United Kingdom Permanent Representation are aware. It is not possible, sitting in a Committee room in Brussels, to have sharp awareness of a certain proposition's impact. You must be told from back home; there is a tremendously urgent need for that.

309

May I give you a seemingly trivial example? A significant product of the oil industry in Scotland is ethanol - ethyl alcohol. For its use as an industrial solvent there are two main sources. One is agricultural produce fermented and distilled, and the other is oil. I happen to be a rapporteur on the issue of legal basis, which is a very complicated, technical, boring subject for "pointy-headed lawyers".

310

I was asked just before Christmas whether it was possible to amend a Directive about agriculturally produced ethyl alcohol for industrial purposes so as to include industrially produced ethyl alcohol produced for the same purpose. That sounds like a question of reading the treaties and seeing what happens. I was whisked off to Grangemouth and shown the structure of the industry and how the two kinds of ethanol interact by friends there.

311

One of the key questions, when you think of it, is the proportion. Is it mainly the case that spare whisky and gin are turned into something else useful, or is it a by-product? As it happens, it is half and half. There is a great deal of it, and all your hairspray and aftershave comes from it. It is no longer simply a technical legal issue but a very important practical question. How can you set up a respectable and fair common market organisation on that? The portable knowledge of an MEP is unlikely to include a stock of wisdom about such technical implications. Unless you know them, you do not know what the question is about, and unless you know what the question is about, you cannot give a sensible answer.

312

In that way, and as early as possible in the process of devising law, long before the issue of law-making arises, the two-way inputs matter. The other side is that, if things are not working well and there are glitches and so forth, they will be noticed most quickly at the local level - that of the Northern Ireland Administration, the Scottish Executive or the English county. It is important that the negative feedback, as well as the positive, reach us as quickly as possible. Of course, MEPs are only one resource. More important are the resources of central Government. The point is that central Government necessarily takes the line of "that is it". Some might think that a characteristic of the present Government, but that is another story. If you persuade central Government that your position is dead right, and they go off and throw their weight about at the Council, that is hunky-dory. But what if they get it wrong? They occasionally do, and then you have only the MEPs.

313

Mrs E Bell: You should still be trying to foster good relationships for effective working.

314

Prof Sir Neil MacCormick: It is also a question of judgement. You might think that they have come up with the wrong answer, albeit in good faith. I believe they came up with the wrong answer on aspects of the arrest warrant; there are not enough safeguards built in.

315

Mrs E Bell: We shall consider that in Antrim when we are examining the skills.

316

Mr K Robinson: I am intrigued by your situation. As a Scottish Nationalist forced to work in a federal Europe, do you not have personal conflicts? Or does it give you the unique opportunity to act in a Rottweiler role, where you can savage not only your local Administration, but also the Commissioners and the other elements of the European umbrella organisation?

317

I should like you to build on a comment made by the previous speaker. He advised us that if we wanted to be important, influence Europe and get in early on decision-making, we had to be much brasher than at present. I am not for a moment suggesting that you are brash, but I am trying to draw out your unique stance in Europe because of your own political situation in Scotland, and then translating that into the federal system of Europe. Does it give you the opportunity to be a gadfly - to make things happen? Or does it isolate you on the periphery? We view ourselves in Northern Ireland as being on the periphery of Europe. We have a psychological barrier to break through. Do we need to break through it by being brash? How can we influence Directives when they are simply a thought in some European official's mind - as opposed to a White or Green Paper coming forward for scrutiny by yourselves or the Westminster European Committee?

318

Prof Sir Neil MacCormick: It is difficult to get in at the very earliest stages, except by keeping an eye on legislative timetables and programmes. The Council and the Commission give us annual statements of their interests and what they are bringing forward. They do not produce things suddenly out of left field, except in emergencies such as that of 11 September. There are possibilities for input right along the line. I suspect that if any group got a reputation for going over the top on every issue, they would simply be regarded as silly folk. It is obligatory to have an attitude of constructive engagement, whether critical or supportive.

319

The same applies to the issue of oppositions in politics. Oppositions oppose, but if they just bang on at a perpetually high decibel rate, people would switch off. You must choose your issue, and you must focus firmly on it. Those who have influence as MEPs are nobody's pushover. They have a strong position, and they stand for it, but they take a constructive and engaged part in the work of the Committees of the Parliament and the various forms and levels of Government with which they must interact.

320

Contrary to your earlier observation, I do not find myself stressed or embarrassed. My view of Scotland is that it would be nice if it were as independent as Denmark or Finland, and as closely associated and friendly with England as Denmark, Ireland, Portugal or Spain in a large union of that kind. That is to say, I wish to see a change in the constitutional status of Scotland and its relations to neighbouring countries, not in the spirit of a bar-room wrecker, but in the spirit of taking things forward if there is a substantial democratic consensus. That is why my view of our present position is that people must work constructively in the system and realise the maximum possibilities. That we have done so is a big advance on before. It is the way to encourage our fellow citizens to believe that more possibilities would be even better.

321

Mr K Robinson: Scotland is the home of non-conformity. When formulating a Scottish view on how to proceed in Europe, does the opportunity to be non-conformist through not being tied into Westminster or European power blocs in the same way as other parties afford you flexibility, or is it a weakness?

322

Prof Sir Neil MacCormick: It depends. After all, in this Parliament my party is the major party of opposition, so it is a major player, whereas, of course, necessarily and naturally -

323

Mr K Robinson: Sorry to interrupt you, but the reason for that question was that, because of our unique structures we do not have an opposition, so it is a different situation.

324

Prof Sir Neil MacCormick: Yes. I should be much more sensitive to that. The easiest place in which to forget about local rivalry is Brussels. There are many issues on which my Conservative, Labour and Liberal colleagues and myself disagree in unsystematic ways. On some matters the Liberals and the SNP tend to take a similar view, and sometimes other groupings form, but on many points there appears to be a common Scottish interest which takes priority, and we pull together. If a group has a reputation for doing that, there will be an amplifying effect on the hearing it gets when it wants an opinion on something considered serious.

325

We might disagree sharply on other things, for example, aspects of the Public Procurement Directives and to what extent environmental or market considerations should be taken into account. There is a typical ideological division, and different parties take different views.

326

That also applies in the Northern Ireland Assembly. People work in permanent coalition, whereas Mr Nicholson, Mr Paisley and Mr Hume sit in different party groups in the European Parliament and frequently disagree sharply about current subjects. I am sure that, where they pull together, it makes a difference. I suspect that, since only one of the Northern Ireland MEPs has a single mandate, they interact less regularly and frequently in the European Parliament than do the Scottish Members, which is a happenstance for the moment.

327

Mr Gibson: We must consider the role of the Assembly and its representation in Europe. You have Scotland House on the Continent with its various components and representatives. From your experience, what adjustments would you make to the "invisible influences" early on, bearing in mind your words "not doing enough"? What advice would you give to us about our office in Europe?

328

Prof Sir Neil MacCormick: Forgive a piece of culpable ignorance. I not sure whether there is a Northern Ireland House that matches the Scotland House, and the Welsh equivalent, whose name I cannot remember. It is not Ty Cymru, for that would not go down too nicely outside Plaid Cymru circles.

329

The Chairperson: We now have an office established. Currently it is strictly a Northern Ireland Executive office, and we wish to see how that might be developed.

330

Prof Sir Neil MacCormick: It is important to have that base. The Scotland Europa input into our European office is very important because it means that civil society and the economy are there alongside Government agencies. They are not rivals but play a different part to that which the agencies can properly play.

331

As a lover of Northern Ireland, I profoundly hope that the new authorities will work well. If they do, that experience will perhaps create circumstances in which the next generation of Northern Ireland MEPs - whoever they may be - have more fruitful links back home than have been possible in the last two or three decades. That would be very helpful from everyone's point of view.

332

It would be very useful for Committees to be fairly frequent visitors to the European Parliament and the other European institutions just to get to know people. You would find that Northern Ireland MEPs would be conscious of a duty to be in touch with visitors, but the Scottish and Welsh, I am sure, would also be very willing to attend. Perhaps the right expression is "guides, philosophers and friends".

333

It is difficult to give you an answer that is clear and sharp enough. You should also ensure that civil servants serving the Administration are from time to time seconded to the United Kingdom Permanent Represenation and gain experience in those institutions. But I dare say that has been going on in ways of which I am unaware.

334

Mr Gibson: It is an issue in Northern Ireland that there has not been a successful or regular secondment of Civil Service staff to the European scene. It might perhaps have been done on a partially voluntary basis. Does the Scottish Parliament now have its own more established or formal arrangement for a rotation of senior Civil Service staff to become familiar with Europe? Is that already established practice, or is it still being considered?

335

Prof Sir Neil MacCormick: I understand that in the overall United Kingdom Civil Service it is quite a regular practice for civil servants working for the Scottish Executive to take roles from time to time, for example, in the United Kingdom Permanent Representation. Dermot Scott, who represents the Parliament here, has been very active in getting as much interaction as possible between Clerks in the Scottish Parliament and the Secretariat of the European Parliament.

336

I cannot give you the exact details. Not being in Government myself, I am not certain how much there is, but it would be worth finding out. Over the years there have been many instances of people who, having had part of their career in Brussels, have come back and occupied very senior positions in what was the Scottish Office - now the Scottish Executive and Administration. There are probably arrangements whereby civil servants can be seconded into Directorates General to work for a period inside the Commission as well as inside the permanent representation of the member states. There are all sorts of interactions of that kind, and I am certain that there is no substitute for people who know it from the inside and have a feel for the place.

337

Mr Gibson: You mentioned that the universities were there. Is the Law Society also represented?

338

Prof Sir Neil MacCormick: Yes. The Law Society of Northern Ireland is also there. An organisation representing the various law societies of the United Kingdom speaks for them all. I hear a great deal from them, since I was on the Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee. I am one of those they lobby when they are in that mode.

339

The Chairperson: Thank you very much, Sir Neil, for a most interesting and informative contribution. We particularly enjoyed the explanation of why Scotland threw off the shackles of Westminster but not those of Brussels. We appreciate your coming to the Committee and giving us some of your expertise. No doubt it will have some impact on the conclusions of our report.

340

Prof Sir Neil MacCormick: If it is not a discourtesy, perhaps I might thank you all too. It has been a pleasure to visit, and I really enjoyed the exchanges of views and opinions. A note has been passed to me which says that direct exchanges between European and Scottish Parliament staff are being actively pursued for later in 2002, making that a possible model. Thank you.

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

Friday 11 January 2002

Members present:
Mr Poots (Chairperson)
Mr Gibson (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Beggs
Mrs E Bell
Dr Birnie
Mr Ervine
Mr C Murphy
Mr K Robinson

Witnesses:

Mrs I Oldfather )

Mr S Imrie ) European Committee,
Mr D Simpson ) Scottish Parliament

341

The Chairperson: I welcome Mrs Irene Oldfather, recently appointed Convener of the Scottish Parliament's European Committee, Stephen Imrie, the Clerk, and David Simpson, the Assistant Clerk.

342

Mrs Oldfather, from her membership of the Committee, has a good understanding of past events, but obviously she cannot fully account for the previous Convener's actions. Please make your presentation, Mrs Oldfather, after which members may wish to ask questions.

343

Mrs Oldfather: Thank you. I welcome the Committee of the Centre on behalf of the Scottish Parliament and its European Committee. It is a pleasure and a privilege to have the Committee here and to have the opportunity to share experiences. Thank you for inviting me to give evidence.

344

The European Committee is one of 17 Committees in the Scottish Parliament and it has been in operation for two and a half years. It is a mandatory Committee, which means that after an election the Parliament has 42 days to set it up; there is no choice about the matter. The Committee began with a larger membership than it has at present. It currently has nine members: four Labour; one Liberal Democrat; two SNP; one Conservative, and one Independent. It is fair to say that the Committee works very well on a cross-party basis. We have seldom had to take votes, and that has been a good thing.

345

It is opportune that you have come to speak to us, since for two reasons the Committee is at a crossroads. The first is that I took over as Convener from Hugh Henry last December. The second is that we are beginning a new year and a new work programme.

346

We will be assessing how we have done things over the last two and a half years and examining such issues as our scrutiny role. We are attempting to refine that and identify ways in which we might do things a little better. The Committee has had a very heavy workload, and we feel that there might be ways in which we can streamline and improve our processes. We are to discuss the matter on 15 January and I should certainly not like to pre-empt any decision the Committee might take, but I thought I should point out that there are areas that we feel we could refine.

347

I know that you spoke to Tom Sullivan from CoSLA. While I do not expect any decision to be taken on 15 January, we have discussed the possibility of opening an office in Brussels or having a parliamentary representative in the Scotland Europa office. It would be a valuable resource for the Committee, but we have to prioritise when it is difficult to find resources. We are always rather strapped for cash, and I am sure you are acquainted with the same problem. The Committee tries to engage with Brussels by having an annual visit, and this is due next month.

348

The Committee has produced 19 reports since its inception. It has undertaken 10 large inquiries and published smaller reports during that time. We are about to produce a fairly major piece of work on enlargement, which we look forward to publishing in the next month or so. We produce reports in several ways. The Committee has undertaken very large inquiries, and it has used the system of Committee rapporteurships, whereby individual members have been able to investigate policy areas that interest them. The Committee has taken some time to find its niche in Scotland. Before devolution CoSLA had a very active European team, and I am sure Tom Sullivan spoke to you about that. The Scotland Office - now the Scottish Executive - was also very active in European matters.

349

It was difficult for the Committee to find its niche at first without duplicating the efforts of others and reinventing the wheel. Over the period of its inquiries the Committee has begun to find that there are areas where Parliament has a very valid role to play in trying to influence the Scottish Executive in their discussions with UK Ministers, et cetera. Perhaps the Committee should also look at implementation and areas there that it could report on more frequently.

350

One of the difficulties faced by the Committee is changing membership. Only three people have served on the Committee for the whole period since its establishment two and a half years ago, yet we are covering a very complex area. That has been difficult. Our former Convener was promoted to a ministerial post, and obviously we would not want to have prevented that or taken that away from him. The next few months will be important for the Committee, and today's deliberations should help us formulate some of our ideas.

351

Mr Beggs: Thank you for your presentation. I am curious about the amount of time that your Committee devotes to matters. I gather from reading the background information that the Committee meets once a fortnight. How much members' time does that require? We already have 11 Committees, and the question is whether to have another Committee or a subcommittee. Is sufficient time devoted to your work in scrutinizing European affairs?

352

Mrs Oldfather: We normally meet fortnightly, but during inquiries we often find that we have to meet more frequently. For example, during our recent inquiry into governance we wanted to meet with MEPs and MPs to take their views into account. As a result, we changed the day on which we met, and we had more frequent meetings. We allow the subject matter to dictate our schedule to some extent, but the Committee generally meets fortnightly, and we are reasonably satisfied with that.

353

Large numbers of documents come from Brussels, and the Committee has to be selective about what it can do. It could probably meet every day, seven hours a day, but that might not be very productive. We must select one or two areas where we believe we can influence decisions. We can then develop arguments and lobby the Scottish Executive and others once we have formulated our opinions.

354

I have served on three Committees in the Scottish Parliament - the Health Committee, the Rural Development Committee and the European Committee - and in all of them there is the temptation to try to do too much. It is important to be realistic about expectations and what can be achieved.

355

Mr Beggs: Westminster Committees normally have six weeks to consult on a subject. If your Committee has to provide input to a Westminster report, would that mean that it would have a shorter time frame and would be reporting within four or five weeks? How much time do you have for consultations that feed into the Westminster system?

356

Mrs Oldfather: We have picked certain inquiries ourselves - for example, we looked at the common fisheries policy. We knew that the European Commission was going to be looking at that policy and that the timetable was going to be six or seven months. For our major inquiries we have tried to choose issues that we knew we would have time to develop and take evidence on.

357

The Committee has to work to a very short timescale on documents coming from Westminster. In a sense this does, to a degree, determine what we can or cannot look at. Timing is crucial. There is no point in closing the stable door after the horse has bolted - there is no point in devoting Committee time to an issue if it is already too late to influence the decision-making process.

358

The Committee has been on a learning curve. We must continually look forward in order to obtain intelligence early, but sometimes by the time we receive information from Westminster it is already too late. That is why we have looked at developing e-mail systems, networks and contacts in Brussels. We have examined the possibility of placing a parliamentary official in Brussels, but no decisions have been taken because of resource difficulties.

359

We are looking at the Commission's work programme, which will be produced early in 2002. We can use that to attempt to determine our larger longer-term inquiries, and this has been helpful. It is about being proactive as well as reactive. We realise that there is only so much that we can do. However, it is helpful to have information early.

360

Mr Beggs: Has there been a problem in obtaining information from the Scottish Executive's representatives in Brussels? Why do you need to have an additional parliamentary representative there?

361

Mrs Oldfather: At a formal level, Scotland Europa and the Scottish Executive offices at Scotland House work to Ministers. The Committee visits Brussels once a year and, as I have said, we have established good contacts with officials at Scotland House, whom we found, at an informal level, to be as helpful to us as they can be.

362

Dr Birnie: What you say is fascinating, and relevant to what we will decide to do. I read that the previous Convener said that the European Committee should seek to influence EU policy directly. How have you gone about doing that, or to what extent have you managed to do that?

363

Your counterpart in Westminster, the House of Commons Select Committee on European Legislation, has the so-called European Scrutiny Reserve Resolution, whereby Ministers will normally resist making decisions until matters have gone through the Committee's accountability/scrutiny mechanism. As I understand it, there is no similar resolution in Edinburgh. Should that be changed, and can it be changed in the foreseeable future?

364

Mrs Oldfather: Those are important questions. I shall answer the second one first. We recently produced a report on governance. In the course of our deliberations we considered the possibility of a Scottish scrutiny reserve. That forms part of reviewing the whole process of how the Committee can bring a Scottish dimension to bear upon UK representation and the European Commission.

365

We are not seeking to set up a scrutiny reserve in the same sense that it restricts a UK Minister in a Council meeting. That would not be appropriate for us, nor would it be what we want. On the few occasions when we would undertake an in-depth analysis of a problem with a particular Scottish dimension, we would like to be able to ask the Scottish Executive to consider holding back until the Committee has had the opportunity to put its viewpoint to the Minister. Hopefully such action would inform the discussions that the Minister would have with his UK colleagues. It was proposed in our governance inquiry to look at improving the links between the Committee, the Scottish Executive and our colleagues in Westminster.

366

As for your point about direct influence, Mr Henry, the previous Convener, was referring to reports and inquiries that are taken to the European Commission on our visits to Brussels. This ensures that the Commission is made aware of the Committee's work on particular Scottish problems. The Scottish Executive have been very willing to respond to the Committee's inquiries. There is a mechanism whereby the Executive reports back to the Committee with their views on suggestions and recommendations in Committee reports. We feel it is also appropriate to lodge copies of reports with the European Commission.

367

We work as closely as possible with our colleagues in the European Parliament. A group called European Elected Members Information Liaison and Exchange (EMILE) is used as a networking forum to which we bring Committee views and reports. All Committee reports are sent to Scottish MEPs. We also try to work closely with our representatives on the Committee of the Regions. In that sense the Committee hopes to have a direct influence.

368

There has been a little bit of a vacuum in the Committee of the Regions because until now all Scottish appointees have been from local authorities. The Committee of the Regions is about to enter a new mandate. The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive now share appointees with local authorities, so Parliament appointees will be able to sit directly on the Committee of the Regions. That will be a first for the Scottish Parliament and it will be a very useful and welcome development. The Committee must look at how that can be tied back into the Parliament and Committee system in Scotland.

369

Mr C Murphy: What has your relationship been with other Scottish Parliament Committees? For example, if your Committee is scrutinising an EU Directive that impacts on agriculture, how would that relate to your Agriculture Committee? You mentioned the use of individual rapporteurs in the Committee to follow particular inquiries into areas of interest. What support is given to individuals to conduct such work?

370

Mrs Oldfather: Those are very important questions. The lack of resources is an issue that is very close to heart. One reason that the Committee developed the rapporteur system was because it was very difficult for the entire Committee to undertake the level of investigation required. For example, a Committee member using his own staff, backed by our two Committee Clerks, has undertaken the report on EU enlargement that will be produced next month.

371

It is a difficult issue for us. The Committee has worked very hard. A report on the euro was essentially completed by a Committee member using his own staff backed by the Committee Clerks. It is a real problem because we have a huge area to cover. Frankly, we do not have enough resources. We have nothing like the resources that the European Scrutiny Committee at Westminster has.

372

Your earlier point about relationships with other Committees is also important. The Consultative Steering Group, which established the principals of the Scottish Parliament, envisaged that representatives from each Committee would be on the European Committee. However, the European Committee has not worked quite like that. We have developed a system whereby our Committee refers documents to the appropriate subject committee. We anticipated that the subject committees would take the documents, analyse them and report back to us. However, we will review that system next week, as we have not had feedback from the subject committees because they are very overworked and overloaded with primary legislation.

373

The Committee undertook a major inquiry into the common fisheries policy reform. While there are Committees on rural development, and on transport and the environment, which could have dealt with that issue, they were so overloaded with work that we took the decision to undertake the inquiry ourselves. We felt that that was appropriate as it had a European dimension, and it fed into the European Commission's White Paper and review. The Rural Development Committee has looked at the report, and we foresee that any follow-up will come via that Committee. There is a good working partnership between the Committees, but it does not always work as well as we had initially envisaged given workloads. This is probably the time for a review.

374

Mr Ervine: I came here thinking that the Scots had undoubtedly got their knees below the European table and that they were much further along the line than us. I listened to the evidence and it sounded reasonable. When I asked a previous witness about a single Scottish view of Europe, I thought that the act was together - I am beginning to find out that it is not.

375

Is it CoSLA, the Scottish Parliament or the Executive who co-ordinates what Scotland does in Europe and also its response to Europe? One presumes that it would be the Executive. In earlier evidence I learned that co-ordination works better on an informal basis. How do you relate with your Ministers? The Sinn Féin member made the point about Departments. Are you taken seriously by the Scottish Executive Ministers who have a specific responsibility on an issue that would come before your Committee? I am aware that you can call them for evidence if you have an inquiry, but in an informal context how seriously do they take the Committee's view? As regards co-ordination - and if resources are an issue for CoSLA, the Parliament, and the Executive - there is a potential difficulty as regards duplication. Is co-ordination, as was suggested, best done informally?

376

Mrs Oldfather: It is not done informally all the time. The Parliament, and particularly the European Committee, is responsible for scrutinising the work of the Executive. The Committee's remit charges it with holding the Executive to account. All Parliament subject committees are responsible for holding Ministers to account. Therefore, the Committee has a very responsible power, and Ministers take it very seriously. I cannot recall any time when the Committee has requested a Minister to come before it to explain something when they have not made every effort to do so.

377

As regards the recommendations of the major reports that we have put to the Executive; as I mentioned earlier the Executive are duty bound to respond to the Committee's recommendations. It would be hard to put a figure on it, but in the vast majority of cases the Executive have been willing to agree with our recommendations.

378

Therefore we do not always operate on an informal basis. However, there are informal parts to the system, for example the EMILE working group, which brings together Executive Ministers, members of the European Committee, and Scottish members of the Committee of the Regions and the European Parliament. In that sense we have a Scottish forum for bringing together everyone who is working in different ways to co-ordinate Scotland's position on Europe. That forum is chaired by the Scottish Executive.

379

That apart, there is a clear role for the Scottish Parliament, and the European Committee in particular, to play in holding Ministers to account. Parliament does that effectively. I have worked on three Committees now, and Ministers take the Parliament and its Committees seriously in that regard.

380

Mr Ervine: I want to clarify that. We do the same in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and I do not doubt for a moment that Ministers take this aspect seriously. However, it seems that in the European context, your Ministers do not make decisions in Europe. They are supposed to get the best for Scotland in Europe even though they cannot make a decision. You say that your dealings with people who staff the European office are reasonably private, however the responsibility for looking for the best for Scotland lies with the Ministers. Should your Committee, and CoSLA not be looking for the same level of co-ordination with them?

381

How do you formulate any type of proper co-ordination if you operate on an informal basis or on a protection system - that a Minister will take all of the knowledge, retain the knowledge, and you will only get that knowledge if you ask questions? You are supposed to be acting in the best interests of Scotland. I ask this question because we have not made any decisions yet. We want to know the best way to proceed. Your point that you scrutinise the workings of the Executive is fair, but your remit states that you are to consider and report on any European issue - which your Executive might have no authority over or effect on. However, if the Committee and Scottish Executive got together you might make arguments in Europe with the best interests of Scotland at heart.

382

Mrs Oldfather: There are a few points that I want to make. I am representing the European Committee today. However, there is a formal system between the Scottish Executive, Scottish Ministers and Westminster Ministers through joint ministerial committees and our set of concordats.

383

We commissioned some independent research for our governance inquiry. The researcher undertook a review of about four or five policy areas, and the conclusion reached was that where we had sought hard to lobby the Executive and the Executive had taken those views to Westminster, we had a possibility of a far better outcome than where that had not taken place. So there is sort of independent evidence to support that. The Executive are responsible for implementation of European legislation in Scotland, so this is not all airy-fairy. The Executive have an important role to play in implementation. So I do not agree with you

384

Mrs E Bell: I also want to talk about co-ordination but perhaps from a different point of view. I have raised this point with everyone that we have talked to because it is as important as the political aspect. I agree with you - you have done much work in trying to set up a type of integrated approach from the point of view of parliamentary and political workings.

385

I am worried about whether, in the two and half years that you have been here, you have looked at your relationships with the people, the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the voluntary community sector - or do you envisage looking at this in your review?

386

We will definitely be looking at that aspect, because it is a very sophisticated and influential part of our set up. We have a Civic Forum, which, undoubtedly, must examine ways to work with us to promote what is best for Northern Ireland, as Mr Ervine said. What is your attitude to that? It is a complicated approach. Europe puts people off, because of the structures. Would something like a civic forum be another unnecessary complication in your set up, or do you think it would be useful to deal with that side of society also?

387

Mrs Oldfather: It is vital that we try to engage with civic Scotland, the voluntary sector and others. We undertook an inquiry into structural funding, and we invited representatives from the voluntary sector in particular to speak to us. We tried to ensure that we took account of their views.

388

This is not easy. It is easy to make some good comments, but it is difficult to put ideas into practice. We have tried hard. We produce an electronic newspaper; however, I am aware that if you are poor, for example, and living in a housing estate in Castlemilk, you probably will not access our electronic newsletter. We also have an e-mail distribution system. When we undertake inquiries, we write to voluntary organisations and others to invite them to come in. Engagement with civic society has been much better since devolution, but we have a long way to go.

389

The Committee is trying not to rest on its laurels in Edinburgh. We have had meetings outside Edinburgh, and we have also tried to send individual members to schools, for example, to ask how people see Europe; what they are doing, and how they are making young children aware of European citizenship. That has been very effective. Teachers and head teachers have been very responsive to that aspect of the Committee's work.

390

Although I was not part of it, a delegation went to the island of Islay recently - it had nothing to do with the whisky distilleries there, I hasten to add - but it was important to the islanders to have a visit from members of the Parliament's European Committee. It showed that the Committee was interested in what was happening in their communities. We have tried to engage with people, but there is a long way to go. If you have any ideas, we would be happy to take them on board.

391

Mrs E Bell: Do you still think that it is useful to do that?

392

Mrs Oldfather: Yes.

393

Mr Imrie: I want to make a practical point, which may help the members of the Committee. In relation to the sift scrutiny of European documents, the Clerks send the list of documents that are being considered by the Committee to an external network of trade unions, industrial bodies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and others. To be brutally honest, it saves me an awful lot of work, and their views are much more knowledgeable and professional than mine.

394

Mrs E Bell: That is what I was thinking of, from the point of view of resources.

395

Mr Imrie: We try to contact other people and get their views.

396

Mr K Robinson: I was speaking to one of your Colleagues earlier - not about hypothetical questions, per se, but about something that might tease out what my Colleague has said. We are here to learn what we need to do to get this right. As you are two or three years further along, we are relying on your experience to a large extent. The answers given by different witnesses this morning have raised one or two concerns.

397

I will ask a hypothetical question. Let us say that a nuclear power station is to be sited on the west coast of Scotland. Let us say that there are European Directives, which govern the safety levels of such an installation. Let us say that the UK Government in Westminster are interpreting the Directives differently from other member states' Governments. How would your Committee react to such a situation?

398

Given that you are now represented on the Committee of the Regions in Europe, how would you relate to the relevant Committees in, for example, the National Assembly for Wales or the Northern Ireland Assembly, so that we gain a common purpose in response to the concerns that might emerge in such situations?

399

Mrs Oldfather: Energy policy is a reserved matter. I come from the west of Scotland, and I live about ten miles south of a nuclear power station, therefore I might be unable to comment objectively. Planning is not a reserved matter, therefore, this is a difficult, grey area.

400

Mr K Robinson: That is why I asked you about planning. Mr Ervine tried to tease out such detailed points on the subject earlier. We need to get a grip on such matters.

401

Mrs Oldfather: If we had concrete answers we could resolve the problems easily, but we do not. The aim is to use partnership to develop good relations between parliamentary Committees, the Scottish Executive, our colleagues in Westminster and the local authorities, which have a big role and a large planning remit. We need to work together to resolve the problems, because we cannot do so individually.

402

Mr K Robinson: Would that not highlight tensions between all the levels of government: local government, regional legislatures, the UK Government and the European institutions.

403

Mrs Oldfather: It would not raise tensions; the aim would be to find mechanisms to resolve problems.

404

Mr K Robinson: You mentioned the hearts-and-minds exercise in Islay, during which you tried to convince children and their parents that they should be European citizens. However, hypothetically, this issue might relate to those children and parents as European citizens. They would want the Scottish Parliament, as their safeguarding body, to protect their interests, in a practical way rather than by means of a grand European challenge of a hypothetical nature. They would want nitty-gritty answers at local level.

405

Mrs Oldfather: Given that a power station is located just 10 miles north of where I live, my gut reaction, as a constituency representative, would be to discuss the issue in detail with UK Ministers. By chance, Brian Wilson, the Energy Minister, is responsible for the area 10 miles north of me. There would be a need for formal and informal mechanisms, including meetings between local authorities, representatives of the Parliament, and the Petitions Committee, which gives access to those who want to make their views know. Ultimately, each of us needs to get round the table and work together to resolve the matters.

406

Mr Gibson: During your short existence, you have produced many reports on the role of Scotland, which contained important recommendations. Which recommendations have been implemented?

407

Mrs Oldfather: It would be difficult to summarise over 10 major and 19 general reports. One example is a piece of work on the Postal Services Directive through which we have been trying to express our views to the European Parliament and the European Commission. We have corresponded with European Commissioners on the matter. Decisions remain to be taken about it. The European Parliament has supported our view, but that was our way of making sure that the views of rural Scotland were heard. I cannot say that on every occasion that we made recommendations we changed European legislation, but realistically that was not going to happen. We are one player on a very large field with fifteen member states.

408

Mr Gibson: How many times did your recommendations change the views of the Scottish Executive?

409

Mrs Oldfather: It is very difficult to put a figure on that. However, as regards responses to official reports, the Executive has accepted the vast majority of our recommendations. There has been one main report where the Executive did not agree with the major recommendations of the Committee, but that is the only one I can think of. The Executive has been very willing to listen to our views in the vast majority of cases. They recognise that the Committee is looking at the particular Scottish dimension, and takes a great deal of evidence from all elements of civic society. The Executive has been very responsive.

410

The Chairperson: How have you had contact with the Westminster European Scrutiny Committee?

411

Mrs Oldfather: I am at a slight disadvantage because I only took over this post in December. My predecessor, Hugh Henry, did much of the liaison. I have not yet had the opportunity to meet with Jimmy Hood in a formal capacity, but I look forward to developing those links further.

412

The Chairperson: They scrutinised about 1,100 documents. Do you feel that you replicate any of that work?

413

Mrs Oldfather: No. We try to be very careful in selecting items for scrutiny so that we look at areas that have a particular Scottish dimension.

414

The Chairperson: Would you avoid reserved matters?

415

Mrs Oldfather: We do try to avoid reserved matters, but if there were a major impact on something in Scotland, we may wish to make a comment on it. We have more than enough work, and we try to concentrate on areas for which we have responsibility.

416

The Chairperson: Thank you very much. We appreciate you giving us your time. We wish you well in your new post and we will be seeing more of you in the future.

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

Friday 11 January 2002

Members present:

Mr Poots (Chairperson)
Mr Gibson (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Beggs
Mrs E Bell
Dr Birnie
Mr Ervine
Mr C Murphy
Mr K Robinson

Witness:
Mr G Baird

417

The Chairperson: I should like to welcome Grant Baird, who is a former chief executive of Scotland Europa and former chief economist of the Royal Bank of Scotland. The Committee appreciates your giving us your time, and we know that you have extensive experience in the area under discussion. You may make a short presentation, after which members will ask questions.

418

Mr Baird: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for the invitation. I should like to describe the practicalities of Scotland Europa, how it was set up, and what it does. If permitted, I should afterwards like to submit a written paper which I hope will reflect the tone of your interests.

419

Scotland Europa was started in 1989 after a long gestation period. The former Scottish Development Agency, now Scottish Enterprise - the Government's economic development agency for the economy - began to discuss the project in the mid 1970s. The proposal for what became Scotland Europa came onto my desk when I was at the Royal Bank of Scotland, and I remember voting in favour.

420

By the time the organisation was finally set up it had changed its shape somewhat, not least to reflect the sensitivities and realities of Scottish domestic politics. Initially it was set up as a subsidiary of Scottish Enterprise. At the beginning the emphasis was very much on influencing the Commission's regulatory powers and economic development and finance.

421

It was difficult at first because of those sensitivities. Essentially the organisation was set up by the Conservative Government of the day. They were not keen on the idea of promoting new free-standing Scottish institutions. The main opposition at the time was Labour. They were not too keen either. They wanted something which largely reflected local authority bodies rather than private industry. Coming from the private sector, my appointment did not help very much.

422

It was put together as a kind of technical subsidiary of Scottish Enterprise with heavy emphasis on finance and economic development. However, I found that once we got out to Brussels we were by and large lumped together with all the other regions, such as Bavaria, Flanders and Catalonia. For all practical purposes, if someone from the Commission asked if I were representing Scotland, the best I could do was to answer in the affirmative and leave the matter at that. I did not attempt to enter into the detail of how it came about.

423

Although Scotland Europa started simply as an economic development body, it rapidly acquired a more mixed nature as people compromised back in Scotland. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) took its own office in Scotland Europa, as did the Highlands and Islands Development Board (HIDB), which was something of a rival to Scottish Enterprise. Universities and even commercial people -one or two firms of lawyers and accountants - followed them so that we constituted a kind of collective. Our work still tended - in the nature of the Commission's powers - towards the financial, industrial and commercial areas, lobbying for rules and regulations that would be favourable to, or at least not disadvantage, Scottish industry and commerce.

424

We also sought to get money, once again at least so as not to disadvantage the Scottish regions compared with other similar regions in the EC. Most of Scotland was designated as an Objective 2 area by the Commission, which meant that various desirable aids were forthcoming. Parts of the Highlands and Islands were an Objective 1 area, which meant they were heavily favoured. The idea was to keep those particular interests at least not disadvantaged and, if possible, help them do somewhat better.

425

While I was preparing my notes I asked myself what we actually did. On a routine basis we provided weekly reports. We alerted people back home when we told them what was happening or proposed and asked them what they wanted to do about it. Things came from all over the place. I remember wrangling for a few days with Commission officials about the status of Scottish bank notes and their role in Europe and also about the detail of financial regulation, deposit regulation and capital regulation. Some of our bigger members were involved in oil, gas and power, and we had endless paperwork about the oil and gas industry and the status of power companies. The issue of transport arose frequently in the shape of rail travel, and in 1989 we started having serious discussions about a ro-ro ferry from the east coast of Scotland to Rotterdam. That ferry came into operation as recently as this year, in fact to Zeebrugge.

426

There was also the question of discriminatory taxation on key industries, especially whisky, and securing money under Objective 1 and Objective 2 rules and so on. There were a great many little things involving lobbying, presenting and persuading. I remember quite shamelessly making a case for continuation of Objective 1 status in the Highlands and Islands by showing bemused Commission officials photographs of turf-covered black houses in the islands, largely to illustrate the region's poverty.

427

With regard to securing money, there is a huge range of other schemes, not just Objective 1, 2, 3 and 4 but detailed and specific schemes with wonderful names such as ERASMUS and ARCHIMEDES. In our case the main beneficiaries seemed to be universities and further-education institutions. We advised them on how to put bids together.

428

The other main issue was work done at home, proselytising to Scottish companies, Scottish industry and universities to make use of what opportunities existed for getting money or exerting influence and helping the regular routine visits by lobbyists for interest groups such as fishermen, farmers, power companies, transport or local government. We were normally the locus for anything happening in that respect.

429

That was more or less how I spent my time. Now it is a much more official and larger operation. There were seven people, including CoSLA and the Highlands and Islands Development Board and, latterly, a secondee from the Scottish Office operating the whole thing. I have not visited the new offices, but I know they are much larger. It is official in that the Scottish Executive have control. Scotland Europa is no longer the modest little thing intended to pay its own way by persuading people back home that it was worth their while paying subscriptions to use our facilities. We were nearly there when I left, but I doubt if that is a major consideration now. Essentially it consists of the Executive Office's people with what was Scotland Europa looking after "commercial" interests. There is still a representative from CoSLA over there and from other official quangos, but I do not have an up-to-date list of people. In a sense, it seems to have justified some of the hopes pinned on it, for it has expanded its official ambitions and personnel well.

430

Mr Gibson: It is good to hear a different perspective. What key elements would help us realise our ambitions for Northern Ireland?

431

Mr Baird: The most helpful thing to have is a degree of unanimity for any European project among your supporters at home. Once or twice in Scotland we found that ideas were negated because people at home could not agree. It was therefore necessary to have everyone pull in the same direction.

432

It is a parallel arrangement. We lobbied heavily on behalf of the Scotch Whisky Association, whose tax rates were discriminatory, and the European Commission eventually agreed with that argument. However, it went on to advise the Scotch Whisky Association that it must get its own Government to reduce the tax, since without that the Commission could do nothing. That is why one does not want two views back home representing different perspectives.

433

Otherwise it is mainly an economic case of where the money can be found, and that is what the Commission is there for. The focus on something "commercial" such as grants or loans and the opportunity to participate in EU schemes is still of key importance and should be targeted.

434

Mr K Robinson: Thank you for your information. You said that one of the agency's roles was to present the case and persuade those in Europe of its merits. From your independent perspective, how do we present a case, and whom do we persuade?

435

Mr Baird: Do you mean back home?

436

Mr K Robinson: Back home and in the layers of administration which bring a case to Brussels.

437

Mr Baird: A multi-tiered approach is probably required. We found that some people, who were indifferent or hostile to the European concept, rapidly changed their minds when they realised that they could get money. That applies not only to local authorities but to companies and other associations.

438

The second tier is that one must be effective with or, at least, friendly towards reporters. For example, I found there was little use in spending much time with Mr Boris Johnston, now editor of 'The Spectator', who was then European correspondent for 'The Daily Telegraph'. He was so hopelessly adrift that there was no point in trying to persuade him. I left him out of my loop, and he left me out of his. The Scottish press was by and large, with some difference or emphasis, at least persuadable, and I should think that, apart from 'The Daily Telegraph', most of the Northern Ireland press would be the same. Mr Johnston would happily turn up at Commission press conferences, decide there was nothing interesting that day, then go away and make up an article on anything. The press is important.

439

Thirdly, the use of other opinion formers - the use of cultivation over a long period - can create a wider outlook. Academics were very helpful in this country towards proselytising, persuading, and producing a decision-making generation amongst our students. That seems to be very important. So too are schools using the educational institutes.

440

Finally, the purely commercial end and companies - for example, the Royal Bank of Scotland or the Bank of Scotland - should not necessarily be involved alone but rather as a collective body insofar as we have one at home. In our case it was essential that that body was the Committee of Scottish Clearing Bankers. However, there is a string of committees or collective sources, such as the Confederation of British Industry, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation. Those associations are still important.

441

Mrs E Bell: Good afternoon. It was nice to speak to you and pleasant to have your company at lunch. I have always been very much a European. I am very much in favour of Great Britain joining the euro. However, I have not been terrifically successful in getting that across to my constituents. I have been asking people what they think is the best way, since it is essential if we are to develop. From your experience, what do you think is the best way to educate people about opportunities in Europe?

442

You talked about ERASMUS, which I know is a very good programme and one that the South of Ireland has taken up very well. However, there are few such opportunities in Northern Ireland. What steps do you think Northern Ireland could take? I shall not enter into the idea of a co-ordinated approach, for it seems difficult and complicated. Everyone must arrive at their own approach. From your experience of working with Scotland Europa, what do you feel would get through to people? Is getting through to people necessary?

443

Mr Baird: Yes. Perhaps the only real answer is a great deal of money and time. You depend for persuasion on such things as the European Movement and the Commission's own offices. Here and in Northern Ireland the offices' time and cash are limited, and I cannot see any way round that. I always used to try and get a representative body for some association of companies to do the work for me rather than approach the people themselves. I was reasonably adept at that; I was sneaky.

444

Mrs E Bell: We have started that process. I am glad to know that you think it useful.

445

Mr Ervine: We shall have to be as sneaky as you were then. In fact, if we are to do better, we shall have to be even more so.

446

It seems to me that most of my worries about Europe involve the capacity for a region to co-ordinate people moving in one direction. You mentioned cultivation, but how do you quantify the costs? How do you quantify the importance of cultivation to people who have, at best, an ambivalence towards the concept of Europe?

447

In the United Kingdom our reticence - or perceived reticence - and ambivalence towards Europe may have denied us a great opportunity. The Scottish Parliament has created ways to have direct influence. If we are to do the same, I should like to know how to encourage those who are reticent. We must tell them that it is a little like advertising - we cannot afford not to do it, and we must therefore pay for it. There are a great many questions about that matter.

448

Mr Baird: You must do that, for it cannot be avoided. It must be resourced with people and money; that is the only way it can be done. In some ways, it is a little like how you win a war. When General Forrest of the Confederate Army was asked why he was uniquely successful in the apparently simple process of constantly winning battles, he was said to have stated that one just had to be there the fastest with the mostest. I still believe that.

449

Mr Ervine: Everything flows from the ability to make friends and influence people. That is what you mean by "cultivation". It is not a question of saying that you will have a chat with someone because it is in your best interest; it is because you have a continuing relationship with those people.

450

We are inclined to form relationships by what were earlier described as old-fashioned lobbying methods. We have an issue and arrive at the door to be heard only to find that someone else is more effective at doing what we are doing, meaning we lose out.

451

You have gone through the process from its inception with insufficient resources, and, although you mentioned that, there seems to be greater appreciation of the necessity to make that arrangement more formal and, indeed, fund it better if the capacity of Europa has increased.

452

Mr Baird: Yes. I shall find the past costs and compare those to the present situation. I found that the best thing to do was to use resources as effectively as others and try to make friends who were not necessarily in Scotland. If universities were engaged in a joint effort, for example, you could strike up a reasonably warm relationship with someone elsewhere in Europe who was bloody good at cultivating those associations and get them to help your own universities or power companies. Even the drinks trade could be affected, for nothing was as badly hit by taxation as Scotch whisky.

453

Mr Ervine: We had a problem with Irish whiskey too, but we are probably not as reliant on that trade as you.

454

Mr Baird: One associate in our efforts for Scotch whisky was from Northern Ireland.

455

Mr Ervine: You may agree or disagree with this idea: in a process of change, the majority in the United Kingdom must be dragged screaming to where they need to go.

456

Mr Baird: That is exactly right, and I have no idea why. I have lived long enough to see pro-European and anti-European sentiments in the majority of the population. I remember vividly the 1975 referendum on the EEC. It is amazing how strange things can touch volatile opinion in this country or in the entire United Kingdom. One meets people who say how much they enjoyed their holiday in France, and in the next breath they say that they do not want to have anything to do with the place, even though French railways work well and French taxes are low and so on.

457

That is somehow wrong. I do not understand why the bulk of opinion occasionally swings so much. When my own children were at university, their opinions swung from side to side often depending on one ill-reported or misreported event. Public opinion on the subject of Europe swings. If one's knowledge of what is going on in Europe is limited to today's headline in 'The Sun', 'The Scotsman' or 'The Telegraph', then that knowledge will not be very profound. I have no solution to that problem, however; I do not know how it can be tackled. I do not know how we can persuade those who are anti-European, or who wish to become less involved with Europe, to think otherwise. I imagine that, if I were anti-European, I should be quite pleased at the moment, but I am sure that I do not know why or how people intend to vote.

458

Mr Ervine: Or where that will take us when the votes are counted.

459

Mr C Murphy: One of the Committee's functions is to scrutinise the workings of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, the Executive and their office in Brussels. The Scottish Executive have an office in Scotland House in Brussels, and the Convener of the European Committee told us that the Committee were also keen to open an office there if they could identify the resources. It appears that, although the Committee and the Executive are housed under the same roof, they do not necessarily act in a co-ordinated fashion, and the evidence of Mr Sullivan backs that up from CoSLA. The fact that the Committee wishes to open an office in Brussels even though the Executive already have an office there shows that the Scottish Office is not pulling together. As scrutineers of our office in Brussels, how do we ensure that people do so?

460

Mr Baird: It is probably true that the Scottish Office is not pulling together. We were a small group officially representing other bodies, such as Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and CoSLA. At the start we simply folded that policy over morning coffee. For example, someone would say, "I cannot see CoSLA wearing that one", and I would say, "I cannot see Scottish Enterprise wearing that one". We would try to reach a compromise and then go back to persuade our masters.

461

At the time it was easy to work that way, since we were very tight-knit, and there was almost informal daily contact. However, the operation is a good deal larger now. Some sort of internal organisation may be necessary, for example, regular meetings of the representatives of the various bodies involved.

462

Mr C Murphy: I sensed from the evidence of previous witnesses that, although people are housed in the same office, they may be pursuing individual interests.

463

Mr Baird: Yes. However, although we pursued individual interests, we remained a cosy little group. It may be necessary to have some kind of weekly formal liaison between members of the Scottish Office and Scotland Europa so that they can inform one another of the work they will pursue each week. In my experience, the neatest, quietest and most effective approach to the problem was to get a really good-calibre secondee from the Scottish Office who would go back and presumably make his career there. Of course, that would depend partly on the kind of report he got from me, or someone else, in Scotland Europa, which was a great motivator.

464

Dr Birnie: Everything you have said is interesting, and we shall obviously pay careful attention to the precedent set.

465

My first question concerns the role of Scotland Europa. Having listened to the questions so far, particularly those of Mrs Bell and Mr Ervine, it appears that two roles are being put together, and I wondered how far Scotland Europa deals with those matters. Clearly there is the projection of a Scottish voice, as it were, into the European institutions. That is unproblematic and should be attempted. We may wish to see something like that for our own case.

466

However, the second part suggested by Mr Ervine and Mrs Bell is the backward projection from the European Institutions to Northern Ireland and Scotland respectively. I find that problematic, since it introduces the body into political debate. People do not necessarily have some perverse tendency to be bad Europeans which has to be beaten out of them. There may be legitimate concerns about aspects of European Commission policy, although I concede that there is a need for people to be well-informed about it. However, there is a grey area between information and propaganda. In Northern Ireland we must be careful about straying into that grey area.

467

You were highly successful in getting the private sector mobilised; do you have any suggestions about how that can best be done? We have special weaknesses in the private sector in Northern Ireland; even relative to Scotland, its proportion of the economy is small. We do not have many large companies, and it has traditionally been hard to get them to sponsor anything that does not make an immediate up-front profit for them. How did that work in Scotland?

468

Mr Baird: I shall answer the part about the "back-playing" of European institutions to the public first. It may be more difficult now, but even then it was a basic fact of life that you will not get the best deal from European institutions if you are standing on the sidelines saying, "We think you are all rubbish". The same is true if you try talking to them and putting a friendly face on their policies and what they say in reply while stating behind the scenes that it is terrible and will not work. It is not possible to work usefully with any of the European institutions that way, since they are by definition - at least the Commission are - pro-European in the wider sense. They may have different ideas about how far things go, but they are broadly in favour of the institution of the European Union. Essentially, the people that they pay attention to, take advice from, and give special interest to, are the people who generally support objectives X, Y and Z. For example, we secured good deals from the Commission on information, early warnings and so forth regarding the financial sector. It is not just the banks, but also insurers, funds managers and the rest, for they knew that we supported the general thrust of what they were attempting with the single market, breaking down official barriers for banking and right across Europe. That was the policy, and we were, for self-interested reasons, very keen. We tend to get a more friendly reaction than the average French bank.

469

Your second question concerned getting the private sector on board, a matter partly of its self-interest. However, I had it much easier in Brussels than anyone representing Northern Ireland because of the point you made. There is a solid and fairly large body of indigenously owned and controlled structures in Scotland, of which I have mentioned two. In addition, the biggest oil- and gas-related companies have clear interests which are vulnerable to European decisions.

470

Operationally, we did not try to persuade any individual company to put forward a subsidy, be it the Royal Bank of Scotland or the Bank of Scotland. Instead we got them to join collectively through persuading the Committee of Scottish Clearing Bankers to do so. Likewise, we approached the UK Offshore Operators Association, which represents the country's offshore oil and gas companies. That meant that we did not have to tailor the approach to any particular company, which would have been difficult.

471

Mr Beggs: I was interested in your description of the role of Scotland Europa in keeping companies, federations, reporters, academics and schools informed of available grants and so on. That struck me as perhaps moving into a European public-relations and education role. To what extent is that replicating the European Commission Office's duties? It surprised me to hear that, since I was expecting to hear more of Scotland Europa influencing the United Kingdom Permanent Representation and Ministers, lobbying with the Commission and influencing House of Commons Committees on reports going back into the system. Did the description you gave us reflect the course of action you had to undertake to get sponsors? If that is occurring centrally now, has the role changed somewhat?

472

Finally, what should Scotland Europa's focus be today - lobbying primarily in Brussels, Whitehall or in the regions?

473

Mr Baird: First, you are right in saying that one of Scotland Europa's motivating forces from its very beginnings was its endeavour to finance itself and keep costs down for the Scottish public sector. Scottish Enterprise, or the Scottish Development Agency as it was then, is financed 100% by the Scottish Executive, previously the Scottish Office.

474

Secondly, the educational cum information cum public-relations role should strictly speaking be the province of the Commission Office in Edinburgh. The reality is that it is quite small and has a huge public-relations function to cover. It does not so much cover an information role as disseminate what the Commission generates in Brussels. It performs that task well but does not have the time to specialise in research for a particular company or interest. Its remit covers the whole of Scotland, so that course of action would not be appropriate. Scotland Europa's public relations duties may diminish if it no longer needs constantly to chase and raise money and fulfil the role of consultant. It could devote more time to lobbying at that end and begin to understand the role of key Commission officials. It will be able to press the Executive's case, as it will be the biggest influence as paymaster. If there is any difference between its emphasis and that of the United Kingdom Government, it will be interesting to see the outcome.

475

Finally, we had it very easy in Scotland Europa with the United Kingdom Government. It is an open secret that the ambassador of the day to the EC, Sir John Kerr, who is soon to retire as head of HM Diplomatic Service in the Foreign Office, was himself a keen European. It also helped that he happened to be a Scotsman, and we got a very good ear all the time, as, incidentally, did Gerry McAlinden and our opposite number from Wales. That was relatively easy. If, for example, our current ambassador were known to be anti-European or Eurosceptic, it might render matters more difficult.

476

Mr Beggs: Should the primary lobbying role of Scotland Europa be in Brussels, directly targeting the Commission, or are you more likely to effect change in a European Directive by lobbying the United Kingdom representative?

477

Mr Baird: We learned that, unless you have the support of the United Kingdom Government - not your Executive or region - you are dead in the water before you start on matters such as taxation and regulation. That makes the United Kingdom representative a key figure. On many occasions United Kingdom representatives were quite thin on the ground. They were not unhappy if we had a problem which was exclusively Scottish rather than concerning the United Kingdom as a whole. On the whole they were quite happy to let us run with it, feed us and be helpful through the various intergovernmental bodies. If you do not have at the very least benign neglect, you will not get far. The same was true of Bavaria, the Saarland and others. They had to enjoy the support or at least the benign neglect of their home Government.

478

The Chairperson: You spent a substantial part of your career out in Brussels. In your experience, which country has the most effective lobbying organisation there?

479

Mr Baird: I should put my money on the French. They have often had to come from a difficult position, since what they want is not what the Commission wants, although there are a great many Frenchmen in the place. Compared to the United Kingdom, they seem to win more than they lose.

480

The Chairperson: If we were to empty French lorries of their wine at Dover and throw it on the road, would that enhance the United Kingdom's influence in Brussels?

481

Mr Baird: Perhaps. I never understand why, as a domestic fiscal policy, wine is not taxed much more heavily than whisky!

482

The Chairperson: I am not sure that persuading people at home of the benefits of Europe is really the role of the office. It is for our Committee as a whole to come to an opinion on that. Would you recognise that a country with a rural background would be more difficult to persuade if you were looking at handing over your fiscal policy to Europe? You have the experience of pumping 30 billion euro into agriculture every year while seeing your profits decline. You have possibly also experienced the problem of not being allowed to sell your product for five or six years, despite the fact that at least three other European countries had worse problems in relation to beef than you. You would have great difficulty persuading people closely linked to that particular industry to get involved.

483

Mr Baird: That is probably true. Rural industry includes everything from farming to food manufacturing, processing and more. In this case it also includes fishing. Uniquely, those two interests were greatly influenced by Europe from the beginning. Any industry will blame the Government if things go wrong, and most industries tend to blame the UK Government. However, those industries have direct links with Europe, so it is natural that they blame Europe.

484

People tend to react a wee bit like that now. Even in finance, I find I have to deal with more and more European regulations and that I have an increasing number of forms to fill in. It was not until the early 1990s that European legislation began to impinge heavily on the kind of legislation hitherto controlled by the Bank of England.

485

The UK Government and its institutions are not above shifting the blame. They say "Don't blame me old boy - it will be all right with me". However, the European institutions are directly telling us how to deal with some matters, so the situation is difficult.

486

The Chairperson: Were regional groups or countries more effective at lobbying?

487

Mr Baird: The regional groups were probably best at lobbying. My opinion may be based on personalities, and relationships may have changed since I was there. Sometimes the oddest people were the most effective. The Saarlanders in Germany were good at extracting money for their area. The Catalonians probably had the biggest direct influence on the EU of any individual region not actually a nation state. That may have had something to do with the fact that Señor Pujol, who was the Prime Minister of Catalonia, was in the most powerful of Spain's various tiers of government. I do not know if he is still around. People used to joke that he practically lived in Brussels. He was there very regularly, but I suppose that it was his choice. He had a very well-funded programme of Euro-friendly projects, including great cultural events. Pujol himself spent a great deal of money. However, I was impressed by the Saarlanders' ability to obtain money and other things. Some parts of the success of the French were negative, since they would stonewall anything which might hurt them.

488

The Chairperson: I shall draw the meeting a close. Thank you, Mr Baird, for coming and giving us your time - we appreciate your contribution.

489

Mr Baird: If I may, I shall produce a proper memorandum.

490

The Chairperson: Yes. We look forward to seeing that shortly. We shall now move into private session. We thank the Scottish Parliament for its assistance in recording today's discussions.

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

Wednesday 23 January 2002

Members present:
Mr Poots (Chairperson)
Mr Gibson (Deputy Chairperson)
Mrs E Bell
Dr McDonnell
Mr K Robinson

Witness:
Mr D MacInnes ) Scotland Europa

491

The Chairperson: We appreciate your coming to the Committee of the Centre and you are welcome. The Committee has looked at the Scottish model of how a region operates in Europe, and has been impressed by much of the work, particularly that of Scotland House. We have heard something of Scotland Europa and want to hear more. The Committee members will ask questions after your submission, perhaps in 10 or 15 minutes' time.

492

Mr MacInnes: Scotland Europa has been in Brussels for 10 years, and I have been chief executive for four years. I am the third chief executive. When Scotland Europa started in 1992 there were 40 regional offices rather than member states. There are now approximately 170 regional offices. I suspect that that shows the onward march of devolution and regionalisation across the European Union (EU). In 1985, when the first Scottish office, Strathclyde Regional Council, arrived there were only eight regional offices here, and the others were for German Laender.

493

Scotland Europa was set up as a subsidiary of Scottish Enterprise, the economic development agency for Lowland Scotland, and as a member organisation. The reason was that a wide range of Scottish organisations wanted some form of representation in Brussels, and Scotland Europa was an appropriate vehicle. Scottish Enterprise looks after the interests of all small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and of the Scottish business community. Scotland Europa members are from organisations such as Scottish Financial Enterprise and the Scotch Whisky Association; other members are from the public sector - for example, local government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) - and from a range of interests such as the Scottish universities, utilities, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage and the then Scottish Tourist Board.

494

From the outset the funding for Scotland Europa has been 50% from Scottish Enterprise and 50% from all other members. Its two objectives are, first, to network Scotland to EU institutions and, secondly, to build alliances with other regions across Europe. The second objective has come about as a result of the increasing trend for the European Commission to ask for transnational partners if funding is wanted for projects. The Commission likes that idea.

495

The first objective was achieved by setting up what was then a Scotland Europa centre in Brussels. That has since become Scotland House, which our members consider to be very successful. Membership has grown from 10 to 70, and that steady increase shows that members are broadly satisfied with the direction that Scotland Europa is taking and the service it provides. Members have a wide range of interests and want to promote themselves in different ways. We have a staff of six or seven in Brussels, and over the past few years it has become increasingly difficult for that small team to provide a comprehensive service.

496

What we have done is to group our membership into three interest groups. One group deals with environment and energy matters, because some 20 of our members have a direct interest in environmental legislation. With so much environmental legislation that emanates from Brussels coming into Scotland, it is important for members to keep a watching brief on how it might affect them. The environment and energy group focuses on legislative issues.

497

The second group specialises in research, education and training. That group focuses on the framework programme for research and development and funding for new research projects. It tends to be led by the universities, and 10 Scottish universities are members of that group. Its funding focus is different from the environment and energy group, and someone with specific skills is needed to look after that group.

498

The third group was formerly called the innovation group, but is now known as the e-commerce group because of the onward march of e-business. The group focuses on demonstrating the contributions that Scotland makes to Europe's competitiveness. At the Lisbon summit a couple of years ago member states made a commitment that Europe should become the world's most competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010. Scotland Europa works closely with that group to demonstrate what contributions Scotland makes to that agenda.

499

From time to time other groups are set up on a time-limited basis if a specific piece of legislation is due. For example, if the legislation were on financial services and our financial services industry wanted to be represented, Scotland Europa would set up a group specifically for that.

500

Until two years ago Scotland Europa did not have a specific presence in Scotland. It is represented in Brussels, and for the past two years it has had a small team in Scottish Enterprise in Glasgow. That team is responsible for structural funds, specifically for Scottish Enterprise. That presence in Glasgow has given the organisation a new focus, which has been helpful. Around £200 million of executive funds come into Scotland, and about one third comes through Scottish Enterprise. That is also an important part of our job.

501

Members are provided with a monthly report on all the relevant activities- updates on legislation, Directives and so forth. Members meet twice a year, once in Scotland and once in Brussels, and that style of representation suits the members. At the meeting in Scotland a relevant theme is adopted: last year the theme was employment. In Brussels the meeting is held near to St Andrew's Day. A big name speaker is brought in and we arrange for some commissioners and senior personnel in the Commission to talk to the members. That is the level of communication - a monthly report and two meetings per year - and it seems to satisfy our members.

502

There are some 12 Scottish representatives in Scotland House. The building is approximately 2,000 square metres, and there are currently three partner regions - the East Finland EU Office, the Czech Republic EU Office, and the West of Ireland and Dublin Regional Authorities.

503

Scottish interests can range from a firm of solicitors to economic development consultants to youth development agencies. The Scottish Executive EU Office is in Scotland House, and there is a facility for small conferences and seminars, which works well for us. We want to continue to promote the building in that way.

504

The Chairperson: Since devolution, how does Scotland Europa fit in with the Scottish Executive now that it operates out of the same office? How closely do you work with each other? What changes has devolution made to your relationship with those who administer Government in Scotland?

505

Mr MacInnes: Since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Executive EU Office has focused on the politics and policy issues. The focus of Scotland Europa is more clearly on economic development. During the 1990s the overall responsibility of Scotland Europa was to promote Scotland. However, now that there is a Scottish Executive EU Office, my colleague George Calder and his team look after all Executive interests for Scotland.

506

The Scottish Executive EU Office has one client, which comprises the different branches of Government in Scotland - justice, home affairs, fisheries, agriculture, the environment and so forth. We have 70 members as our clients, so the focus has shifted to promoting their interests from a more generic focus than we had before. We work closely with the Scottish Executive both here and in Scotland.

507

Mrs E Bell: I am interested in your idea of networking. The Committee recently had meetings at the Scottish Parliament and at Westminster, and members were given the impression that cohesion was not all that it could be. Given that the Northern Ireland Executive EU Office is due to open at the end of the month, what advice do you have about networking? Is the grouping together of interested parties, such as CoSLA, the way to go?

508

Mr MacInnes: It works for us. Networking has changed over the years, and the focus of Scotland Europa has also changed as the institutions in Europe change and modernise. I expect that process to continue, because the way in which we relate to other partners is relevant for the present, but it is something that we should keep under review.

509

Mrs E Bell: Do you think that it is worth considering for us as a new start?

510

Mr MacInnes: Yes, I would think so.

511

Mrs E Bell: Throughout this inquiry I have voiced my concerns for the people on the ground and their perceptions and attitudes towards Europe and its development. It is essential that people are geared up to it. Has the Scottish Executive EU Office played a part in that and, specifically, should work with civil society be examined?

512

Mr MacInnes: That is a broad question. Our role is to focus on economic development and promote the interests of our members, which change over time. Our review of Scotland Europa and how it goes about its business suggests that that is the right approach at the moment. We do not have a high profile either here or in Scotland, and we tend to promote Scotland House rather than Scotland Europa or the Scottish Executive. That works also, because people can relate to it.

513

It is difficult to promote anything at a lower level. A good example is the way in which we have related to the Highlands and Islands Councils and Highlands and Islands Enterprise over the years, which have achieved Objective 1 funding. They have had an individual focus and they have wanted to represent themselves in a specific way. They are now with us in Scotland House and that works well. Overall, Scotland House promotes Scotland, but within that context different members might want to promote themselves in a specific way, and we find that that works well.

514

Dr McDonnell: Many things are taxing us as we probe this matter. One of the main issues is the balance between the Executive, the public and commerce. You mentioned the Scottish Executive EU Office, and you appear to have reached a good arrangement in that your Executive Office is a constituent of Scotland House. How does your work synergise with that of the Executive? How close are you to them, and how much information is shared? How much commercial and Government information is confidential? Do you take notes and do you compare notes? Are there any shared objectives or agendas, or do you depend on personal relationships?

515

Mr MacInnes: Personal relationships play a large part in our work. The relationship is more loose than formal. There is such a large political agenda now, which is increasing as more and more legislation comes from Europe. The Scottish Executive have a specific focus on that and they allow Scotland Europa to promote Scotland's commercial interests. Any information subject to commercial or Government confidentiality would be treated carefully. However, by and large we find that we share a lot of information and work together effectively. In the past two and a half years since Scotland House was set up, we have not come across any areas where there is specific conflict. Whether a more formal relationship would help is a matter of conjecture.

516

Dr McDonnell: What are the tangible benefits of your operation here? What would Scotland lose if you were not here?

517

Mr MacInnes: The main benefit is funding, and that is what the Scottish press concentrate on. How much funding would be lost if we were not here is open to speculation. Another benefit is that we promote Scotland's commercial interests here. Surveys of our members show that they feel that this is the most tangible benefit - either finding partners to do projects with or to work jointly with on legislative issues, or to share best practice with. Being here enables us to make them aware of the current issues. As to what would be lost if we were not here - there are many ways that nations and regions could be represented, but I suggest that most of our members in Scotland would feel that they would lose quite a lot of contact and influence if we were not here.

518

The Chairperson: As a region, like Scotland, the relevant UK Ministers represent our key areas when it comes to negotiations. Is there a greater role for informal contacts? For example, is there a greater role for informal contacts in influencing working papers at an early stage, or influencing people about what is beneficial to Scotland?

519

Mr MacInnes: Yes, I would agree with that, because I work on that side of the business. Commission officials are very informal, and it is easy to get information early. They want to consult, they want to share, and they have an open approach to upcoming legislation. We find that that approach is beneficial to us if we want to influence proposals before they become legislation. In the public mind, however, Brussels has a reputation for being bureaucratic and inaccessible, which is not the case at all. Informal contact is extremely helpful.

520

Mr Gibson: You have had 10 years' experience, four of those as chief executive. Northern Ireland is just about to open an EU office. However, there is the sovereign Government's interest, 170 regional offices, and that number could quickly double within the next three or four years. Are there too many regional offices? There are so many of them that they are almost in competition with one another and could become ineffective. If you were in our position, looking at the situation from our perspective, where should we target and redirect our energies over the next four years? Our Southern Irish counterparts have embraced Europe as long as money was coming, funding was available, and it was financially interesting to be involved. However, European legislation is costing us much more financially.

521

Mr MacInnes: The number of regional offices is constantly changing. Although there has always been quite a rapid increase - certainly in the past 10 years - some areas merge with one another and then new ones come along. So the changes are quite evident, and they are based on a particular interest at a particular time. For instance, Scotland House hosted the Storstrøm Office in southern Denmark, because it was promoting a specific project and wanted a bridge across to Hamburg. The reason for that was to complete the Øresund Bridge and tunnel route from Sweden through Denmark. They felt that the project would have great economic benefits for them.

522

The Storstrøm Office promoted that particular project here and then moved on and merged with another region in southern Denmark. There are always specific interests that regions want to promote, and then they move on, and that is relevant. The Scottish presence is regarded as more permanent than that because of the wide range of interests that must be promoted here. That probably applies to Northern Ireland also.

523

In Scotland there is an increasing emphasis on the enlargement process. People ask what will happen to funds and the amount of influence that Scotland can exert as the number of new nations and regions continues to increase. Our view on competitiveness is that we must be here in order to compete. That is the only way to do it.

524

Over the next four years I see two big items on the agenda: enlargement and Europe becoming the most competitive knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010, the progress towards that, and the contribution that nations and regions can make. The Commission welcomes contacts with nations and regions, because it gives them a perspective of what is happening in Europe, which it might not have if it dealt only with the member states.

525

Mr Gibson: Approximately 10 years ago the Government of Southern Ireland produced a popular booklet called 'A Federal Ireland in a Federal Europe'. How would you react- and this is a 10-year old idea, which might have passed its sell-by date - to a federal Great Britain in Europe?

526

Mr MacInnes: I stay out of politics, because I am politically incorrect when I get involved. It seems to be an interesting idea, and I suspect it will always be on the agenda for discussion, but I do not know whether it will go any further. I am really not knowledgeable enough to answer that question.

527

Mr Gibson: What you are saying is that the invested interest of your 70 members is your priority. Is there any conflict between those interests and the Scottish Executive?

528

Mr MacInnes: That is a good question. We say to existing members and to any new people who come on board that we can only promote Scottish interests where there is a single Scottish interest. We find it difficult to promote one interest against another. For example, one of our members is British Energy, while another is Scottish Natural Heritage; one could argue that their interests might not always coincide. However, we have found that we can lobby for both by saying that we cannot promote one interest; we can lobby only where there is Scotland-wide agreement on what the Scottish interest is. Narrower interests are a little like politics in that we try to keep out of them.

529

Mr Gibson: You try to harmonise the music on the hymn sheet rather than have one tune.

530

Mr MacInnes: That is right.

531

Mr K Robinson: Your answers have been fascinating up to now. You did not take the bait which my Colleague laid down for you, so I shall not lay down the bait I had ready for you. In Northern Ireland we have a particular approach to Europe. Since we are on the periphery of both the continent and the Atlantic, there is a dichotomy, whereby it is easier to go to the United States - if I might use the argument of kith and kin and common language - than it is to break through the psychological barrier of coming to Brussels and having to speak foreign languages, eat funny food and so forth.

532

There are great similarities between Scotland and Northern Ireland. You have a distinct national identity, and you have built upon it; you have St Andrew's Day, Scotland House, and Scotland Europa. You are very up front. How can we build on Northern Ireland's distinctiveness?

533

Our distinctive profile is our troubled history. For a time during the peace process Northern Ireland was flavour of the month in Brussels. On the last occasion that Assembly MLAs visited the city, we were fed up going to receptions. Every commissioner wanted to shove food and wine into our hands and slap us on the back. We want to emerge from that benevolent "Big Brother" era into one in which we decide what Northern Ireland needs to do in Europe to become more European. How do we slot into the various formal and informal agencies so that we can do that? We have a distinct profile and are coming with a little bonhomie behind us in search of a focus. Perhaps in Northern Ireland we have not yet decided what our focus should be. As an objective outsider, what strengths and weaknesses do you identify? In a nutshell, what are the tasks before us, and how are we to achieve them?

534

Mr MacInnes: Believe me, that is a debate which goes on in Scotland all the time. We tend to have some strong visual images, and that helps. The analogy with Bavaria is strong; they call their strategy "laptops and Lederhosen". They marry culture and tradition with the modern image. Those two words sum it up quite well. In our case it would be kilts and -

535

The Chairperson: - morris dancers.

536

Mr MacInnes: PCs perhaps. Combining tradition with the modern agenda is important. One should not ditch one in favour of another. The retention of the two is important. My personal view is that, as globalisation marches on, the idea of small communities and regionalisation will also gain in strength, because people like to have a community of which they can feel part. In the case of Northern Ireland, the strategy would have to be based around something of that sort - marrying the traditional with the modern. From a Scottish perspective, some things that happen in Brussels to promote Scotland are things that we have nothing at all to do with, but they are helpful in providing that visual image. One example is the "tartan army".

537

Each September there is a Scottish weekend in east Belgium, organised by a group of enthusiasts. There is a pipe band championship on Saturday and Highland Games on Sunday. Approximately 30,000 people turn up over the weekend. That is free publicity for Scotland. I am not sure what Northern Ireland could do to replicate that. We find it helpful. It opens doors, and people respond to strong visual images.

538

Mr K Robinson: That is an example of informality. How do you link in the formal structures that Scotland has developed? How could we link in the formal structures we are seeking so that we can maximise our impact in Brussels and not be seen to be a beneficiary of the system?

539

Mr MacInnes: My predecessor as chief executive of Scotland Europa, Charlie Woods, started a series of what are now called "Scotland House papers". That has worked well; we have completed about 20 papers so far, positioning Scotland on particular subjects. Mr Woods got academics to prepare papers on topics such as EU enlargement, employment law, Scotland's view of European monetary union or innovation. We used the publication and launch of those papers as an opportunity to position Scotland on a range of subjects that were close to Scotland's interests and to the interests of the institutions in Brussels. We have found that approach to be extremely helpful; it provides a clear Scottish view on particular subjects and it is helpful in promoting Scotland's modern image and modern interests.

540

Mr K Robinson: I will give you a hypothetical situation. The EU wants to cut down on the number of emissions. To achieve that there is a movement in some quarters towards nuclear power. That is an emotive subject in places such as Scotland, Cumbria and Northern Ireland. How would a regional Government influence such a policy at a very early stage?

541

Mr MacInnes: The starting point is to have one view on the matter so that there is a clear focus and so that people at home can support and promote it when they are going about their work. I would suggest preparing a paper, statement or proposal, which could then be promoted in a clear and coherent way. We have found that the Scotland Europa papers are helpful in providing such a platform.

542

Mr K Robinson: You have an interest in the common fisheries policy. How did you influence the debate on that topic and where did you plug into the system to influence the debate at the earliest possible moment?

543

Mr MacInnes: On that issue, because of the specific fishing interests in places such as the Shetlands, the Western Isles and north-east Scotland, interests have been promoted by organisations within those communities. For instance, the Shetland fishermen's association is influential in the fishing industry. The industry is worth some £150 million per year to the Shetlands. It is important to that community. Scotland Europa encourages the fishermen to engage directly in the debate; we act simply as broker and facilitator.

544

Mr K Robinson: Who engages with the Commission here? Is it civil servants, the informal contacts, the formal contacts, or are all of them involved?

545

Mr MacInnes: The Shetland representatives often come to Brussels.

546

Mr K Robinson: Do you guide them to the people they wish to lobby?

547

Mr MacInnes: Yes, we do. They have become experienced so we do not have to lead them by the hand so much, so to speak.

548

Mr K Robinson: A colleague of yours in Edinburgh told us, off the record, almost to be "brash". Do you recommend that we be brash on occasions? Is that the correct approach?

549

Mr MacInnes: I am from Harris: we are very understated in the Islands.

550

Mrs E Bell: I am concerned that we should engage people so that it is more relevant all the way through. We had an interesting and enthusiastic address from Tom Sullivan. We should like to take him to Northern Ireland to convince everybody, because I think he could. The equivalent of the Local Authorities Association is now being set up again in a new guise in Northern Ireland. It would be useful to work with it as one of the agencies in our office. Do you find it useful working with CoSLA?

551

Mr MacInnes: CoSLA is a good example of an informal relationship and of the importance of developing good personal relationships with those involved. Tom Sullivan's style is open and participative. That has been very helpful to us and to CoSLA. It is important to promote the role of local authorities and local government. Although I have no direct personal involvement with it, I do see many benefits in that approach.

552

Mr K Robinson: Some people are very enthusiastic about Europe, and they want to get involved. Is this meddling self-destructive at times? Are too many cooks spoiling the broth?

553

Mr MacInnes: Like Northern Ireland, Scotland has traditionally - certainly from an economic point of view - looked across the Atlantic, and we have done a great deal of work with American colleagues and American companies. Even so, two thirds of Scotland's exports still go to the European Union, and Europe's importance as a market is growing for Scotland. Therefore, it is good to have many people involved in promoting their own industries.

554

The sheer volume of trade means that legal ground rules must be set. I suspect that one person's meddling is another person's protection, but fair, equitable ground rules must be set across the EU. It can, however, be difficult to decide whether to go for a light touch or a heavier one.

555

Mr K Robinson: We are emerging from 30 years of direct rule under which civil servants were allowed to develop policies and to develop bailiwicks; it was almost a feudal system. As politicians we are attempting to move them into the twenty-first century, to move ourselves into a structure that would allow us, if not to dictate polices, to indicate the areas of policy where we think Northern Ireland should be going forward.

556

In your experience of the UK Civil Service, the Scottish devolved Civil Service and the Brussels Commission Civil Service, have you come across a similar scenario? If you have, have you any quick fixes that might allow us to move everyone forward positively?

557

Mr MacInnes: From my experience over the past four years there has been a sea change in Scotland in the approach to representation here. From the Scottish Executive's point of view, that has been driven largely by devolution and by Parliament. More civil servants, Ministers, MSPs and so forth are coming out here. The Scottish Parliament has a European Committee - I think you have spoken to some of its members.

558

The sheer volume is now much greater than it had been, and the same would apply in Northern Ireland. As the Assembly gets up and running there will be more interaction and, inevitably, that interaction has a modernising effect. My thoughts would be to just get on with it.

559

Dr McDonnell: We are all jealous of the success that you have had. Albeit you have only been in the position for four years and there were other chief executives before you, but some recent successes have been down to you, your personality and your leadership. However, have you anything left to do? Is the job done? Is it time to pack up and head home?

560

Mr MacInnes: I often reflect on that, and it is a personal thing. When I came out here four years ago, I had the specific agenda of wanting to establish Scotland House on the basis on which it is now established. I told myself I would be here for a maximum of three years, and people told me that if I stayed more than three years I would start going native in Brussels. I have now been here for four years, and I can see that starting to happen to me. I have even enjoyed the food and the drink here. It is an engaging city, and people enjoy the place from that point of view.

561

Dr McDonnell: Have you started to speak Flemish yet?

562

Mr MacInnes: I am working on my Flemish, but it is difficult because you are always answered in English. I often reply in Gaelic - that confuses everybody.

563

The Chairperson: I am fascinated by the role of the universities in Scotland Europa. Europe is not so much about education; it is more about environmental and agriculture issues. What do the universities get out of this that is of real tangible benefit to them?

564

Mr MacInnes: There are three ways in which the universities benefit. First, the framework programme for research and development currently has 15 billion euros in it, and that is a substantial chunk of funding. Traditionally, Scottish universities have been good at both research and accessing funding for research. They continue to do that and that is important for them.

565

Secondly, the universities find it beneficial and useful to benchmark themselves against universities in other regions across Europe.

566

Thirdly, the Scottish universities share best practice and contribute to joint projects with other universities. For instance, the University of Strathclyde is in a European-wide association of innovative universities, and they often meet here and use the place as a hub for business with other institutions.

567

Dr McDonnell: Can further and higher education institutions - the sub-university level - make connections in Europe? For years we made sporadic connections with universities in the United States, but now the former Belfast College of Technology and the former College of Business Studies have amalgamated with some other institutions to become the Belfast Institute for Further and Higher Education (BIFHE). Those are effectively our community colleges - call them what you like. The same has happened with the East Antrim Institute of Further and Higher Education - it is happening all over Northern Ireland.

568

Mrs E Bell: It also happened with the North Down and Ards Institute of Further and Higher Education.

569

Dr McDonnell: We have clustered several sub-university third-level institutions and consolidated them geographically. Those organisations are now stronger than they were as individual technical or business studies colleges. One or two of them have been enterprising and have crossed the Atlantic, and there is a useful synergy taking place between the Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education and the community colleges of north Virginia just outside Washington, DC.

570

Although I value university education, the people who provide the engine house for our future economy are those in the middle ranks, that is, those who in many cases are the technicians who have not had a university education. Is there an opportunity for European institutions to make connections with our sub-university further and higher education colleges? Our university people tend to get a tour of Europe in one shape or another. Our students spend time on vacation, or on placement or on one scheme or another, but the guy doing an HNC or an HND, who could perhaps benefit from some European insight, does not get that experience. How do we connect that middle level of our education system with Europe?

571

Mrs E Bell: Before you answer, for your information and with due respect to the Chairperson's remarks about education in Europe - I could not let that go, I am sorry - a number of further and higher education colleges, such as the North Down and Ards Institute of Further and Higher Education in my own constituency and the East Antrim Institute of Further and Higher Education, have started the process. Dr McDonnell is quite right, and I am keen that the Northern Ireland centres connect with Europe because that is an area of great interest. Further and higher education colleges give accreditation for some courses, which means that they are almost at degree level, and their syllabuses are almost the same as those in universities, and are more practical in some ways. Third-level education in Northern Ireland should be more practical.

572

Dr McDonnell: To be fair to the Chairperson, and far be it from me to jump in because he is capable of defending himself, the implication of what he said was that Europe is perceived as being about the environment and agriculture rather than what is actually happening there. That was my interpretation, but he can speak for himself.

573

Mrs E Bell: All I heard was the Chairperson talking about the educational environment. I understand that.

574

Dr McDonnell: That was Hillsborough shorthand.

575

Mrs E Bell: I do not understand that - ní thuigim.

576

Mr K Robinson: There is a sporadic approach to higher and further education in Northern Ireland, and we would like to make it more cohesive and coherent.

577

Mr MacInnes: The Association of Scottish Colleges has been helpful in putting across the views of the colleges rather than those of the mainstream universities.

578

Until recently we had Edinburgh's Telford College in Scotland House representing how they wanted a project promoted. Without any disrespect to the traditional universities, we see a great deal of innovation, particularly at technician level, coming through colleges, since they have to work harder to make their names known. Co-ordinating themselves under the umbrella of the Association of Scottish Colleges has given them a helpful voice and vehicle. In the future much of the technician-level training will come from that sector.

579

Dr McDonnell: I should focus on technicians, since my interests tend to lie in employability and employment. However, most of those colleges have language sections. They are pursuing German, French, Spanish and Italian, even if it is only a matter of repeat A levels in French. Secondary schools tend to have good language connectivity, as do universities. However, those in between probably lack the time, energy or resources. This might be a channel for future education.

580

Mr MacInnes: I agree. We have seen that happening in Scotland over the past few years, where the whole educational establishment is changing, and opportunities through colleges are increasing. We see that as a big growth area.

581

When you come to Scotland House tomorrow I shall introduce you to one of our residents, a group which promotes youth development, connecting young people right across Europe. You will find that a fascinating approach; it was started off by Community Learning Scotland, but it now stands on its own and provides that service across member states.

582

Mr K Robinson: It is particularly timely now, since Eileen Bell, Oliver Gibson and myself are on the Education Committee, and we are examining second-level education and how it might proceed in future. There is a debate taking place on post-primary education at the moment, and it has been suggested that the vocational element in second-level education is currently much underplayed. It is an area which may develop. People have not yet teased out the role of the further and higher education institutes in that argument.

583

Mrs E Bell: There are A levels and academic achievement, but it is difficult to find a plumber or electrician.

584

The Chairperson: We shall have to draw our remarks to a close. We appreciate your coming before us. It has been very useful, and we look forward to meeting you again tomorrow and seeing Scotland House at first hand.

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

Wednesday 23 January 2002

Members present:
Mr Poots (Chairperson)
Mr Gibson (Deputy Chairperson)
Mrs E Bell
Dr McDonnell
Mr K Robinson

Witness:
Mr G Calder ) Scottish EU Office

585

The Chairperson: Mr George Calder from the Scottish EU Office is going to give us his presentation on the work of that office in Brussels and then Members can ask their questions. We appreciate the help we have been given by officials in that office so far.

586

Mr Calder: The Scottish Executive EU Office opened for business on 1 July 1999 - the day the Scottish Parliament was formally opened. We occupied the building then, although there were some holes in the walls. Before setting up our presence in Brussels, pre-devolution, we carried out an extensive study and decided to go for the model of a building which housed both Scotland Europa and the Scottish Executive. This would pull together Scottish interests and give them a natural focal point in Brussels. You have spoken to Donald MacInnes of Scotland Europa about this matter. The Scottish Executive EU Office also liaises closely with UKRep. We opened formally in October 1999, and we now have five staff who deal with policy matters and four administrative support staff. Our general aim is to increase Scottish influence in the EU working within the framework of overall UK interests.

587

We have four main functions. We offer operational support to the Executive, ranging from advice on hotel locations to how to try to influence a Second Reading debate in the European Parliament. In our building, we offer hot-desking facilities to allow officials who are out of the country to work and keep up to date, download and send reports. These facilities are connected to our computer system. We spend a lot of time organising visits from Ministers or officials from the Executive. We welcome that aspect of our work, as we firmly believe that to be effective in EU negotiations, it is best to have a feel for the culture in Brussels, which is different from the British Government culture. It is important to talk to people in Brussels to demystify the process of the EU. It is possible to read learned treatises about the EU that are difficult to follow, but once you talk to people and engage with the very open bureaucracies here, it is much easier. It is helpful for people with general EU responsibilities to work here for a period; they then find it easier to influence the machine working. Tony Canavan and other colleagues have worked in the Commission before, and so have I.

588

The second function of the office is to supply information. Brussels is very information-rich, and we need to be selective. If you browse the Internet, you can find thousands upon thousands of pages of information about the EU. Our function is to make sense of that information for colleagues, where necessary, and to put it into context. For example, if a topic is coming to an important stage, we will encourage officials to take a particular interest in it. We aim to put the right person in touch with the right information, at the right time. It is necessary to be selective as people are very busy. We also have informal sources of information, whether it is through talking to our MEPs, UKRep colleagues, or people in the Commission. These form an information grapevine - it would be unkind to call it rumour.

589

Our third function is to help influence EU policy-making, which is vulgarly known as lobbying, and more politely known as advocacy. That is at the heart of what we do in the Scottish EU Office. I am sure that you are in a similar position, in that although both the Westminster and the Scottish Parliaments have powers in some of the same broad policy areas, there is generally a clear legal division between which Parliament has competence to do what. In almost all cases their respective competences are clear. However, there is a vast area of shared competence between the Scottish Parliament and the European Union. On a crude arithmetical measure, around 80% of the powers of the Scottlish Parliament are also covered to a greater or lesser degree by powers of the European Union. That power can vary from small funding programmes to almost exclusive powers in relation to the environment, agriculture and fisheries.

590

The fourth function of the Scottish EU Office, which we share with Donald MacInnes and his team in Scotland Europa, is to promote the profile of Scotland within the EU. That can include holding informative policy seminars and working with other regions at an upstream stage - when something is not yet a Commission proposal but when what we are doing might be of interest to others, whether they be institutions or other regions. It can include talking to other regional officers in Brussels about areas in which we may be able to co-operate to our mutual benefit. A number of groups in Belgium and in Holland are interested in Scotland, and they hold Scottish weekends and fairs. We offer support and sometimes get involved. To take a different example, I recently went to Helsinki at the request of the British ambassador there to give a talk about Scottish devolution.

591

Those are our four main functions.

592

The Chairperson: UKRep is Northern Ireland's front door into EU policy. How has devolution settled in for Scotland regarding your relationship and co-operation with UK representation, and with regard to influencing its policy decisions from a Scottish perspective?

593

Mr Calder: UKRep could not have been more supportive and more helpful from day one, and I must pay tribute to the job that it has done. Regional officers from some other countries in Europe say that when they set up there was quite a lot of tension between them, their permanent representation and their Member State. UKRep has been very supportive; we work closely with it, and we do not seek to duplicate what it does.

594

Although I am fortunate in having more staff than Mr Canavan, there are still relatively few of us considering the amount that is going on. UKRep has many more staff than we do. We work as a team with UKRep regarding how we handle particular issues with a distinctive Scottish dimension. The exchange of information is mutually beneficial. We get a large amount of high quality information through UKRep. Occasionally we can feed information back in, and that works well.

595

The constitutional position is that the Scottish Executive are fully consulted about the formulation of the UK line on any particular European Commission proposals. We have the chance to make our input and to appeal if we are not content. Once the single UK negotiating line is resolved, we then work within that UK line. We would never consider going outside the UK line. That would be a real breach of faith.

596

However, many people think that that means the United Kingdom line is X when Scotland wanted it to be Y. That would be a very unusual situation, and I cannot even think of an example. It is much more common for there to be a distinctive Scottish interest. Much of our focus is obviously on such areas because of different institutions, geography and a different structure to the economy. In that sort of situation the United Kingdom line would typically be X+Y, where X might reflect the concerns of the rest of the UK and Y reflected a distinctive Scottish concern. Or if there is a particular Northern Ireland dimension, X+Y+Z. That is much more common.

597

In such cases we work out with UKRep how best to pursue matters. The Executive may pursue some issues at first hand because what is very important to us might be relatively minor in an overall UK context. We have the knowledge of what something means on the ground, so it is easier for us or for colleagues from Scotland to explain that. A great deal of it is to do with explaining distinctive Scottish circumstances and why something is not quite right or might be different, be it to the Commission or with MEPs or attending a Council working group as part of the United Kingdom delegation. As I say, UKRep work very closely with us. We are able to go to their internal meetings, and information is exchanged freely via computer. I have really been very pleased with the way that that has worked.

598

The Chairperson: For many years before devolution, MEPs were in the frontline for Scotland. Now that Scotland is devolved, how do you co-operate with MEPs, using their experience and the networks they have established over the years to benefit Scotland?

599

Mr Calder: And their power to make legislation. We have a very good group of eight Scottish MEPs, who are willing to work on cross-party lines where there is an important issue in Scotland. There will clearly be issues over which they have political differences, but on issues important to Scotland they are willing to work on cross-party lines. From a Scottish viewpoint that is very helpful.

600

I visit every month the MEPs designated to link with us. Four different political parties are involved. I try to go down every month, often accompanied by colleagues from other parts of Scotland House to review what is coming up on the plenary agenda. We use that as a peg on which to talk about what is coming up, although the most important debates tend to be those in Committees. We also discuss what else is going on, any other issues on which they want information from us - or vice-versa - and whether we can work jointly on various issues.

601

There is a great deal of separate contact. We might talk to an MEP about an issue concerning a Committee on which they sit bilaterally, with the relevant desk officer, official or Minister talking to them. One member of my staff has the job of covering the Parliament, and she will sit in on parliamentary Committees and report back on what is happening. There are all sorts of other ad hoc contacts. Although we have designated links with four of the Scottish MEPs, we also have good links with the other four.

602

Mr Gibson: So far we have found what you have to say extremely useful and informative. Perhaps I might ask you about some of the more practical bolts of the operation. What had Scotland been doing before devolution to bring Civil Service staff into a European way of thinking? Can you make any relevant recommendations?

603

You mentioned how you got along with the UK representatives. You represent the Executive, but do you have any contact with MSPs, to whom you might refer back? Do you depend solely on the other members of Scotland Europa to maintain contact with Scotland? In other words, what is your profile in Brussels, and how does it relate to Scotland?

604

Mr Calder: During the Scottish Office days in 1990 or 1991, I was involved in an internal review of how the then Scottish Office linked with the EU. I was subsequently head of personnel, so it is something that I spent time on. We decided then that, although we did have a number of EU secondees, characteristically going into UKRep or the Commission, the approach was too unstructured. We tended to be reactive rather than proactive in identifying where we wished to second people.

605

With regard to the thesis of the review, I said at the outset that it is my belief that you are most effective in dealing with the EU if you have had hands-on experience of working in that culture. I can think of one or two exceptions, but it is a very important criterion. It is not sufficient criterion, but it is important. So we moved to a system of having a higher volume of attachments to Europe. That can be a stagiaire scheme, which is an excellent scheme that involves a five-month traineeship in the EU institutions. It can be a detached national expert going into the Commission where there is cost sharing between the Commission and the Government who send the official. It can be a secondment to the UK representation. That is an excellent developmental experience for people. We seconded someone to Scotland Europa when it was established. Our secondments programme became better funded and more proactive at trying to identify areas of particular interest to us.

606

I am not sure that we have got it perfectly right, but we have moved in the right direction. I should also clarify that we do not send people in to fisheries or state aids with a view to influencing the Commission in favour of a particular Scottish case. That would be entirely inappropriate. People have to work for their employer and bat for their employer's interests, but they return with a range of contacts, an understanding of the culture and detailed knowledge of the subject area. Moreover, that cultural understanding is transferable. That has been the general approach, and we have stepped that up a bit since devolution.

607

Mr Gibson: How have you stepped that up?

608

Mr Calder: I must be careful because I was not working on Europe for the three years before I came to Brussels. I do not have the exact facts at my fingertips, but we do now have a substantial budget that is allocated to support EU secondments. Some secondments are to one or two other EU countries, but primarily they go to the EU institutions. We currently have 12 Scottish Executive officials in the EU institutions plus five in my office, which is a substantial volume of people. We are doing our best, and we are still working on the spirit of continuous improvement to try to put them into areas of importance.

609

Mr Gibson: Does that secondment practice reach down as far down as chief executive of councils?

610

Mr Calder: I am only talking about Scottish Executive officials. Similarly, we have done a bit of work on the training side. I know that my colleagues in Northern Ireland, such as Will Haire who was out in UKRep, have done similar things. This is not rocket science, but in my judgement it is important. In that way you are building institutional capacity to deal with issues in the future.

611

On the links between the Executive and the Scottish Parliament, the position is that we represent the Executive rather than the Parliament. We have always made it clear to the European Committee of the Parliament that we want to work in partnership with them, and if we can help, we will try to do so. Someone in the Parliament said recently that more information from us about what is going on would be helpful. We already supply some information, and will discuss the situation with them. We do, however, receive some of our information in confidence and we must not abuse that trust. We may find ways of further developing these links in the future.

612

The Committee of the Regions is about to be reconstituted, and its membership will include representatives of the Scottish Executive, the Scottish Parliament and of Scottish local government. We are discussing how best to provide an integrated support service to them, which will involve a closer working relationship with our parliamentary Colleagues.

613

Mr K Robinson: Thank you, Mr Calder, for giving us the benefit of your time and expertise this morning. You mentioned the term "information-rich Brussels", and you said that in disseminating the information you had to focus on the right person with the right information at the right time. We have been endeavouring to get a handle on how we, as an emerging devolved institution, can best target our limited resources to influence legislation in its early stages. How do we lobby effectively when things that alarm us appear in White or Green Papers? How can we co-ordinate the work of our Committee? I will explain that the Committee of the Centre is tasked with overseeing the work of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, which is part of our Executive. European affairs is a small, but important area of our brief, and is one which we suspect may lead us to form another Committee. How do we apply influence and lobby at that early stage?

614

Mr Calder: Are you talking about the Committee or the Northern Ireland Executive?

615

Mr K Robinson: I am referring to the Northern Ireland Executive, but remember that the Committee is scrutinising what is going on in the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.

616

Mr Gibson: We are currently preparing a report that will include recommendations.

617

Mr Calder: We are all learning. The Scottish EU Office in Brussels has only been in operation for two and a half years. Every day we are learning better ways of identifying and influencing issues early on. A degree of patience is required, and I certainly ask for patience from people in Scotland. The post-devolution position is new territory for us all, so it is a question of building up systems, expertise, and confidence. With other partner organisations it does take time to evolve.

618

We have tried various systems to identify which issues we should examine. We have looked at the Commission's work programme, which used to be published with about 1,000 potential communications. Two years ago, over 200 were dealing with legislation - more akin to primary than secondary legislation. We used to go through these communications in an endeavour to prioritise them. We consulted colleagues and tended to end up with a list of about 120 priorities, which is too many to operate on. Often the titles gave nothing away about the content, which might be very relevant, but you do not know until you see the content of the proposal. So that was one system. Now we mainly focus our business plan on the basis of Council presidencies. Currently we are completing a report on what will be done under the Spanish presidency, which includes drawing on information from UKRep.

619

One of the many advantages of going to Council working groups is that, at the beginning of a presidency, the chairman explains what the Council's priorities will be. Presidential priorities determine what gets driven through the Council and the Parliament with a view to reaching a conclusion.

620

You must also look at what proposals the Commission will produce in that period, which relates to the question of whether you can influence a proposal in advance. We share that information about presidency plans with our European Committee and other elected Scottish representatives in Europe. At your meeting in Scotland, you were probably told that there is a group of elected representatives that meets to discuss EU business. That is how we try to identify what we should be focusing on.

621

You must be careful. Initially, a proposal can be quite innocent or beneficial in its impact on Scotland, but as the proposal goes through the Council and the Parliament, which is a complex and interactive legislative process, it can twist and turn. A proposal might have been fine six months or three years ago and yet, while it is not a conspiracy, something might suddenly emerge that might affect us in a different way. You must be vigilant.

622

The level of influence depends on the case. There are many different ways of influencing. The best cases where we exercised influence is when we have worked as a team - "Team Scotland", if you like - and also liaised with the UKRep and our MEPs. If it relates to legislation, the MEPs will normally be involved. Occasionally, MSPs might lobby directly if they feel sufficiently strongly about it. That is quite rare, but it is a real signal that it is important to us.

623

The different facets of the legislative process must be looked at. There is a preparatory phase, and also the Council working groups. Scotland and Northern Ireland are in the privileged position of being able to have a member of staff there as part of the UK delegation who, if necessary, can speak about a specific point in a UK context. The legislative process also involves talking to the European Commission and keeping a close eye on what is going on in the Parliament.

624

The most common mistake is when people ignore the importance of the European Parliament or when to influence it. Parliamentary discussions are essentially decided at Committee, rather than plenary, level. Decisions can change at plenary level, but not often. The Committee Stage is the point where you want to have influence. It certainly works best if there is a team approach that also involves UKRep. I have learned that it is important for staff to have hands-on experience and that you must work as a team to have any influence.

625

Mr K Robinson: Our particular difficulty is that we are moving out of 30 years of direct rule, when the Civil Service was either directed along processes or was left to its own devices, whereupon it began to acquire powers or other interesting things along the way. How can that mindset be changed most advantageously to the new devolved Government without creating tensions?

626

We were aware of tensions between Edinburgh and London and between the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Obviously, tensions will arise between Belfast and other parts of the system. How can the mindset of Northern Irish civil servants be moved from that historical position to a position that allows us to maximise their presence, either here in Brussels or working in Belfast on European affairs?

627

Have you any thoughts on that without getting into our local politics?

628

Mr Calder: I am certainly not going to comment on your politics. I am not qualified to do so. I am speaking generally as a civil servant. I make no comment whatsoever about my colleagues in the Northern Ireland Civil Service with whom I have excellent relationships and for whom I have high regard. Culture change in any organisation - and it has been a big change for us post devolution, and there is also a culture change to some extent in the way that we deal with Europe -takes patience. It does not happen overnight. You need to adopt a patient approach and to build things up. You must be comfortable with small successes and then build on those.

629

There is a variety of things that you can do. I have already talked about the importance of getting as many civil servants as is feasible out to gain hands-on experience, whether it is with UKRep, in this office - I am sure that when Tony Canavan and William Dukelow return they will take a vast wealth of skill back to Northern Ireland - the Commission, Parliament or even the Council Secretariat. There are many options.

630

Secondly, when they come back, good use should be made of them. Do not bring them back with all that European experience and send them to work on, for example, prisons. It is important to make use of the experience. I am sure that Tony Canavan is already finding, and will find increasingly over time, that the mere presence of a base here makes it easier for people to come over. It makes it less daunting for someone who has not had much experience of Europe, and that is helpful. There are all sorts of things that you can do. We sometimes bring out groups of civil servants dealing with one particular subject area and arrange to brief them over a couple of days. All our top management is coming over at the beginning of March for two days, and the relevant permanent secretary from the Northern Ireland Office has also been out here a couple of times.

631

Mrs E Bell: Thank you for your answers. You have more or less outlined the absolute necessity of having our office here for several reasons. I was interested in what you said about institutional capacity. We could do with a few lessons on that and on working together as a team. We are still in a mould where we try to work together in consensus - and this is not just in relation to Europe - but are not always successful.

632

The other thing that you said that you have been able to do since being out here is to demystify Europe because of the bureaucracy et cetera. I am very interested in that because I come from the community voluntary area. To people in that field, Europe means money and Directives; it is "all about bananas". Do you think that your office - as well as the office that was here before - is valuable in trying to tap into that voluntary area? Is one of the reasons for having an office here so that some of them can come over and see Europe demystified?

633

Mr Calder: Absolutely. You read about the institutions and wonder what it all means, but if you come out and talk to a few people - certainly in the experience of the people that I have been dealing with - it is a completely different thing. Suddenly it makes sense, and people go from being very suspicious to realising that it is not all a great plot.

634

Mrs E Bell: One of the first things we did as an Assembly was to come out here. As Ken Robinson said, our feeling afterwards was that we never wanted to attend another reception. We were completely gobsmacked by the wonderful hospitality; we just could not understand it.

635

Mr Calder: Perhaps I might take your point further. Scotland House has Mr MacInnes, his colleagues and my office, and I hope it is a friendly base if you come out to Brussels. We hold a fair number of events of various kinds. We have now had a "Scotland Week" twice, although I should counsel you that the resource implications of doing so are enormous.

636

Mrs E Bell: We have already started that.

637

Mr Calder: A fair number of Scots came out for Scotland Week as well as for other events, bringing people from the institutions and regions to Scotland House, and I hope they also find it helpful. There is always great traffic of Scots through Scotland House.

638

Mrs E Bell: You mentioned civil servants. Have you ever had visits from Northern Ireland Ministers?

639

Mr Calder: Yes, I have entertained Northern Ireland Ministers on two occasions.

640

Dr McDonnell: The whole thing appears to hinge on relationships, and perception is often very different from reality - or perhaps perception is real enough without the component of human relationships. Perhaps it is a wilderness - a difficult and bureaucratic place if you fail to build such relationships. The question taxing our minds is how we in Northern Ireland - with a low base and coming from a late start - can get them right. From our perspective we see a three-legged stool, the first leg being the Executive with this office and its staff, which are already in place. However, we also see two other legs. One of them is the public, and we should like to think that the Assembly, this Committee and those Members with an interest in Europe are the best articulation there is likely to be of the wider public's views. The third leg is commerce.

641

I know you are here as the Executive interest. However, I should be interested to hear a few more sentences about your relationship with Scotland Europa. How do you feel it stacks up? Set me right if I am incorrect, but we perceive that in many cases the Executive's role in Brussels is to react. I do not mean that in a negative sense but with the meaning of responding to events. In other words, you are a nightwatchman for the Scottish Government.

642

Alongside that we see a desperate need for a proactive and engaging role, and in your case Scotland Europa probably fulfils that to a great extent. How do we in Northern Ireland stack it up? We are only around a quarter of the size of the community which you represent, and our resources are limited. Admittedly, the Executive has a great interest in Brussels - probably the key institutional interest. However, we are a little worried, since the institutions are all right up to a point, but Joe Bloggs sometimes disconnects. We noticed that the institutions forgot about him in Southern Ireland, with the result that he voted against the Nice treaty, and we have all this rumbling around in our heads.

643

We have a spread of political parties here; perhaps we should have liked to see one or two more, but what we have is enough to be going on with. Like your eight Scottish MPs, we are examining the matter on a cross-party basis. The five members you see before you represent four parties. But how do we strike a balance between the institutional and the opportunistic, between essential Government bureaucracy and creating opportunities, between fulfilling our responsibility to the European Union and bringing and holding people on board? What I am saying, if you forgive me, is that you can do a wonderful job in Brussels about which many people in Scotland will know nothing.

644

Our representatives here can do a wonderful job, and I am sure they are doing so, for there is no evidence to the contrary. However, we must make that known on the ground, and we are a little frightened that Joe Bloggs might not be aware of all the wonderful work done for him. How do you see that? Perhaps we might touch on it without being unduly critical or demanding that you make criticisms. Without putting yourself on the spot, how do you see us stacking up?

645

Mr Calder: Perhaps I could talk about some of my experiences in Scotland if they are relevant to you. I would not presume to advise you on what would be right in your case. I shall return to the point about the public, since it is the most difficult question. In relation to the question about the Government and the private sector, there are many different models for regional offices in Brussels. We are really at one extreme, since Scotland Europa is a body with members and tenants. It has only a small core staff, and the Welsh model is rather different in that respect.

646

We are therefore at one extreme. The most common model is that a regional office is simply a representative of the regional Government. If there is no regional Government, it may be a consortium of local authorities. These are the standard models. There are some, however, who in varying degrees involve some sort of private-sector economic development interest - perhaps a development agency. I believe you are talking to the Catalans, and they may be able to say something about that. There are one or two such cases.

647

There is a whole range of models to choose from, and our particular model, as I say, is at one extreme of a fairly broad spectrum. On the commercial side, I have been most intrigued and pleased by the interaction between my office and Scotland Europa, particularly in relation to their development-agency functions, covering trade, inward investment and so on. We found it very helpful to be together, for all sorts of things spin off - "synergy" is the technical word. We can suggest the involvement of Ministers. Since we meet in the corridors all the time and mingle, we manage to put all sorts of things together, whether it is related to policy, promotion, or business opportunities.

648

Perhaps I might give you a small example. During the last Scotland week the most successful of the social events - I know you are all fed up with receptions - was a reception to promote the Harris tweed industry. The United Kingdom ambassador held it in his residence. Scottish Enterprise and the Harris Tweed Association were much involved in putting it on. They invited along the Belgian fashion industry - it was pitched at the Belgian fashion market - and they produced models wearing modern Harris tweed, which is stunning. It is very light and has very intense colours. There was a great range of things, from the traditional to the way-out, with models presenting them. The tinkling ivories -

649

The Chairperson: We are not buying it.

650

Mr Calder: It was very successful, but that simply would not have happened if we had not had a Scotland Week. Both the Government and the economic development side were represented. It is one small example of the spin-off effect. I did not hear what Mr MacInnes said, but I imagine that he mentioned that Brussels is a great hub for multinationals, so it is an interesting place. On the commercial side, we have found that the model of involvement with development agencies and, in some cases, private sector interests is interesting.

651

If I knew the answer to the question about reaching the public, I could probably retire and make a fortune. The problem is how to deal with the disconnection between much - although not all - of the public and the institutions. Almost all European nations and regions face that problem at present. In a sense, it is what the future of Europe debate is about. It is a wider problem for Government generally.

652

Dr McDonnell: I would like to pursue that briefly, because I have a couple of other questions. I have never posed this question before, but what is the relationship between the Belgian public and the European Union? Are they appreciative of it, or resentful?

653

Mr Calder: In my experience, Belgium's stance has been traditionally very pro-European and keen on European integration, as has been the stance in several small countries in Europe.

654

Dr McDonnell: Do you mean the Belgian Government?

655

Mr Calder: The Belgian Government and the Belgian people have taken that view until recently. Perhaps I am only talking about the Belgian Government, but some of the things that Prime Minister Verhofstadt has said recently have been very open about the shortcomings of the institutions and the need to deal with them.

656

Perhaps I could mention one area in which I do have some competence to speak, which is that part of the future-of-Europe debate about the governance of the European Union. We have been involved in that, because we submitted a joint paper from the Executive and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA), which included a series of proposals about how the governance of the European Union could take better account of the needs of regional interests, and make better use of democratic structures at regional and local level and connect better with people. We submitted ideas, such as a code of practice on consultation, which may sound pretty low key. However, that idea was picked up by the White Paper.

657

Much of the resentment that is felt about what happens in the EU is a result of the relevant bits of society having no proper understanding of the legislation that is going through. Sometimes people just hear that they cannot do something because of a Directive that was passed last year, and they are surprised, because they did not know about it. Therefore, much wider involvement of the public - at least those who are affected by a particular legislation - at an earlier stage would be one positive step. The Commission is now committed to taking that small, but positive, step.

658

We have submitted a range of proposals, and, if the Committee is interested, I can let you have a copy of our paper, which may deal with that difficult question to some extent. Our First Minister, Jack McConnell, was formerly Minister for Education, Europe and External Affairs, so we did give Europe a special focus within the ministerial team. That has been helpful for communicating with the Scottish public. Responsibility for Europe now rests with our Deputy First Minister.

659

Dr McDonnell: You mentioned the Committee of the Regions and your representation there. Can you outline what the Scottish representation on the Committee of the Regions is, and how it is arrived at?

660

Mr Calder: In the past, the UK Government formally appointed the Scottish representation on the Committee of the Regions. It has always been done on the basis of nominations from CoSLA. They have aimed for a geographical and political balance. We have four members and four alternates, so it is a team of eight representatives altogether.

661

We will now have two local authority representatives, one Parliament representative and one Scottish Executive representative, with alternates from their respective institutions backing them up. That is something new for us, although by chance two of our previous local authority representatives on CoSLA became Members of the Scottish Parliament at the time of devolution. The chairman of Parliament's European Committee, for example, was also a Committee of the Regions (CoR) member.

662

Dr McDonnell: Are those people still in the new dispensation? Are the two from local government merely rubber-stamped by the UK representation or are they appointed at local government level? Or are they selected after consultation? How do the Scottish Parliament and the Executive appoint their Members? Perhaps I ask for too much detail.

663

Mr Calder: I was not involved in the detail, but I think I know broadly what went on. With regard to the new situation of Members' appointments, there was consultation at political and official levels between the Parliament, the local authorities and the Executive, and agreement was reached on how the seats would be shared. In the Executive, that is endorsed by the Cabinet; in the Parliament it is discussed within their Bureau. Similarly, CoSLA has its own means of carrying out the procedure. It was debated in the Scottish Parliament and then put forward to the UK Government to make the formal nominations. I am not aware of any precedent for the UK Government's overturning a recommendation for membership of the Committee of the Regions.

664

Dr McDonnell: Does the Committee of the Regions do anything?

665

Mr Calder: We are in a very poor position to judge, because the Executive has not yet been represented on it. It will be from February.

666

Dr McDonnell: I do not ask you to judge, but to speculate generally.

667

Mr Calder: I can safely say that there is widespread concern that the Committee of the Regions does not have as big an impact as it might. That is for several reasons, the most obvious being because it is advisory. The legislative institutions are therefore not obliged to take any account of what the Committee of the Regions says. That is the real point of concern. What is interesting is that in discussions leading up to the 2004 Intergovernmental Conference on the Future of Europe, many proposals are coming forward on how the Committee of the Regions might be strengthened. We must wait and see whether that comes to pass.

668

The Chairperson: With regard to prioritisation of issues, you indicated that on the agenda there were still 120 papers which you felt might have been appropriate. What political input was there to that prioritisation?

669

Mr Calder: I should make it clear that that 120 was an attempt at official level to prioritise on the basis of the Commission's work programme. It did not work; we cannot follow 120 matters. We must deal with them, as some of them are about Scotland, but we in Brussels cannot focus our limited resources on 120 matters. We now prepare for each presidency, taking a forward look at what each must focus on, together with the major issues coming from the Commission. That goes forward to our Ministers and we consult with them in that context. There is also discussion in the EMILE (European Members Information Liaison Exchange) group of elected representatives on the most important matters for Scotland to which attention must be paid. That gives us a framework in which to work and in which our Ministers and other elected representatives can comment on what is important for Scotland.

670

The Chairperson: Can you give us examples of Scottish EU Office success in developing and influencing European policy to the benefit of Scotland?

671

Mr Calder: Yes. To take an example, in the area of legislation, there is under negotiation a proposal on the Health Rules for the Disposal of Animal By-Products Not Intended for Human Consumption. It sounds obscure, but it is legislation that suggests that fallen stock should always be incinerated for health reasons, to avoid transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) for example.

672

That makes sense for most parts of the community; however, it does not make sense if one lives on a remote Scottish island from which the cost - and the risks - of transporting material to the mainland for incineration do not make sense. My office has tried to ensure that the legislation takes account of the needs of very remote areas. We have attended the Council's working group meetings, and this is still going on, and we have worked with our MEPs on the parliamentary side. In fact, it is being discussed today in the Parliament.

673

To date, we have attained what we wanted in the matter. That is a good example, because often our influence is greatest in the smaller matters. In hugely important issues one's voice may be drowned among many others, but we have been able to make a difference in this.

674

Another important area for us is how the Commission manages the areas of policy that have been devolved to it, for example, state aids, structural funds or common agricultural policy. To take an example, we have been very much involved in the question of aids given to the CalMac ferries in the west of Scotland. We have been involved in long discussions with the Commission about the requirement to tender the ferry services if there is to be public support for them. That has been going on for quite a while, and it is still working its way through in Scotland. At one stage it was seen as a considerable threat by people in Scotland, and we, and many others, local authorities, parliamentarians, MEPs, and Ministers have been involved in discussions with the Commission on how to manage this. We have developed a consensus on the way forward. It started off as less of a Scottish team effort than I should have liked, frankly, but as people pulled together, we became much more successful.

675

The Chairperson: It is encouraging that a region can exercise some influence.

676

Mr Calder: It is. To take another example, the Commission encouraged responses to its first governance proposals. Of course, the United Kingdom made comments, but the Executive also made proposals jointly with CoSLA, and somewhat to my surprise, these comments seem to have had a significant effect on what the Commission decided. I was pleased about that.

677

The Chairperson: You have been involved in discussions with other regions with legislative powers. Is this a useful forum, and how will it benefit Scotland's interests?

678

Mr Calder: We have links with regions with legislative powers. We have bilateral links with German Laender, with Catalonia and with the Belgian regions for example. There have been two conferences for First Ministers of those regions with legislative power. The last was one in Liège in November, but for a variety of reasons Scotland and Northern Ireland did not have Ministers there. However, Tony Canavan and I represented our interests at that conference. That is a helpful development, and another conference is planned for Tuscany next year. We were also involved in a so-called "Flanders declaration". Most of the recent activity in this area has been about contributing to the debates about the future of Europe and governance.

679

The Chairperson: Thank you very much for telling us about your experience. This morning's session with Donald MacInnes and yourself was useful. We look forward to seeing you tomorrow when we come down to Scotland House. Thank you very much.

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

Wednesday 23 January 2002

Members present:
Mr Poots(Chairperson)
Mr Gibson (Deputy Chairperson)
Mrs E Bell
Dr McDonnell
Mr K Robinson

Witness:
Mr J Simpson ) European Economic
and Social Committee

680

The Chairperson: We are glad to welcome John Simpson who scarcely needs an introduction, as he is one of the top economists in the Province, and the vice-president of the European Economic and Social Committee. You will note from the rider that the opinions that he expresses in his submission are not those of the Committee, and we respect that.

681

Mr Simpson: Thank you for inviting me to meet the Committee of the Centre. I welcome the fact that the Committee has taken the initiative to carry out some of its work by talking to the people in Brussels, as well as talking to those in the Assembly service who have an interest in European affairs. Of course, I speak from a personal point of view today. Nevertheless, I can speak on behalf of my Committee colleagues without fear of causing controversy and say that they welcome the interest of a region such as Northern Ireland in learning more about how the European Union operates. During the six years that I have worked with the European Economic and Social Committee, it has taken an objective interest in events in Northern Ireland, and it continues to do so.

682

By coincidence, the current president of the Committee was also chairman of the Committee's delegation to Northern Ireland when the first peace package was being debated. As is so often the case with visitors to Northern Ireland, it remains a mystery to him that he could go from Belfast to Enniskillen via points south of the border, and in particular, via the cross-border road that runs through part of Monaghan and Fermanagh, and be told "that was the border", but not know whether he was heading North to South or South to North.

683

The European Economic and Social Committee appreciates that Northern Ireland has been through a difficult period, and is always sympathetic to the events there. Although European funding is evolving and forming part of a bigger picture, Committee Members would have wished to support the extension of the European Peace Programme to Peace II, as it is now. Obviously, as events unfold in this decade, people in Brussels will discuss what regions are deserving of help, and what should be done to help them. Northern Ireland is no longer classed under Objective 1, and may instead be classed under transitional Objective 1, or put in another grouping.

684

I may have already made my first misleading comments - perhaps misleading is too strong a word - by emphasising funds rather than policy. That is not the most constructive route for discussion about Northern Ireland affairs in Brussels. Too frequently over the years the easy debate has been on the amount of funding - namely whether those funds are additional or are displacing others, or how they affect the Assembly Budget. However, the real debate is on policy; what policies are evolving in Brussels, and how they might impact on a region such as Northern Ireland. That debate can be enhanced by the Assembly in general, and the Committee of the Centre in particular, with its monitoring of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. Policy ideas in the European setting are continuously evolving.

685

We should have been taking an interest, but we have not always been in a good position to do that. The Northern Ireland Executive Office here, the Assembly and the Assembly Committees provide an opportunity to improve that relationship.

686

It would be simplistic, although central, to think of your work as an attempt to achieve a better set of relationships between the European Commission and Northern Ireland, its institutions, the Assembly and its Ministers. We must be aware that it is only a starting point to have the right contacts and influence in the Commission. We must step back and ask who is making which decisions, and what the Commission's role is in making those decisions. Representatives of the Commission will have an inherent bias - if I dare to call it that - which they will emphasise because it is their daily work. They will emphasise the centrality of the Commission in the administration and execution of processes of government. However, it is important to ask who will ultimately make the decisions. If the decision concerns proposed legislation, regulations or Directives, the short answer is that the Council of Ministers decides on major points of principle.

687

If you try to schedule a meeting with the Council of Ministers while you are in Brussels, you will find it difficult. The members of the Council of Ministers are not easy to network with in Brussels because they are Ministers of national Governments. It is important that your frame of reference includes an understanding of the nature of the Council of Ministers. The Council is made up of Ministers from the 15 Governments. In our case, we must ask who those representatives are who influence the Council.

688

I expect that you will meet representatives of the United Kingdom representation (UKRep). The Irish representation also takes an interest in what is likely to be argued from and for Northern Ireland. With regard to getting decisions made on major policies at the highest level, it is important to ensure that UKRep and the Irish representation listen to us with a sympathetic ear. Without having any malign intentions, the Commission will frequently try to persuade the Council of Ministers to take its ideas on board. The fact that you have persuaded the Commission to agree with your proposals or that it has talked to you, does not mean that the British or Irish Ministers will have incorporated your ideas into their thought processes when they sit around the table.

689

I am trying to convey a picture of complex decision-making. Even after new legislation has been through the Parliament and administered, designed and put into process by the Commission, the ultimate decisions lie with the Council of Ministers. There have been occasions when the Commission has been unable to persuade the Council of Ministers to accept what it wants to do. The Commission regularly complains that Governments - by which it means the Council of Ministers - are not prepared to take the Commission's advice, which it often gives to the Council of Ministers. There are currently debates about both policy and procedure. There is a debate about the governance of the European Union and about the input that we might have to the Laeken convention, which is being set up under the former French President, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. That debate will provide an important arena for talking about procedure.

690

It will also be important to watch out for whom the British and Irish Governments nominate to that convention. Ultimately, that will determine how federal, or non-federal, the new structures will be after 2004. We will watch that to determine what input we should make.

691

Both the Committee of the Regions and my own Committee, the Economic and Social Committee, exist in order to express what we hope is a well-informed opinion on the proposals. The Commission's work programme goes to these Committees and is argued and debated. Recommendations are made to either accept it as it is, or to alter it and refine it.

692

That is an early step in any new legislation. It would be a mistake to decide to ignore new legislation and wait until it gets up and running. We should take an interest at the earliest possible moment.

693

We are weak in that area. I cannot speak for the Committee of the Regions, but I think that it would have the same opinion. The Economic and Social Committee has 220 members from 15 countries who are divided into three groups. One third are employers; one third come from organised workforces such as trade unions; and one third represent diverse interests. I am happy to be a "diverse interest".

694

If you can persuade the Economic and Social Committee to accept a new piece of social or economic legislation, you will have persuaded the trade unions, the employer organisations and some of the professions in Europe that it is something that they are prepared to support. That significantly underpins the issues in the wider community. The Committee structure shows that the founding fathers of the European Community were trying to ensure that they took the social partners with them.

695

As the Parliament becomes stronger, the British argument may be that the Economic and Social Committee would become redundant. I do not think that that would be the Irish argument, and the French and the Germans would not agree. They would not willingly allow the abolition of the Economic and Social Committee. The Germans, in particular, would not welcome the end of the Committee of Regions, because they regard it as extremely important to the representation of the Laender.

696

If I have clearly shown that the Institutions, the Council, the Commission, the Parliament, the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee all have a place in the decision making flow chart, you will realise that, in order to influence it, it is not good enough to wait until proposals reach a critical stage. One of the biggest difficulties is that, if we only become aware of a Commission policy when it is goes to the Council of the Ministers, it is probably too late.

697

The Chairperson: A few areas of your submission jumped out at me, and some of it is critical. Item 18 states that

"authorities need to have a clearer agenda."

698

Item 19 clarifies what the agenda should be.

699

Item 23 outlines that

"Local Departments do not, apparently, see the value in widening the network of contacts and influence in this way. Departments do not, at present, brief members of the Economic and Social Committee (and possibly MEPs and members of the Committee of the Regions?)."

700

We can clarify that they do not brief MEPs. It goes on to say that they

"rarely take any interest in the issues under debate at this level, despite the fact that it is an early opportunity to influence opinion."

701

It then states that the departmental budget statements prepared by the Department of Finance and Personnel, and the later detail in the appropriate accounts, are wilfully deficient in clarity.

702

In item 30, you state that

"The OFMDFM will only be effective if the reporting and information mechanism within and between Northern Ireland Departments functions fully and openly."

703

You probably agree that the Committee has taken on a worthwhile project in examining EU issues as they stand with the Departments. I am happy with your agenda for what Government Departments need. You clearly do not believe that enough is being done at an early stage with regard to legislation that comes from Brussels. How could we improve the way that we deal with that, given the small number of personnel that we could afford to have in Brussels, and the amount of paperwork and documentation that comes from Brussels?

704

Mr Simpson: Those are key issues. The number of personnel that could work full time on this matter in Brussels, on behalf of the Assembly and its Departments, is limited. Northern Ireland is a small region in this context. Part of the answer is that we must take the decision in principle that we wish to receive information at the earliest possible stage. Then we must acknowledge that we do not need to follow everything - we must be selective. At times, the matter of how an enlarged European Community will deal with regions such as Northern Ireland will be top of the agenda. That is a major issue at present. If we had only two, three or four individuals working on the subject, they could focus on certain issues for a period. Selectivity is part of the answer to your question.

705

I have criticised the Commission because it has become less open to informal discussions on progress than it was 10 years ago. However, it is quite open, and it is possible to get the discussion papers and to ask what the Commission has sent to the European Economic and Social Committee or the Committee of the Regions and what is happening with regard to those matters. The process of asking questions is most important. I receive a bundle of literature from Brussels each week which is an inch or two inches thick. Of that, 90% will go to the eternal environmental pot on the floor for reprocessing. However, the little bit that I keep relates to the selective areas that I am interested in. The same applies to the Assembly. Each week someone can look at what has been put on the table and at what the Commission web site says and pass those issues back to the Departments in Belfast to establish what is being done about them.

706

We have not had that facility until now. Therefore, we do not know how well it will work. However, to use the European Community terminology, one of the major issues at the moment is the debate about what will happen to cohesion policy when the new member states join. The big argument is that most of those states have a lower standard of living than the rest of Europe. Therefore, relatively, Northern Ireland does not look bad. Influence is already being brought to bear on that matter, because my colleagues are working on a response to the Commission's proposals for cohesion.

707

Some of your Assembly Colleagues were at a conference that Commissioner Barnier chaired some time ago, but that is not enough on its own. You have already spoken to Mr Calder from Scotland House. One of my colleagues on the European Economic and Social Committee, Campbell Christie, is a former general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC). He is also the chairman of Scotland's Civic Forum. He spends a high proportion of his time arguing for a renewed statement of cohesion policy that will make sure that Scotland does not lose out by 2005. Of course, he is not only doing that for Scotland, but he is examining the matter so that areas such as Scotland do not lose out.

708

He is not being selfish about it. There is a big debate about whether the European community should, having admitted so many new member states, direct all its extra efforts to the poorest regions. Campbell Christie argues for keeping the same line of affluence, so that anyone who is below the present line of affluence will remain within the cohesion policies for particular forms of treatment. That makes the Community's budget prospects horrendous. However, one can see why he is arguing that. It is a real debate in which we should be involved, and we should be watching closely the papers on it day-by-day.

709

The Chairperson: As an economist, do you think that it is cost effective to operate a minimalist policy concerning Europe? There is an argument that policies will be made anyway, and we will carry them out as instructed, but a little region such as Northern Ireland will not have much influence, and it is not worthwhile to pump massive amounts of resources into it.

710

Mr Simpson: I do not think that the Committee will end up with that laissez faire approach. It is worth doing something. It is worth knowing what is happening and trying to influence it. If you get a combination of the Scots, the Northern Irish, the Republic of Ireland and some of the Mediterranean regions - I am thinking of particular colleagues on Mediterranean islands - it can make a measure of influence, providing they all argue the same way.

711

Dr McDonnell: Do you mean the Corsicans?

712

Mr Simpson: Yes. Corsicans, Sardinians, Sicilians and Cretans. Allowances are made, but you must be prepared to participate. The danger is that, back in Belfast, the view will be that this Brussels office exists, and it does such-and-such a job. The office will only succeed according to the extent to which it is engaged in mutual exchange with a network of contacts here and in Northern Ireland. If Departments do not have the right relationship with the office, they will feel that its work is pointless. However, it has potential.

713

Dr McDonnell: I know it is not possible to get a single agenda or approach, but I heard a suggestion that we regulate our various conflicts of interests, rather than resolve them. How do you think we might implement that between Government Departments, the Executive, and the various Assembly Committees? This is not the only Committee, although it is the overarching one. We are all agreed that we are unhappy with a representation in Brussels that is largely bureaucratic and representative only of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. Sometimes we feel that it does not even represent that Office, and the bureaucracy may keep it in the dark. How do we widen it out?

714

Mr Simpson: If I understand you correctly, my submission has a Delphic reference to the sort of issues that you are talking about, although I cannot find it immediately. However, I believe that in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister there is discussion of a European Union strategy paper, which will outline how it will handle those issues.

715

That has taken longer to appear than I would have expected, but the sooner it appears the better, because that will clarify where we all are. For example, this office needs to have a set of opposite numbers in the First Minister's office in Belfast to chase up and co-ordinate what is happening. It is important not to envisage this as one line of communication from whatever is happening in Brussels through this office to the First Minister's Office, then to other Departments and through Ministers to the Assembly.

716

We have to see it as a series of parallel lines in which those things that are specifically subject-related do not need to go through the centre. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is the easy example. The danger with it is that it would be too independent on this, but the Department's remit includes a series of subjects for which you would expect it to have contacts in this office as well as contacts elsewhere in Brussels. For example, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is handling the current debate about milk prices and export refunds subsidies on powdered milk. If it comes to a discussion in Northern Ireland political terms, the Minister will talk to the departmental Committee, and that is fair enough.

717

If it comes to water quality and the danger of Northern Ireland being prosecuted because we have so many areas that are below the standards that all the European countries have agreed, then the Department for Regional Development needs to outline its approach.

718

However, we need a much more developed network. The strength of our relationship is between civil servants and Commission officials. That may be the main track, but there should be a lot of networks around that.

719

Dr McDonnell: It should be a sieve rather than a bottleneck. It should be a multi-channel sieve.

720

Mr Simpson: There should be optical fibre type relationships.

721

Dr McDonnell: That is much more sophisticated - twenty-first century as opposed to nineteenth century.

722

Mrs E Bell: Mr Simpson, your submission was very interesting. We have all touched on paragraph 18 because, through our discussions with Westminster and Scotland - who have those specific European committees - we have been fed this idea. But we have also teased out, to a certain extent, the idea of having a European interest on the departmental side. The steering committee of the Scottish Parliament said that it wanted a representative from each Committee to make up a European committee, but that was not done in the end because people did not have the time to do it. We would have that difficulty too, but on the other hand it may be a cleaner way of doing it. What are your thoughts on that?

723

You said that there ought to be different roles, and you are right that the system should comprise the Ministerial Executive, the Assembly Committees and then a general overview body such as the Committee of the Centre. Given our doubtful view of Europe generally -not the Committee's view, obviously, as most of this Committee is becoming more European by the minute -how could we sell that idea to the Assembly, the Executive and also to the people? You are quite right that they all look to Europe for money. That has restricted us because people look on funding as the only thing that Europe can do for us. Your submission first gave me the idea that we could sell it in this way, even if only to copper fasten the economic benefits.

724

Mr Simpson: The spirit of what you are looking for is indeed the spirit that lay behind my suggestion. One obvious possibility is that the Assembly should have a Committee that co-ordinates a view of European affairs and is linked to the European Affairs Unit in the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. That could be the Committee of the Centre. However, you may feel that you have got enough to do. You may want to find another method.

725

It need not be a major commitment, so long as it is set up with a very clear statement that the departmental Committees have a European agenda in their brief. I do not know whether the Assembly accepts that, or if it would be novel; but I am not aware of any of the Assembly Committees looking at European competition policy or industrial policy. I do not think that the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment has studied those areas and explored their implications.

726

I was thinking about that when I read about the planning decision for Belfast allowing the deal between the Department for Social Development and Dunloe Ewart. Here we have a Department doing a deal about what may happen in terms of retail development in Belfast. I have to confess an interest. It is not a commercial interest. I am a protagonist on one side of that argument. It is a major issue for the Department for Social Development. As I look at it, I wonder if it falls within European competition policy, because it is a restraint of trade that could affect trade on the island.

727

I would expect Assembly Committees to take this kind of issue one at a time. An overview Committee might look in general at matters such as cohesion policy, which does not belong to any one Department. I believe that there are certain Permanent Secretaries in two Departments who would fight to say it was theirs, but that would be a mistake. These are issues which necessitate leadership.

728

Also behind your question was the feeling that though Northern Ireland may need this, there is not much public appreciation of the need for it. To use the old phrase, it is the problem of the chicken and the egg. Nobody is articulating these European issues locally in a way that adds to public understanding. How often do you read about European policy in any of the three magnificent Northern Ireland papers, never mind the various broadcasting channels? It is very rarely there. If you are from Northern Ireland and you want to keep in touch with European policy, your best strategy is to read pages 5 or 6 of the Financial Times every day.

729

Mrs E Bell: I am sure you know that the Scottish committee on Europe has more or less a scrutiny role, in which they examine legislation. I do not think we could sell that to the Assembly. The Assembly would not permit us to set up another Committee to look at legislation; it would want something more practical. What you were proposing would be supplementary, and might make the exercise more useful.

730

Mr Simpson: Yes I understand the point. You do not want a scrutiny committee that plans to scrutinise everything, because your Colleagues will ask you to back off. However, there are issues that will change from half-year to half-year, and we should be addressing those. What do we think of the proposals to change VAT and its impact on cross-border relations? The Assembly is not responsible for VAT.

731

Mrs Bell: Another point was the postal services.

732

Mr Simpson: Yes. What are we going to do about the postal services? What are we going to do about the requirement for competition in transport services? What are we going to do about the opening up of the market for electricity and gas? All of these are issues over which you may not have legislative authority, but you have a consumer interest.

733

Mrs Bell: It is also in our interests to try to get in at the beginning.

734

Mr Simpson: Yes, with the exception of postal services, where the changes are already well developed.

735

Mrs E Bell: That demonstrates why we need something specific.

736

Mr K Robinson: It is strange to see you in these surroundings, Mr Simpson.

737

In paragraph 38 of your submission strengths and weaknesses are discussed. You are politic in your criticism. The submission states:

"The present approach to the contact with the European institutions does seem to be less robust and effective than might be desired. The strongest features are probably the direct links between most Departments and their opposite numbers in the Commission. The weakest features, as seen from outside the Departmental structures, is that the network of relationships is too narrow."

738

During this visit, and on previous visits to Westminster and the Scottish Parliament, the Committee has been trying to tease out the value of structured official networking and that of informal networking. In Scotland and at Westminster, the balance would appear to be tipped in favour of formal networking. In Brussels it seems to be the opposite, and informal networking can produce almost as many good results as going through the predetermined channels.

739

Mr Simpson: I agree with you, if what you are saying is that the informal network seems to work more effectively in relationships with the Commission than if we were sitting in Belfast trying to maintain an informal network with the London Department. There is much more scope for that. That informal linkage means that information can be obtained that is better than that from London. However, the real strength lies in having the ear of UKRep, or the Irish representation as it applies in the Irish case. The last thing that is needed, as a result of having a stronger Scottish, Welsh or Northern Ireland input in Brussels, is to create a situation in which UKRep's reaction is that the regional assemblies are making life difficult for them. They have to feel that you are being positive. You may be critical, but you must let UKRep know that you are not pursuing a narrow set of interests, but are trying to see things from a broader perspective. That is what Mrs Bell is saying. The broader setting is needed so that in debate, whatever is established informally with the Commission, when it comes to the Council of Ministers, government representatives can be told what it is we have been looking at and what we hope will happen.

740

Mr K Robinson: Can we be as brash as that? A previous contributor told us that brashness sometimes delivers results.

741

Mr Simpson: It does, but as a consistent policy it might create an adverse reputation.

742

Mr K Robinson: We were warned about that.

743

Mr Simpson: It can be done every now and again.

744

Mr K Robinson: Yes, with careful application.

745

Access to information seems to be more readily available in Brussels than it is in the traditional British and Northern Ireland settings. Committees such as this one experience stress and strain. Can you tell us how to overcome that without clashing with current sources of information?

746

Mr Simpson: I probably cannot do that. It will grow with experience and confidence. It is good that doors can be knocked and answers can be obtained. I wish we could bring the same message back to Belfast, particularly to places such as Dundonald House and Clarence Court. A method cannot be prescribed. There must be a will. The very existence of the Assembly gives civil servants access to wider discussion.

747

However, Assembly Committees have one restrictive effect. I was talking to a colleague about electricity regulation, and he mentioned that a paper had been sent to the relevant Assembly Committee. I was told that I could not see the paper, because while it is with the Committee, and until its report is published, the paper is its property.

748

It was an interesting and perverse consequence that an issue that might otherwise have been discussed across a lunch table - it was discussed but the paper was not - was slightly frustrated by the convention that papers presented to an Assembly Committee are confidential until the report is published. I do not know if that is procedurally accurate, but that is the way it was told.

749

Mr K Robinson: It is accepted practice.

750

Dr McDonnell: There is a restraint. You are referring to the energy inquiry. I have been up to my neck in that inquiry for 12 months. The restraint is there to prevent me or somebody else breaking ranks on it. I put a motion down some months ago -

751

Mr Simpson: Was a third party putting any papers to you?

752

Dr McDonnell: I am not sure that it is a necessary protocol. It might be changed.

753

Mr Gibson: A number of important areas have already been covered. You have suggested that regular briefings by the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to representatives of EU institutions were valuable, but have not been effective in the past. Can you tell us why those briefings were ineffective?

754

Mr Simpson: If you ask the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister about the desirability of that process, it will say that it should happen more often. The easiest answer that you might be offered is that there have been other things to deal with. However, we will get there. Fair enough, we had one meeting; but the problem was that there has only been one meeting. The promise that it would be done more frequently has not been followed up. So there are two issues: whether the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will produce a general strategy; and whether it will hold this type of relationship exercise. The two issues are both lurking, and I would like to see them both happen.

755

Mr Gibson: As you know, the remit of our inquiry is to look at the Assembly's position and that of the Executive. There is also the wider issue of Northern Ireland plc. How could the Assembly improve its handling of EU issues?

756

Mr Simpson: The responsibility has to fall on a number of places. If I had to identify them in some sort of order, the first responsibility lies with Ministers and permanent secretaries to recognise this as a specific item on their agenda. It does not happen by accident. It should be on their agenda. The Civil Service is well trained. It should come up every three to six months.

757

Depending on how significant the European dimension is, each Assembly Committee should on a periodic basis ask the Department for a paper on the European issues that are on its agenda. This means that those issues will get into reports and they will get onto the Floor of the Assembly. They will be reported, and they may even provoke debate and argument. It is important that there is more debate and argument about those European issues.

758

There is one issue in my submission that we have not discussed, but which I think is important, that is the reporting of the impact of Europe on public expenditure. At the outset I did say "policy first, funds second", but I do not want to dismiss funds.

759

Mr Gibson: I presume that by "funds" you also mean costs?

760

Mr Simpson: Yes, I do. The Committee of the Centre will have found some points of interest in the appropriation costs that it received when it was reading the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General about a month ago. It will also have noticed that in every Department's expenditure, under each heading, an item of - I have forgotten the exact term - funds allocated as proportionate contribution to spending from the European Social Fund or other European funding. My next question is always: on what was that spent? It is all very well to say that the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, for example, earmarked £500,000 to back funds derived from the European regional development fund, but that is just an interim stage; it is just a line. I would want to know how that money was spent.

761

Public expenditure from the Assembly's own devolved budget is one matter, but that other expenditure also impacts on people. I want the appropriation accounts to be taken a step further. The Department of Finance and Personnel will have considerable difficulty with those sums and in presenting that information; I will not make life easy for it. However, you and I have an interest in finding out the impact of the funds in Northern Ireland, the amount allocated, and how those funds were mixed with the Assembly's funds.

762

The Chairperson: MEP briefing papers are now sent to the Assembly Committees, which is useful. The Committee of the Centre distributes those to the relevant Committees.

763

Mr Simpson: Would you ask for them to be sent to the Economic and Social Committee also?

764

The Committee Clerk: They are in the Assembly Library.

765

Mr Simpson: Since I joined the Economic and Social Committee in Brussels, I have told those whom I thought were central that, although I have been sent here and I receive many papers, I am a "free-ranging" official rather than a delegate, and I do my best. I have never been invited by a Government departmental official to attend discussions about a subject on which I am producing a paper. For example, in the past I was the Committee's shipbuilding expert, at a time when that was an important issue. However, no effort was ever made to recognise that I was writing about the subject or involved with it in Brussels. That type of communication works both ways, so I accept some of the blame. However, the wrong relationship exists between the Government Departments and me, or my successor, who will take up post soon when the membership changes. It is asking a good deal to tell someone in this position to do his own thing; a means of support or fallback on the system is needed.

766

Mr Gibson: Has a Department ever asked you for a set of priorities, as you perceive them here in Brussels, for its consideration? Would that happen regularly?

767

Mr Simpson: It does not happen.

768

Mr Gibson: Of your own accord, you feed back into the system any alerts or early warnings. Are you ever asked for responses or feedback?

769

Mr Simpson: Not from the Northern Ireland end. I work here and I must keep in touch with the Commission in respect of various subjects, but that is because I have been sent here and have been given this job to do. So long as I do not get imprisoned, I will be left alone. Perhaps, even if I were imprisoned, I would still be left alone.

770

Mr Gibson: Your answers reflect what the Committee suspected might be happening.

771

Mr K Robinson: Are you therefore free to select the issues that you think should be addressed, free from any hindrance? From one point of view, that would be a lovely situation, but that would isolate you from the system that the Committee of the Centre assumed to exist.

772

Mr Simpson: It does. As a member of the Economic and Social Committee, I can choose which subjects I want to follow up in more detail. Sometimes my Committee colleagues will make me responsible for a subject. However, I have my own set of interests, and, consequently, in the past year I was involved in the setting of EU economic policy, the stability and growth guidelines and their impact on national Governments. I read with interest the Commission's comments to the Irish Government about Charlie McCreevy's Budget last year. The Economic and Social Committee went to the European Central Bank to discuss its plans in respect of interest rates.

773

Closer to home, I have been working, in a small way, on the cohesion policy. I have also worked on the policy in regard to the outermost regions - that tends to mean the outermost islands. Eighteen months ago, I was asked to specialise in examining the way in which the argument regarding the introduction of the European patent should be made - although that issue does not have a Northern Ireland label, it is important for us. I have been carrying out that work ever since. There is a major bottleneck on European patent legislation. I was self-selected in the sense that nobody else from Northern Ireland is carrying out that work. The other two Committee members with a Northern Ireland accent are Bill Tosh, formerly of the Confederation of British Industry in Belfast, and John Freeman, former general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union in Belfast.

774

Mr K Robinson: You resemble a one-man House of Lords, because the House of Lords appears to have the luxury of being able to pluck a subject out, study it in depth and make a report on it.

775

Mr Gibson: Do you ever correspond with the UK Government? Do you communicate with it or does it communicate with you?

776

Mr Simpson: There is a major problem with the relationship. Twenty-seven people are nominated from the UK Government to the Economic and Social Committee, and nine people are nominated from the Irish Government. Six years ago the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Agriculture and one or two other Departments sent briefing papers regularly. That has almost disappeared and the British Government are not conducting the briefing that they should. When I say that we are not getting briefed from a Northern Ireland base, it is not happening from London either. I think that the Scottish Parliament are doing better.

777

On the Committee there are one or two national figures from the employers' side. Malcolm Levitt, Barclays Bank's most senior economic adviser, is a colleague from industry. He is perfectly skilled and argues on financial services action plans. The British Government do not need to supplement what he is doing. Nevertheless, it is a point of influence. Thank goodness that someone like Malcolm Levitt is there and has the expertise. On the Irish side there is Roy Donovan, who is a member of the board of the Central Bank of Ireland.

778

Mrs E Bell: One matter that concerns many of us, and not just on this Committee, is the slow progress of legislation in the Assembly. When we hear that 60% of legislation originates in Europe, we think that somewhere along the line someone will have to pull all that together. Do you have any ideas on that?

779

Mr Simpson: Tomorrow there is a session in the European Parliament when European legislation and how it affects business will be discussed. The 'Financial Times' has compiled a list of some 25 pieces of legislation that will come into effect in the UK in 2002, and slightly more than half of those started because of the agreement of the Council of Ministers in Brussels. That reflects the degree to which employment law, in relation to governance of companies, patents and so forth, all started with a discussion that reached the Council of Ministers. The chain, from someone expressing an idea to it becoming legislation, is a very long one. The process in Brussels is complex and tortuous.

780

When would you want to know that such-and-such a piece of legislation was being proposed? The danger is that you might comment on it on the first day when someone in the Commission says that there is a Green Paper. That subsequently becomes a White Paper, it goes out for consultation, it comes back to the Parliament, and then from there it goes to the Council, which may or may not approve it.

781

Imagine if your constituents are taking an interest in the subject - they will want to know where the decision is made. It becomes very unclear.

782

Mr K Robinson: We naively believed that if we could intervene at the earliest possible moment, we would have the greatest impact. However, Jim Nicholson, in his informal submission, pointed out that by the time it reached Parliament, it could be skewed there and turn out totally different from the original idea.

783

Mr Simpson: You must know about it early. If you are interested in it, you must then monitor it continuously.

784

The Chairperson: If you have the paper that is basically right for you at the outset, it is easier for the parliamentarians to retain that than to change something that is wrong.

785

Mr Gibson: Ensure that anything benign remains so.

786

The Chairperson: You indicated that other regions had established valuable networks and relationships and were doing good work in that area. Can you give us some examples of what they are doing?

787

Mr Simpson: They follow up issues that are topical at the time. The Finns are interested in what is happening to energy policy. You may have seen in the papers this week that the Finns intend to return to building nuclear power stations, if the Commission will allow them. They reckon that the evidence is good enough to justify it. They are allowed to have that opinion. In Brussels, my colleagues from Finland have a system whereby approximately once a month they meet the Finnish ambassador to Brussels - the equivalent of UKRep - to have, for example, a lunchtime conversation on topical issues. The Spaniards are well disciplined. They have regular contacts in Brussels with the Spanish equivalent to UKRep. We lack that system. I am sorry that UKRep has let that slip somewhat.

788

The Chairperson: We will have to draw to a close. We appreciate your useful submission, your time and your expertise. That will play a part in the final report. Thank you.

789

Mr Simpson: Thank you for the invitation.

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

Monday 4 February 2002

Members present:
Mr Poots (Chairperson)
Mr Gibson (Deputy Chairperson)
Mrs E Bell
Dr Birnie
Ms Gildernew
Dr McDonnell
Mr K Robinson

Witness:
Sir Nigel Sheinwald ) UK Permanent Representation to the EU (UKRep)

790

The Chairperson: The Committee welcomes Sir Nigel Sheinwald, who is the UK's permanent representative in Brussels.

791

Sir Nigel Sheinwald: This is an extremely valuable opportunity for me to be able to speak to the Committee and to contribute my comments on the role of the UK Permanent Representation to the EU (UKRep) in relation to Northern Ireland. I will start by addressing some points that you made in your letter to me.

792

The first area I want to address is the structure and role of UKRep and our relationship with European Union institutions. I am the permanent representative, Mr Bill Stow is the deputy permanent representative, and Mr David Richmond is a senior member of the organisation who works on foreign policy issues and is our representative on the newly established Political and Security Committee.

793

UKRep consists of about 140 people, over 60% of whom are from UK Government Departments, including devolved Administration Departments. The rest of the staff are recruited locally, and they mainly perform support roles.

794

UKRep is organised in nine subject-related sections, such as the EU council of economic and financial affairs (ECOFIN), external relations, justice and home affairs, agriculture, food, fisheries and so on. Our basic role, as the Committee may infer from our name, is to represent the UK's interests towards, and in, the European Union. That specifically means the interests of the UK Government, but our aim is to reflect wider UK interests in what we do. We form a permanent interface between the UK and the institutions in Brussels.

795

In promoting our agenda, I want to mention a few of our specific roles. The first of these is information gathering. We try to find out what the Commission is planning and what its ideas are. We try to influence plans "upstream" - at an early stage - so that the UK viewpoint is understood by the Commission and reflected in the ideas and proposals that it puts forward. We do not do that alone. We work with other Government Departments in the UK, the devolved Administrations and wider British interests in Brussels. The Commission is not our only target; there are many other bodies here with roles in the policy process.

796

Secondly, UKRep staff are involved in continuous negotiations in Brussels. The UKRep administrators who form my team represent the UK position on the various working groups, which deal with an enormous range of policy issues. Foreign policy issues, such as relations with Russia, are at one end of the spectrum, and tropical fruit, aspects of the single market, and telecom matters are at the other end.

797

Our staff represent the UK on those working groups. Sometimes they will assist a representative sent out from the UK, and sometimes they will be the main UK representatives. They look at Commission proposals and other proposals at the working level. When those ideas and proposals are ready for political assessment and approval, they are brought to the permanent representatives - Mr Stow, Mr Richmond and myself. We sift through the proposals and examine them as they come up to ministerial level. A proposal has to pass the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) before it goes to a ministerial meeting in the Council. The main point of that is that Ministers make the decisions in Council meetings, but we advise them on the spot.

798

Negotiation does not only involve the Council. A lot of legislation is now co-decided, and even on legislation that is not subject to that procedure there is a great role for the European Parliament. Therefore, UKRep is active in the European Parliament. We lobby the European Parliament and keep in constant touch with both the United Kingdom Members and Members of other nationalities. We have a special unit here that co-ordinates our own work with the work of the Government in general in terms of our input to the European Parliament. I am travelling to Strasbourg this evening to meet MEPs. I try to do that five or six times a year. We brief MEPs from all parties, whether British or other nationalities.

799

Thirdly, we aim to help UK plc. An enormous range of interests is affected by the European Union, and some of the United Kingdom interests have their own offices here in Brussels. Obviously, the devolved Administrations are here - I will come to that later - but on top of that the representatives of a large number of UK regions are here, as well as British companies, lobbyists, trade unions, lawyers, journalists and academics. There is a large and effective British community here, of which we are a part. We look after visitors, businessmen and others. We help with competition cases and the promotion of commercial opportunities.

800

You asked me to discuss the role of UKRep in the formulation of UK policy. Over the past 30 years of membership of the European Union, and the European Community before it, UKRep has been plugged into much of UK consideration of policy. That has been enhanced by modern means of communication. We are part of the wider interdepartmental process that establishes the United Kingdom's line on individual issues. UKRep has a particular role, and people look to us for advice, especially in relation to tactics, negotiability, and the consistency of our positions in different areas. They are interested in our views on linkages and how the line that we take will play with and affect the other member states.

801

In doing that, we feed into an established process for the formulation of United Kingdom policy. In the United Kingdom, that is traditionally done by the European secretariat in the Cabinet Office and then decided by Ministers, either through correspondence or in meetings.

802

The devolved Administrations are fully plugged into that. Their representatives attend the same meetings as the UKRep people. They participate in the same correspondence and have the same ability to make input into the policy-making process.

803

At ministerial level, the joint committee can meet on European issues, and has done so twice in the past nine months. One meeting took place just before the Stockholm European Council in March, and the other just before Laeken in December. It has had wide-ranging discussions on current issues, including experience with devolution and the wide issue of the future of Europe.

804

UKRep's aim, which is consistent with the settlement on devolution and the terms of the memorandum of understanding on European Union issues, is to develop an agreed and consistent UK policy line that can then be delivered in negotiations here.

805

A good deal of thought was given in Belfast to the structure of the relationship between the Northern Ireland Executive's office in Brussels and UKRep. The relationship that you have chosen is one in which the Northern Ireland Executive office in Brussels is separate, but enjoys essentially the same relationship with UKRep as the Welsh Assembly's office and the Scottish Executive's office, which were established some time ago. They operate separately on a day-to-day basis, but their senior members are also members of the UK representation. They have diplomatic status. For that reason, they enjoy access to Council working groups and other meetings. It enables them to share information and expertise more freely. In your Executive's office there are two Belfast-based officials and two locally recruited people - a total of 4 people, compared with 140 in this building. It is, therefore, inevitable that they will need to tap into our expertise on the, often highly technical, issues that we are handling.

806

I hope that the present arrangement in relation to Northern Ireland and the other devolved Administrations will offer the best of both worlds, in the sense that we are able to get across the diversity and complexity of the relationships in the modern UK. It also provides an opportunity for Northern Ireland to get its views across to the institutions here in a much more direct way, to marshal its direct contacts and to make good use of the increased information flow.

807

The Northern Ireland Executive office will provide support for your Ministers when they participate in Council meetings, and will also provide an early warning. That is one of the advantages, because together UKRep and the devolved Administration offices are sometimes able to spot problems and help our colleagues back home to resolve them.

808

I must stress that on any given subject we are working within a single UK negotiating line. That is important, and it is for Ministers to agree. It is important for us in a Brussels context, because otherwise our line would be easily undermined and our partners, who are sometimes our competitors in negotiations, would easily be able to pick us off.

809

In practical terms, the head of the Northern Ireland Executive office is free to attend my team meetings here in UKRep. He is also invited to, and attends, my more private meetings with heads of section, and he may participate in visits from senior people from the UK such as Sir Richard Wilson, who was here last spring.

810

In UKRep we welcome secondments. There are a couple of types. Candidates from the devolved Administrations are free to compete with others from Whitehall for substantive postings here. There is one such person from Northern Ireland working for UKRep now. There is also scope for more informal, shorter secondments, often for training purposes. You do not currently have anyone in that category, but the Welsh Assembly has two such staff. There are also secondments to the Commission and the other European Union institutions. I understand that Belfast has three of those at the moment, and that is to be welcomed.

811

Secondments to UKRep help us by providing us with direct experience from the different policy angle of Belfast. It helps to give us confidence in our judgements. It also provides you with a pool of talented people who have direct experience of Brussels.

812

I will not go into the details of the future agenda now. You may wish to ask questions about that. There are a number of things that will be of direct interest to Northern Ireland. For example, the subject of enlargement is high on the agenda for those of us working in Brussels this year. The aim is to complete the accession negotiations for at least the first group of countries by the end of the year. That will have a huge impact on the European Union as a whole and on its individual parts. We will be thinking carefully about their role and influence in the period after enlargement.

813

Enlargement brings with it a debate on the future of the common agricultural policy and the future direction of the structural and cohesion funds. That debate has begun, and the Northern Ireland Executive, as well as others from Northern Ireland, have contributed to it.

814

Northern Ireland has already made a contribution to the debate on the future of European governance. The convention on the future of Europe will open at the end of February. That debate in the period leading up to the intergovernmental conference in 2004 will be controversial and difficult.

815

The Chairperson: Thank you for giving your time this morning. I understand that this is the first time that you have given evidence to one of the devolved Administrations; we feel suitably privileged.

816

You mentioned working parties. What has been the role of Northern Ireland's officials in those working parties so far, and how useful can that be?

817

Sir Nigel Sheinwald: They can take part in the United Kingdom delegation just as they can attend meetings in Whitehall. The lead official may come from the United Kingdom Permanent Representation or from home, but he or she will follow a United Kingdom line that has been decided beforehand at delegation meetings. On occasions, Ministers from devolved Administrations have spoken in Council meetings for the United Kingdom as a whole. Bríd Rodgers has attended meetings and has been part of the United Kingdom delegation, with a United Kingdom Minister in the lead.

818

Attendance at working group meetings depends on the Northern Ireland Executive office's resources. Officials have only recently begun to take part, and it is up to them to decide how much time they can spend on those meetings and how much they spend on their other responsibilities.

819

Mr Gibson: How important is it for a devolved Administration to work closely with your Department and with other Departments?

820

Sir Nigel Sheinwald: That is the name of the game for me. We wished to follow a model of working together that tries to achieve precisely that objective; it enables us to co-operate and to share information freely. I know of no other relationship in Brussels between the representations of national and regional government that is as co-operative and transparent as that between the United Kingdom Permanent Representation and the offices of the Northern Ireland Executive and other devolved Administrations. Although there are obviously potential tensions in handling such policies in the present devolved set-up, so far there have been relatively few problems in delivering our policy in Brussels.

821

Mr K Robinson: Thank you for persisting despite all the technical difficulties. Is the new Northern Ireland set-up likely to yield to a temptation, born of enthusiasm, to plough its own furrow? Will the Northern Ireland Executive office strengthen or weaken our influence on relations between the United Kingdom and the European Union?

822

Sir Nigel Sheinwald: It is impossible to give you an absolutely firm answer, since we are still in the early days, but I am sure that your influence can be strengthened. As I said, the set-up aims at the best of both worlds; the first target is to secure Northern Ireland's contribution to policy so that you are comfortable with the United Kingdom policy and feel represented. The part that the United Kingdom Government plays here gives you an advantage in negotiations that you would not have working alone.

823

Your office here also gives you the opportunity for distinctive lobbying and profiling, as the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister did to some effect on their visit last week. They met the President of the Commission and the President of the Parliament, among others. Those two aspects have been complementary. On the practical issue of structural funds there is obviously a great deal of direct contact between the lead Department in Belfast and the Commission. Both the Commission and the lead Department in Belfast come to the United Kingdom Permanent Representation for advice, since we can look across the waterfront and see issues as they relate to other parts of the United Kingdom. We have a certain expertise. For example, the negotiations on structural funds and the deal that we managed to secure in Berlin, where I was one of the team, demonstrate what can be achieved by the United Kingdom Government's pushing ahead. On that occasion we also worked very closely with the Irish Government, and there was also direct involvement in lobbying by Northern Ireland Ministers. That is the sort of thing that I have in mind; it involves partnership, co-operation and a sense that each participant has a role to play.

824

Mr K Robinson: You mentioned the meeting on the review of governance in 2004. What is the role of the Committee of the Regions? There is a widespread perception that Brussels governs while the United Kingdom Government trails behind; behind them trail the regions and even further back Joe Public is "hardly at the match at all", as we say in Belfast. Do you see an enhanced role for the Committee of the Regions? Would that have a great impact on the United Kingdom Permanent Representation as you know and love it?

825

Sir Nigel Sheinwald: The Committee of the Regions has six places as observers on the convention. The convention will start its work on 28 February and will run to the middle of next year. Therefore, the Committee will have a direct role in the convention, which will be putting forward ideas and options to the intergovernmental conference (IGC) later this year. The IGC will make the final decisions.

826

I do not know whether it is right to focus solely on the role of the Committee of the Regions; that may or may not figure in the debates. It is more a matter of the issues that the Commission's White Paper on governance highlighted and which also came out in the declaration on the future of Europe that was agreed by the Heads of Government at Laeken. Among the issues discussed were dividing and separating competences between the different layers of Government and political activity in the European Union, better entrenching subsidiarity in our procedures and avoiding unnecessarily intrusive European legislation, and perhaps even allowing a little more freedom for implementation down the line. That certainly brings citizens closer to decision-making, which, after all, is the rationale for devolution in the United Kingdom.

827

I hear echoes of this in some of our internal United Kingdom discussions on the broader European debate. It is a great opportunity for all parts of the United Kingdom to contribute to the discussion. Some of the ideas in the Commission's White Paper for improving its consultation with the European regions as it develops legislative proposals are very welcome in the United Kingdom. We have no hang-ups about that improved consultation, provided that we remember that the 15 member states are involved in the negotiations.

828

Dr Birnie: You used the phrase "within a single UK negotiating line". Can you compare your experience in the United Kingdom Permanent Representation with that of your counterparts in Spain or Germany, where federal or multi-level Governments have been operating for much longer? Have they had difficulties in maintaining so-called single negotiating lines? What problems have arisen as a result of that, and have they managed to overcome those problems? What lessons can we learn from other EU countries about marrying the impact of devolution with attempts to maintain the single national position in the Council of Ministers?

829

Sir Nigel Sheinwald: It is difficult to make direct comparisons because no situation in any of the other member states directly mirrors our own. I believe that the degree of input from the three devolved Administrations into the United Kingdom Government positions and the degree of involvement by Ministers at ministerial meetings far exceed what happens in Spain. It is somewhat different in Germany as the Länder have a constitutional role and their Ministers appear at ministerial meetings here. Our system for properly co-ordinating and reflecting views may not be perfect, but neither has it led to the sort of hold-ups that other member states occasionally experience. Generally, our system of co-ordination is more fluent and efficient than that of most other countries.

830

The Chairperson: You said that the Northern Ireland Executive have a role in Brussels. What role does the Assembly, as distinct from the Executive, have in Brussels?

831

Sir Nigel Sheinwald: That is a matter for the Assembly to reflect on. That issue has also come up in relation to the offices of the other devolved Administrations. The other two devolved Administrations have not set up a separate parliamentary representation in Brussels, and they hope to channel that activity through the office that has been established, for the time being at least. Listening to the speeches by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister last week, I got the strong impression that they hoped that the office would serve a wider Northern Ireland interest than just the Executive's. Both spoke of the office's serving society as a whole and of its acting much more as a focus. That is a matter that Assembly Members should discuss with their Colleagues in the Executive; it is not a matter on which I should offer a view.

832

The Chairperson: Thank you for that diplomatic response.

833

How does the United Kingdom Permanent Representation support businesses and commercial organisations?

834

Sir Nigel Sheinwald: We support them in various ways. First, we provide a great deal of advice on the policy environment here to British companies, whether visiting or established here. I give a six-monthly business briefing; we meet people regularly to bring them up to speed on developments in social policy, the single market, economic policy and political issues such as enlargement and the future of Europe. These are issues that affect companies and trades unions directly.

835

The United Kingdom Permanent Representation also has a section that deals directly with commercial opportunities for British companies. Their principal activities concern the Community's external assistance and other programmes to ensure that British consultants and British companies are bidding effectively for a slice of the action in the Community's programmes. We recently beefed up that effort, and we work in close co-operation with Trade Partners UK.

836

The Chairperson: May we send you written questions for answer? Thank you for you time - in spite of all the difficulties - and we wish you well in your task in Brussels.

837

Sir Nigel Sheinwald: Yes, of course, and thank you. I hope that we shall meet before too long.

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

Wednesday 6 February 2002

Members present:
Mr Gibson (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Beggs
Mrs E Bell
Dr Birnie
Ms Lewsley
Dr McDonnell
Mr McMenamin
Mr K Robinson
Mr Shannon

Witnesses:
Mr D Haughey ) Junior Minister, Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister
Mr W Haire ) Office of the First Minister and the Mrs J Mapstone ) Deputy First Minister

838

The Deputy Chairperson: I welcome Mr Denis Haughey, Junior Minister, Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, and his officials Mr Will Haire and Mrs Julie Mapstone.

839

I remind everyone, including myself, to switch off their mobile telephones.

840

The Junior Minister (Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister) (Mr Haughey): I have just come from a meeting of the European structural funds monitoring committee (CSF) in Lisburn, and it was the first time that I have heard a presentation given by a German Commission official against the background of 'The Flight of the Bumblebee' played on a mobile phone. Your mobile phone is much more modest than that.

841

I welcome the opportunity to talk about European matters. I am very interested in the subject and I have given quite bit of time to it since coming to office. The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister welcomes the examination of the development of European policy undertaken by your Committee. It obviously has immediate implications for the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, but also for all the Departments of the Administration, for the Assembly and for its Committees. Participation in Europe is not something that just involves the Administration; it involves every citizen of this society in one way or another. As an Administration, we are committed to developing policy in such a way that involves all sectors of civil society that have a reasonable interest in, and concern with, European issues.

842

The draft strategic framework paper that we have put in front of you provides a basis for us to develop policy as an Administration. I would hope that we would then go on to develop a policy and a strategy as a region in relation to Europe.

843

The Executive clearly recognise that there are key areas of research and extensive consultations that we need to undertake before we can develop what we might term a full strategic approach to the European Union and to our membership of it. Our initial approach was to establish the basic framework within which we could begin, over time, to work out a regional strategy or posture in relation to the European Union. Our initial concern has been the strategic framework within which we do that, and that is the focus of the document that is in front of you. It is out of the work that we are undertaking and the inquiry that you are conducting that we will gradually come to a fuller understanding and a fuller statement of the approach that we must take.

844

I want to turn quickly to the paper. It seeks to provide a framework for joint co-ordinated action by the Executive in relation to the European Union. It also encompasses some wider aspects relating to Northern Ireland more generally. It is linked to the objectives set out for the Administration's EU policy in the Programme for Government, and a more detailed and specific EU strategy will be developed within the framework that this paper outlines. That will be after further work by Departments on EU policy areas within their own areas of responsibility.

845

Therefore, the paper is the result of work undertaken in the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister but in conjunction with other Departments. To ensure that the strategy framework covers and allows for all European Union policy areas relevant to Northern Ireland, it was necessary for us to bring all 10 Government Departments with us. We have endeavoured to do that, but it has taken some time. We have not been able to do it as quickly as we might have wanted.

846

Departments have been involved in the development of this framework through the interdepartmental EU policy group. Several Departments submitted texts to cover specific policy areas of importance to Northern Ireland, for example, structural funds, environmental policy, agriculture, et cetera. The Departments have all now had an opportunity to comment on the final paper, and we are currently awaiting clearance of the paper at the Executive Committee by written procedure.

847

Therefore, we cannot absolutely say that this is the final version. It may be that some Ministers will suggest some amendments, corrections or additions. However, the amendments or additions are likely to be few in number and relatively minor.

848

What we are attempting to do in this Administration is quite ambitious - to develop a framework and, ultimately, a detailed strategic approach to the European Union across all areas of policy. The framework sets out general principles for our work in this regard. It sets out current major priorities and identifies aims, objectives and action points that will be necessary to take us on to the next stage of our work. The aims and objectives are set out fairly succinctly in annexe A, where we identify one overarching aim - to participate appropriately and effectively in Europe and to benefit fully from our membership of the European Union. A number of sub-aims flow from that, and within each of those, objectives are identified.

849

At annexe B the paper also identifies those responsibilities that fall within Departments, but have an EU dimension. Each of those policy areas has been assigned a high or medium level priority. That exercise provides us with a guide, not least to the work of the Brussels office and the current needs of EU work in relation to the smaller aspects of departmental policy.

850

The material in annexe B and the work that the Departments have put into compiling it will provide the bones of their new individual strategies. Our office will urge them to provide those in the next few weeks. Clearly, the framework must be revisited regularly and in an ongoing way. It must be developed and refined as we go along. We believe that we have made a start. I would be glad to hear the Committee's views on the start that the Department has made and to hear its perspective and input into this process.

851

The Deputy Chairperson: The meeting is running 15 minutes late, so I ask everyone to be as succinct as possible. Speeches are out; questions are in.

852

Dr McDonnell: There are some specific issues that I want to raise. How do you identify and prioritise a simple priority within EEC policy that the Executive needs to focus on? As well as prioritising and focusing, what consultation might be undertaken with Assembly Members and Committees in relation to working that out? There is a sense in this Committee, and in others, that we are not connected. How does the Assembly decide where its priorities lie, and how does it connect up with your office?

853

Mr Haughey: The Executive have a responsibility to conduct formal business in relation to the European Union. Therefore it is necessary for my Department to set in place the nuts and bolts and the machinery that will allow them to do that. For instance, this week we formally opened the Northern Ireland Executive office in Brussels. That was the first building block being put in place to enable the Administration to conduct normal, formal, routine business with the European Union. That is one priority that we have to undertake in order to do business properly.

854

It will be the responsibility of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to co-ordinate European policy across all Departments. That is why we have set ourselves the task of establishing a framework within which we can devise a regional strategy for dealing with the European Union. That work has been undertaken.

855

At a lower level, it is for each Department to identify its priorities in relation to the specific policy matters that it has to deal with. For example, almost all of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development's work is Europe-related. That Department, therefore, is in daily contact with the relevant authorities in Brussels. Other Departments have lesser contact, and some have relatively little contact or involvement in the European scene. However, each of them must set out their immediate priorities. We have been pressing them to do that.

856

The involvement of the Assembly is something that we will want to discuss in more detail. Now that the nuts and bolts and the basic machinery are in place, we want to see the Committee, and indeed all Members, who have a concern or interest in the European Union. We want to liaise closely with them on the development of European policy. Perhaps we could devise a way in which that might be done in the meetings that we have from time to time with this Committee.

857

To take your question a little further, Dr McDonnell, the Office wants to engage not only with Assembly Members but also with civil society in relation to the development of European policy. That is not just a matter for the Executive. As I said at the beginning, it is not just a matter for the Executive or the Assembly; it is a matter for the whole of civil society. All our social partners - the universities, the voluntary and community agencies and many different sectors of society - have a legitimate interest in and concern with Europe. We want to build a new kind of policy process here that includes the maximum range of people, organisations, firms and groupings in society generally.

858

I wrote a paper on this subject for the Executive, in which I said that we wished to build an informed, inclusive dialogue between the Administration and all those sectors of society so that we all become involved in a new approach to policy-making.

859

Ms Lewsley: Recent speeches in Brussels by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister indicated that the office would support wider interests than those of the Executive. Can I assume that you have just touched on part of that?

860

Mr Haughey: Yes.

861

Ms Lewsley: I know that you have been interested in Europe for a number of years. The Northern Ireland Centre in Europe (NICE) was set up during those years, but was not given the recognition that it should have had. Perhaps the role that it played was not built by a partnership with the Department. Was there a reason for that?

862

Mr Haughey: I think you have been reading my mail. As many of you will know, I was one of the founder members of NICE and, as a director of that organisation, was involved in developing its role during the era of direct rule. Throughout that time there was a pervasive feeling, across all the political parties, that we were not as well served as we might have been by the United Kingdom representation in Brussels, or by the direct rule Administration, in expressing our interests in Europe. That is why a number of members of the Ulster Unionist Party, the DUP, the SDLP and the Alliance Party undertook the establishment of NICE. We worked through the 90s to develop and refine its approach to European matters. It played a very important role.

863

I do not want to point the finger of blame. That would not serve any real purpose. NICE did a great deal of important work. More importantly, a particular role for an agency such as NICE has been shaped and defined by that. The hiatus of the talks period and the suspension led to an unfortunate period when NICE felt that it had to close its operations in Brussels. After all our difficulties we are now in a position to redefine a relationship between this Administration and a NICE reshaped to meet the needs of a new situation. We will be taking that work forward at maximum possible speed.

864

Mr Deputy Chairperson, you have been in the Brussels office. You heard the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister clearly defining the purpose of that office. The Deputy First Minister told a story to illustrate his attitude. He referred to a dry cleaning premises in Derry called 'Two Hour Dry Cleaners'. A man leaves in a suit and says, "I will come back in two hours." The proprietor says "No, the suit will not be ready until Tuesday." The man says, "But it says 'Two Hour Dry Cleaners' above the door", and the proprietor says, "Well, that is just the name of the shop."

865

The same applies to the Office of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels - that is just the name of the office. In fact, it will provide a facility for the whole community. It will provide facilities for this Committee in pursuing its perfectly legitimate objective of scrutinising the Administration and the work of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. We want to ensure that you are provided with full facilities so that you can carry out your functions with the best assistance possible. We also want to ensure that the business community, universities, trade unions, voluntary sector and community sector can avail of the office's services. We are determined that that will be so.

866

The Deputy Chairperson: We are short of time, so the answers must be as concise as the questions.

867

Mr Haughey: This is important stuff that we are discussing.

868

Mrs E Bell: It is important, and your enthusiasm and experience is clear. We are concerned about what will happen with interdepartmental activity and the relevance and cohesion between it and any future European strategy. I am pleased with what you said about equality in society. What are your views on secondment?

869

Mr Haughey: We have done a good deal of work on secondment, and a paper has been drafted. We are anxious to ensure that each Department avails of every possible opportunity to second staff to Brussels. We are keenly aware that we must build not only our own capacity as an Administration, but the capacity of the Civil Service for dealing with European issues.

870

I am acutely conscious, Mr Deputy Chairperson, of what you said about shortening answers, but there are a couple of important things that I must say. It is important that we bear in mind that, with the broad machinery of government, we have an Administration that has been answerable only to London for almost the entire period that we have been in the European Union. It has taken strategic and policy directions from London because of direct rule. That was natural and inevitable.

871

Due to devolution, we are now in the position to make our own strategies, but the Northern Ireland Civil Service administrative machinery is a big machine. It takes considerable time to build capacity in that machine and to reorient it so that it begins to think in ways that have not been natural for about a quarter of a century. That takes time. Secondment is a part of that, and we are determined to build capacity through secondment and other means.

872

Mr McMenamin: We have a land border with a country that has adopted the euro. What economic implications do you envisage for Northern Ireland due to its not being in the euro?

873

Mr Haughey: The official policy of the Administration is that these are matters for the Government in London. My view is that the Government in London will quickly come to the view that we must be in the European common monetary region, and that it is vital to our interests that we be in there. Living in Strabane as you do, Mr McMenamin, you will know better than most about the damaging affects of a dual currency region. People in Strabane are cute, and they quickly adapt to having two tills and two pockets - every pair of trousers has two pockets, one for euros and one for sterling.

874

We must find ways, means and channels of influence that make clear the direct and damaging effect of the fact that the Republic is in the euro zone and we are not; problems such as the fact that fuel sales in the North are down by 50% on what they were about five years ago. I have done that at meetings of the joint ministerial council on Europe and at meetings of the Ministerial Committee on European Co-ordination (MINECOR).

875

That entire trade imbalance will be further tilted by the development of the euro. I have made that all very clear at ministerial meetings in London, and will continue to do so. However, the official answer is that Her Majesty's Government determines it all.

876

The Deputy Chairperson: If anyone has any difficulty with the transfer of currency, they should see me.

877

Mr Shannon: I want to ask a question on accountability, which is an issue that people come to me about. I also feel strongly about it. The Province is on the periphery of Europe. As elected representatives, how can we ensure that we are all treated as full partners in Europe and an integral part of the strategy, as you outlined? How can that be improved?

878

Mr Haughey: There are various ways to exercise accountability. First, this Committee can hold me, Dermot Nesbitt, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister accountable for our conduct of European business. I am not lying when I say that I want the Committee to do that job effectively, because it keeps us on our toes and makes sure that we do the job well.

879

Secondly, holding the institutions of the European Union to account is a matter for the Administration as a whole, and more particularly for the MEPs. The European Parliament now has a very powerful role, especially in budgetary matters but also in many other matters within the framework of the European institutions. It is through the three MEPs that the European Commission and the Council of Europe are held to account.

880

Thirdly, we also have members on the Economic and Social Committee of the European Union (ECOSOC) and the Committee of the Regions (COR) who are in a position to carry our views into the heart of the European Union and its administrative framework and to ask questions of Commission officials, who regularly appear at ECOSOC and COR meetings. Therefore, there are several channels through which we can exercise our right to hold those who determine policies to account.

881

Mr Shannon: I was thinking more of how the process can be quickened. We all know how slowly the wheels turn in Europe. Is there any way of short-circuiting or hurrying the process so that it can respond quicker?

882

Mr Haughey: I have dealt with the European Union for a very long time; since I was working for John Hume in 1980 onwards. I have always found the European Commission a much more open and responsive bureaucracy than those in Whitehall, Dublin or Belfast - no offence to my two colleagues. The Civil Service ethos of both the UK and the Republic are much closer and more inward-looking than in Europe. European bureaucracy is much more outward-looking. It is based on a more consensual approach to policy-making and is, therefore, much more accessible. If you phone them, they will talk to you. That has always been my experience. Even as a lowly assistant to a Member of the European Parliament, I could always phone even the highest officials in the European Commission to discuss things.

883

Mr K Robinson: I was almost as impressed by your humility as I was by your comment about the Civil Service. In that comment, you defused two points I wanted to make. I was concerned that the dead hand of the Civil Service was alive and well in the Brussels office, which Ms Lewsley also mentioned in passing. We all picked up a vibe along those lines, which concerned us. We picked up on the openness of the EU officials, and there seemed to be a mismatch. I hope that we can learn from them, rather than the other way round.

884

Going back to the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe (NICE), it struck me in Brussels that the Executive office was being set up with all the nuts and bolts in the right place, and all Civil Service levels correctly established. However, did you miss out on the networking that had been done by NICE, both formally and informally? Are you using the MEPs, and is everyone in the group? I am not totally convinced that they are. How can you convince me that you will do that?

885

Mr Haughey: No one is more frustrated or disappointed than I am by the fact that that difficulty arose when NICE was, for resource and other reasons, reaching the point where it had to make quick decisions. We had a direct rule Administration, which had a cumbersome and rather old-fashioned method of dealing with that kind of relatively new approach to policy-making and doing business. That all came at the wrong time, and direct rule Ministers were not as acutely aware as you and I, and our Colleagues, were of the need to act quickly and to build on the work of NICE. No one regrets what happened more than I, and I laboured mightily to prevent it happening, but the circumstances were such that I could not. It is my firm intention - and the intention of the four Ministers in my Department - that we build on the work done by NICE, and that we begin to put it together again where that work was rudely and crudely interrupted. I am determined that that will be so.

886

I accept that the relationship with the three MEPs has not been what we would have wanted. As I said earlier, there is nothing to be gained by starting to point fingers and lay blame. I am anxious, as are the other three Ministers in this Department, to build the closest, most cordial and friendliest possible working relationship with the three MEPs, the two full and two alternate members of the Committee of the Regions, and the members of ECOSOC. We have taken steps that I hope will bring a situation to fruition where Dermot Nesbitt, myself and, as the occasion requires, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, have regular meetings with those people so that we can put together a cohesive and coherent policy in relation to European Union matters generally. I am determined that that will be so.

887

Things did not go as well as they might have done over the opening of the office, and I regret the bad vibes experienced here. At the community support framework (CSF) meeting this morning I was talking to Manfred Beschel, the Commission official who deals with the community support framework with us. He said that the opening of our office is the talk of Brussels, and it is such a huge success. Seldom has the opening of a regional office attracted such a large crowd, and never has the opening of a regional office attracted five Commissioners. There is considerable talk and admiration for what we have done, but I agree that it was not done perfectly.

888

Mr K Robinson: Obviously there is openness and a willingness in Europe to help Northern Ireland. We have a positive regional identity, unfortunately for positive and negative reasons, but it is there. How can we develop that in the Committee of the Regions and use it as a vehicle? That is the vehicle that will probably close the gap between the European Parliament and the European citizen, and Europe is aware of that. How can we be involved in that process?

889

Mr Haughey: I agree with you. There is a huge reservoir of positive goodwill towards Northern Ireland in Brussels, and right across the European Union, outside of these islands. We must learn to best avail of that and turn it to our advantage, and the work that the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe (NICE) began will be the beginning of that learning process in turning that goodwill to best advantage. We do not do that through the formal bureaucratic machinery, although that is necessary for doing formal bureaucratic business. We must develop more informal ways of expressing our interest - working the corridors; pressing the flesh, as the Americans put it; getting to know the right people; and developing all those informal channels of influence that are so crucial and central to policy-making in the medium and longer term. We must learn how best that is done. As I said earlier, we are engaged in rebuilding and recreating the work done by NICE. Our aim is to recreate that informal approach to developing personal relationships and to building networks of contacts that will enable us to exert that informal influence.

890

Mr K Robinson: If I could quote Gilbert and Sullivan, have we "got a little list"? The Scots had a very large list when we talked to them.

891

Mr Haughey: Yes, we have.

892

Mr Beggs: Paragraph 33 of your paper says that the IDB is co-locating consultants in the Brussels office. Are these full-time consultants, and are we getting value for money paying consultants at Brussels rates? Secondly, what is the Executive's mechanism for highlighting issues of particular Northern Ireland interest during the formulation of new EU Directives? In respect of openness, are such lists available to this Committee?

893

Mr Haughey: The second matter relates to what Ken Robinson said earlier about how you influence the making of policy. It is not done through the official bureaucratic machinery because, under the concordat between Westminster and Stormont, we are bound to follow official UK policy in relation to the European Union. High strategic policy decisions are made in London.

894

However, that is not how the European Union works; that is only the beginning of the process. The resource and capacity to shape and influence policy, and have your own input to it, is through the less formal channels of networking and forming alliances with similar regions in Europe. That informal network of influence is how the European Union works, and that is what we must learn. Other regions have learned it, and have learned it to very great effect and to their own substantial advantage - notably our neighbours down the road. We simply cannot afford not to learn how to do that kind of work.

895

The IDB's co-locating with our office in Brussels is part of the facility that we offer. This will enable business, and all organisations in Northern Ireland with legitimate business in Europe, to work through our office, which will act as a focus for the whole region.

896

Mr Haire: It is generally the IDB's technique to use consultants in overseas research and marketing in many areas. Presumably they themselves could not identify European markets and trade opportunities, and therefore decided to employ marketing experts. The IDB pays for that approach. One past concern was that IDB's overseas offices were more in north America, and the European aspect was not so strong. They have offices in Düsseldorf, but did most of their work from London. We find it very encouraging that they are joining this process. Scotland and Wales have found it of value - their economic agencies being very much the drivers behind their presence in Brussels. Now we have our own economic agency driving as well. A key aspect is the trade and investment benefit to Northern Ireland, and we are very pleased to have IDB in that process. We hope that it will give a good push on the economic front.

897

Mr Haughey: The office is limited in size - we do not have limitless space - but we hope that IDB will not be the only other partner or tenant in the building. In due course we hope to bring other people on board.

898

The Deputy Chairperson: That is music to our ears.

899

Dr Birnie: Paragraph 6 of your draft strategy paper refers to increasing involvement of our Executive Ministers in the EU Council of Ministers. How will the UK central Government react to that, and will they facilitate it?

900

Paragraph 10 refers to the major debates - enlargement and the future of Europe itself. Is there any feeling as to how the Assembly as a whole might be involved in shaping a Northern Ireland view on those issues?

901

Paragraph 19 is highly significant and may be something of a time bomb. How bad is the lag in implementing Directives? I note that the text says we are worse than the other devolved Administrations. What sanctions, financial or otherwise, might we face?

902

Mr Haughey: Bríd Rodgers has attended several Council meetings, but I am not sure if other Ministers have done that - I do not believe so. We have met several departmental Ministers in the Executive to point out to them when Council meetings in sectoral format are taking place to which they might reasonably seek an invitation. Ministers from other devolved Administrations attend fairly regularly, and on one occasion, Nicol Stephen, a Deputy Minister in the Scottish Executive, led the United Kingdom delegation at an education Council meeting. That gives rise to all kinds of intriguing possibilities whereby departmental Ministers from Northern Ireland might speak for the United Kingdom. If you consider the matter, you will see how intriguing it could turn out to be.

903

The Executive have not yet turned their attention to the debate on the future of Europe, but they will deal with it in due course. The issue is already beginning to shape up, and there are all kinds of governance questions to which we must give our attention. I have no doubt that we shall be preparing a paper on that, and work is beginning now. It will come before the Executive and then the Assembly, at which point the latter will have full opportunity to debate it.

904

Allow me to split the question of Directives. First, there has recently been a recent initiative to complete the single market by the time of the Barcelona summit. Whitehall has laid on a good deal of pressure to ensure that we in Northern Ireland are meeting the United Kingdom's overall targets. I have been in contact with Melanie Johnson, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry, through one or two telephone conversations, correspondence, and a meeting in her office. We are on target to implement the necessary single market Directives aimed at removing remaining trade barriers. I believe there are 27 Directives, of which 19 are absolutely necessary to meet the Barcelona target. We must implement those 19 Directives, and the others are in the course of being implemented, and will be implemented.

905

That is not the whole picture, however, as there are a great many other Directives concerning the environment, where we are in deep difficulty.

906

The Deputy Chairperson: Is that a ten-year difficulty? Are we ten years behind?

907

Mr Haughey: I fear the problem is rather more immediate. A fair number of environmental Directives have not been transposed or implemented, and we must get our skates on and get the work done. We face three problems in that respect, the first being finding the technical and legal expertise in the Department of the Environment necessary to draft the legislation to implement the Directives. The second problem is the pressure on time in the Assembly, which, despite this week's complaints about how little Executive business there is, will grow. There will be pressure to get the legislation through the Assembly. Thirdly, and most importantly, there will be a resource pressure for the "on-the-ground" spend that will be required to effect the infrastructural and other improvements and developments needed to implement the Directives.

908

There are three issues that we face in relation to that, and I have had a meeting with Sam Foster, the Minister of the Environment. I suggested to him that we should work together to get the clearest possible overview of where the Department of the Environment stands on the various Directives where we are not up to speed, and where we are at risk of infraction proceedings. I also suggested that we should co-operate in approaching the European Commission on the grounds that it is unreasonable to hold the devolved Administration responsible for the difficulties that arose here during direct rule.

909

We are in this position because of a serious underspend on infrastructure development. Therefore, we may have to make an approach to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We cannot say if any of these approaches will be successful, but we will not know unless we try. Finally, the interdepartmental group on European policy has commissioned a comprehensive audit of all Directives and where we stand in each Department on each Directive. That will give us a global picture.

910

The Deputy Chairperson: In the last action point on page 21 of the document you say that the detailed overall strategy will be developed drawing together the framework document. It has taken since July 2000 to develop the framework document. When can we expect that detailed strategy to emerge?

911

Mr Haughey: I cannot give you an exact week or month when that will emerge. Much will depend on the speed with which Departments make their input into the overall development. Also, much will depend on the outcome of the current talks to try to augment the capacity of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in relation to the overall development of European policy. There are too many variables and indeterminate factors for me to give you an exact answer to that. However, I hope that we can put a strategic document in front of the Assembly before the life of the Assembly is over.

912

The Deputy Chairperson: The end of the last round of funding caused a gap. How are the Executive preparing themselves for 2006, when the present funding will end? In other words, we need to get a more seamless flow of events rather than what happened the last time, when there was a gap and people were being left hanging out to dry in Northern Ireland.

913

Mr Haughey: The Executive and the Administration are well aware of this. It is very important that the funding available to us now is spent in a way that will generate self-sustaining and self-perpetuating activity that will continue after 2006. We should not regard 2006 as a sudden precipice down which we will slide from a position of considerable funding to no funding at all. We will continue to receive assistance from the European Union, but bearing in mind the gap between ourselves and the Baltic republics or any of the other applicant states, it is inevitable that the bulk of the funding will be tilted towards the east.

914

Mr Haire: The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister raised that point with David O'Sullivan, who is the Secretary General of the Commission. One of the key points he made was that the way in which they brought forward proposals the last time produced a hiatus in all funding issues across Europe. In European issues 2004 will be an exciting year, because the intergovernmental conference will have to be pushed through in that year. They are conscious of the fact that the Commission and the Council have to get their acts together to ensure that some of the funding gaps that occurred across Europe are avoided this time.

915

Mr K Robinson: You mentioned eastern Europe. What plans have been laid to ensure that Northern Ireland links in with these emerging regions, as there may also be a source of funding there in the future?

916

Mr Haughey: Given the size and shape of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and their emergence from under the wing of "mother Russia", in a sense we are in a similar position to them. We could offer some assistance to them, and the European Commission might assist us in doing so. We are alive to that, and keen to do it.

917

Mr Haire: A number of Northern Ireland consultants, working through Northern Ireland Public Sector Enterprises Ltd (NI-CO), have been active in this area. NI-CO have recently won four contracts for twinning arrangements with eastern Poland, for example, which is an encouraging sign.

918

The Deputy Chairperson: Thank you all very much. You have had a long session this afternoon, but it has been useful and helpful. We will be in contact with you about the European strategy.

919

Mr Haughey: Thank you for the cordial reception that I have received from the Committee and the friendly discussion, which I have found useful. I want to repeat that I and the other Ministers are keen to meet with you and the Chairperson to discuss how we might co-operate and liase more closely with regard to European matters and how we might jointly begin to reach out to involve a broader section of the community in policy development.

920

The Deputy Chairperson: I can assure you of my full co-operation on that.

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

Wednesday 13 February 2002

Members present:
Mr Poots (Chairperson)
Mr Gibson (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Beggs
Mrs E Bell
Dr Birnie
Ms Lewsley
Dr McDonnell
Mr Maskey
Mr C Murphy
Mr Shannon

Witnesses:
Ms M Lestas )
Mr G Roberts ) Federation of Small Businesses
Mr B Johnston )

Mr N Smyth ) Confederation of British Industry Northern Ireland

921

The Chairperson: As part of the European inquiry, the Committee will hear evidence from Mr Glyn Roberts and Ms Michelle Lestas from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is represented by Mr Bryan Johnston, chairman of Image Investments, and Mr Nigel Smyth, director of the CBI. You are all very welcome.

922

Members have documentation from the special adviser, which contains questions and issues that you may want to raise. The papers also contain written submissions from the Federation of Small Businesses and the CBI. Mr Bill Tosh, a Northern Ireland member of the European Economic and Social Committee, has had an input into the CBI written submission.

923

Ms Lestas: I would like to introduce Glyn Roberts, the press and parliamentary officer for the Federation of Small Businesses in Northern Ireland. I am Michelle Lestas, vice-chair for the federation's policy and regional committees. I am also a business partner in a management and economic development consultancy company in the north-west.

924

The federation welcomes the opportunity to appear before the Committee. The federation is an independent, non-party political organisation that is funded by its small business members. It represents the small business, with the majority of its members employing less than 20 people. The federation aims to support its members to develop within Northern Ireland, Ireland, UK, Europe and the global market. It is a national organisation with over 165,000 members, with almost 3,000 members in Northern Ireland.

925

The federation fully appreciates the advantages of a local Assembly working for our benefit in Europe. Europe is an extremely important market for the federation's members, not least because of the land border with the South of Ireland. The extent and breadth of European policy and legislation also has an extensive impact on the small business sector, and the federation also understands that the implementation of this policy and legislation has a huge financial cost to Northern Ireland.

926

On that note, the federation wants to raise several issues that it believes are important and that the Assembly must address to fully meet the needs of the small business owner-manager over the next few years. First, the federation fully appreciates the opening and workings of the Office of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels. We would like that to be broadened to include a wider Assembly remit and a social partner role similar to that of other regional offices in the UK.

927

We would like to see Northern Ireland have a co-ordinated approach to Europe. Several organisations work in Europe, but there is little feedback or understanding of the roles and developments that are fed back to the small business sector. A new Assembly Committee on European affairs would go a long way towards solving that problem.

928

A co-ordinated and effective approach to the provision of information to the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector on European policy and legislative developments in a timely and appropriate manner is crucial. We would like to ensure that Northern Ireland's input to policy development, directly or through Whitehall, is SME proofed on relevant issues, such as employment, energy, and workplace health and safety issues. SMEs must be fully consulted, and the implications for them must be thought through. A consultative forum that includes the social partners would be a great advantage in working towards that objective.

929

There is a relatively unco-ordinated approach to SME exchange of experience programmes in Europe at present. Therefore there is an opportunity for the Assembly to work through Government Departments to provide a more structured, brokering approach to Europe, and to ensure that the SME sector is truly supported under Building Sustainable Prosperity, Peace II, LEADER+, INTERREG III and EQUAL initiatives. The relevant Departments should recognise the huge contribution that that will make to the SME sector.

930

However, there is a need to seek other new European programmes, to encourage European divisions within Government Departments to begin that process early - before Northern Ireland loses its Objective 1 status - and to undertake a forward-planning approach. The federation would appreciate a co-ordinated approach to the export of our businesses to Europe and support for pilot initiatives to allow SMEs to explore new European possibilities.

931

The federation believes that the SME sector has much to gain by working with our European partners. It needs political support to influence policies and to assist it in the process. I thank the Committee for the opportunity to give this presentation.

932

Mr Johnston: The CBI was pleased to be able to give the Committee its written submission and to have the opportunity to come here today. I will hand over to Mr Nigel Smyth, who will give our presentation.

933

Mr Smyth: My short presentation will draw out some of the key points in our submission. I want to touch upon some of the key issues that were raised by our members during consultation. I want to say a little about the vision and the strategy that the business community believes is required, the importance of prioritising and focusing, funding opportunities, and then make some concluding remarks.

934

One of the key issues, from a business perspective, is the general lack of awareness and information about an existing strategy, or whether there is one. Our members' perception is that activity is ad hoc and unfocused and that it has more to do with crisis management. There is also recognition of the difference between governance arrangements in Northern Ireland and the way in which the Commission works. The vexed question of additionality also came up.

935

It is clear that the Executive must establish their vision of how Northern Ireland is presented in Europe. Our members make it clear that we must have a positive and visible presence in Europe. We must ensure that we are in tune with our legal obligations under the European Union, and we must be more aware of the opportunities that are available. We support the idea of having a presence in Brussels. That is vital, and we welcomed the official launch of the office in Brussels last week.

936

We must develop a more co-ordinated and strategic approach. We must move away from the ad hoc, unstructured approach to one that is more focused and co-ordinated and which maximises the synergies of all the people who have an interface with Europe.

937

One key focus is the development of an intelligence network. Formal and informal links and networks in Europe are extremely important. We have highlighted the importance of leveraging the knowledge of the existing players who represent Northern Ireland's interests in Brussels and of anyone in Northern Ireland who has dealings in Brussels. We need to improve information gathering and information flows. I have suggested that it may be useful to have a forum in Northern Ireland to help share that information. We should have a structured approach to our interface with key Commissioners. It is also important to focus on opportunities and threats, and I will return to that.

938

We have also highlighted the importance of links and lessons from other regions. We need to ensure that we learn from other regions that have been successful, whether from funding opportunities or with regard to their lobbying abilities and the outcomes from those. Furthermore, we need to link in with various regions that have similar interests. That will form some alliances on policy issues. Links with UK Government Departments remain absolutely vital to ensure that Northern Ireland's interests are fully heard at UK level and that through that mechanism they are reflected in the European Union.

939

Co-ordination is absolutely vital, and there is room for improvement there. We have recommended some form of interdepartmental ministerial standing committee to oversee that and to develop the strategy, implement it, monitor it and review it. We should consider the use of a web-based portal internally in Government. There could be opportunities to have an external portal for the various stakeholders in Northern Ireland who have interests in Europe. It is critical that we make effective use of the Brussels office for links, for running events and programmes, for making information available and as another means of communication to and from Northern Ireland. It would be useful to have a clearer perspective of the programme of European legislation that Northern Ireland is going to have to implement.

940

The Executive have limited resources for focusing and priorities. We have outlined a possible approach to identify the top 10 existing policy issues in which Northern Ireland has a particular interest. We should also identify the top five future policy areas that will have the most significant impact on Northern Ireland and from that develop a set of priorities upon which we should focus our efforts and resources. One of the most significant areas that we have identified is the opportunities and the threats that enlargement brings.

941

Aside from the peace package, there was a general feeling that we have had limited success in securing funding for Northern Ireland. That is partly due to lack of awareness and lack of interest in competing and winning that, and we believe that there are additional opportunities there. The effective networks that we develop will help in that respect. We have emphasised the importance of having positive attitudes to engaging in Europe and the importance of getting better intelligence in some of these initiatives at a much earlier stage. We need to have mechanisms in place to effectively appraise the various programmes. Northern Ireland is dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises, and they will find it difficult. However, there should be opportunities through the various agencies and Departments here to sieve out much of the material and identify what is relevant for Northern Ireland. An overall strategic and co-ordinated approach will help in that respect.

942

In conclusion, we have emphasised that we have to be realistic in our expectations. We are not a national Government. We have emphasised that intelligence gathering is essential. We need to optimise our ability to influence. That is critical. We believe that a co-ordinated and strategic approach is the way forward.

943

The Chairperson: I thank both groups for their clear and concise presentations. The Federation of Small Businesses stated that it would like a junior Minister to cover European issues, and the Confederation of British Industry stated that currently things are being done on an ad hoc basis. In the Programme for Government much mention is made of producing joined-up government. There would be difficulties with appointing a junior Minister to cover European affairs as they are currently covered by the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, which has an overall role. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has an important role in European affairs. The Department of the Environment implements the Directives that come from Europe. The Department for Regional Development and the Department of Finance and Personnel make use of the structural funds. The Department for Education and Learning and some of the other Departments also have a role in Europe, although to a lesser extent.

944

How do we overcome the difficulties, given that European affairs are spread over a wide range of Departments, and how do we draw matters in from those Departments without diluting their power?

945

Mr Roberts: Our proposal is not that an additional junior Minister be appointed, rather that one of the existing two junior Ministers in the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister be given responsibility for European affairs. At present Europe is shared with several other important aspects in that Department, such as victims and community relations. We feel that Europe is such an important subject, and will become even more important, that there is a case for a full-time junior Minister to take charge on a day-to-day basis, to look after relationships with the European Commission, the European Parliament, and so on and to take a lead and spearhead co-ordination. As you said, Chairperson, Europe touches every Department, and you gave some very good examples. That Minister would seek to co-ordinate and to ensure that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet. The appointment would also ensure that someone is working there full-time, rather than having the brief shared with other important areas.

946

The Chairperson: There may be merit in that, although I am not sure, politically, whether we can split the portfolios and give one junior Minister European and economic policy issues and give the other junior Minister issues relating to victims, community relations and disability issues. However, we will certainly take that on board.

947

Mr Smyth: The key point about a junior Minister taking responsibility is that it is very much a co-ordinating role. We are not suggesting that the other Ministers' roles should be taken away. The area of agriculture, for example, has an impact on a diverse range of interests in Northern Ireland, and the junior Minister would be responsible for co-ordinating and championing that. However, we also see the role as supporting and encouraging joined-up government.

948

Mr Gibson: I congratulate Mr Smyth on what he has said. He is hitting chords that are echoed around the table.

949

Scotland told us that 80% of its legislation was European-based, in Westminster it is 60%, and eventually most of our legislation will be European-based. What part would the CBI play in a European office? Are you prepared to be a tenant there, to staff it as part of an overall strategy, so that there is a co-ordinated approach and the two businesses represented here today have staff in Europe? We are going to recommend to the Civil Service that staff should be taken out on a rota basis and trained up to speed so that they can go back into the Department. Will you do the same in your business?

950

Mr Smyth: The CBI already has an office in Brussels, and it is six floors above the Northern Ireland Office, which is rather convenient. We already have a number of Northern Ireland staff there who were seconded into the CBI. The CBI has a negotiating role in Brussels at a national level, particularly on the social chapter and various other matters. We liaise and negotiate with the European trade union movement.

951

The CBI is not resourced to take either a sectoral view or a regional perspective on the back of that. The CBI in Northern Ireland is not resourced to put a body or an individual in Brussels. However, we would be keen, through our members, to engage with people and officials to ensure that they are aware of business views. That is very important. We are keen to encourage a more proactive stance from the civil servants who are responsible. We have been to Brussels to lobby on different issues, and we see that happening more in the future. At this stage, we do not anticipate bringing a full-time person on board to do that.

952

Ms Lestas: The Deputy Chairperson rightly said that European policy is going to impact more and more on us in Northern Ireland, particularly on the small business sector. One of the difficulties that we face is that we are often too late at the game, and the policy is being imposed before any form of consultation has taken place. I made reference earlier to having the relevant pieces of legislation business proofed. We would like to see much more forward planning in relation to the policies and legislation that are coming from Europe. The Assembly has a fundamental role in supporting us to do that. Through some sort of consultative forum, to begin with, the federation would be in a position to consult with you and to feed back our members' views of those policy and legislative developments.

953

Physical resourcing is a new development. We would have to make a decision on that as time progresses. It would depend on how demanding that role would be. We have a policy committee in Northern Ireland, and we have a great deal of consultation with our members on that. That is an avenue that we can use to begin with. In the longer term, we will take a decision.

954

Mr Gibson: The CBI is a national organisation. How much use is that to you in CBI Northern Ireland? Has the federation got a parent body in Europe?

955

Ms Lestas: The Federation of Small Businesses has a national office in London that would be active in Brussels. Like the CBI, we are also conscious that there is a regionalisation of issues here, along with Scotland and Wales. We would still have to service the regionalisation of the policy and legislation as well. You will appreciate that we must get involved in that.

956

Mr Johnston: As a user of the CBI facility, being a member, there is no doubt in my mind that there is immediate and high-quality access for the members of the CBI in Northern Ireland to those in London. If we wish to influence or get advice, there is easy access. Nigel Smyth is the local director and might say that anyway, but as a user of the service, I can vouch for the good relationships and the high-class quality of the advice. If we wish to utilise them for our purposes, they are available for the team here and other members.

957

Mr Beggs: Ms Lestas commented that frequently we are too late in the game in responding to EU Directives. The ideas that are coming together such as the forum, sharing information and perhaps using a web-based portal are useful. It would be interesting to know what is happening currently. Does Northern Ireland business have any input into potential new Directives coming from Europe?

958

In my capacity as a councillor, I came across an issue concerning refrigerators. I expect that businesses are also coming across such things. We are being told that refrigerators must be stacked in yards and that they can no longer be disposed of. Some small businesses are involved in recycling them and sending them out to the Third World. They too are having difficulties. Is that typical of how EU Directives are dropped on people? If so, it is not a sensible way of governing. I would be interested in your comments on that.

959

Ms Lestas: We certainly agree with you on that issue. However late in the day the policies come to the political table, they are coming to the business table even later. It is ad hoc. Our members have the impression that Directives are imposed, and that there is no consultation and very little examination of the other impact on businesses - I am talking about businesses that predominately employ fewer than 20 people - with limited budgets. The business sector feels that it must deal with a lot of new legislation and policy that is ad hoc and imposed, and that it is too late.

960

Mr Roberts: The Assembly and, in some sense, Westminster do not have much say over EU Directives. The implementation of EU decisions is in some ways a devolved matter, and members of the Committee for the Environment and the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development could testify to that. Better structures must be put in place to scrutinise that process better. We are keen that information on Directives should be transparent and more accountable and that there should be channels that can deal with problems such as fridges in Carrickfergus or wherever.

961

Mr Beggs: I am on a Northern Ireland Assembly Statutory Committee that deals with European Directives. The Committee is presented with a Directive, and unless it adopts it Northern Ireland will be in breach of European legislation and could potentially be fined. That is how Committees generally handle European Directives. I am becoming increasingly worried about how they are gathered and finalised.

962

Mr Smyth: With regard to refrigerators, there is an issue about interpretation. The Directives go through a process. The CBI has a staff of about eight in Brussels, and we put a lot of resources into employment and environmental issues. Early drafts of Directives come out on, for example, employment, and through the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE) - which is the umbrella body for employers - we get together with the trade unions to see if we can come to a voluntary agreement. In some cases we will agree to negotiate, and in others the draft becomes a Directive. Draft Directives must go through the processes laid down by the European Parliament. The CBI is quite engaged at that broad level - it does not pick up regional or sectoral issues. We e-mail a monthly bulletin to our members to tell them what is coming up. We try to encourage them to highlight the practical issues around those Directives, but some are very difficult, particularly for the smaller firms.

963

Dr Birnie: Both presentations were interesting and helpful. You stressed prioritisation, and you referred to enlargement. You mentioned a number of key issues. Which ones do you suggest whoever is charged with looking after European affairs in the Assembly should concentrate on?

964

Mr Smyth: We highlighted a number of areas in our paper. We did not want to be prescriptive, and we did not do enough assessment to do that. However, we are all aware that agriculture, fisheries and food are key areas. That is largely tied in with common agricultural policy (CAP) reform. That would have to be one of the highest priority areas.

965

We have already touched on the environment, and waste management is a big challenge for Northern Ireland. Economies of scale will form part of the solution, which will have a cross-border dimension. Existing Directives in that area may not be in Northern Ireland's favour, so that is another issue.

966

We are at the periphery of Europe on transport, so anything connected with that, such as pressures to reduce drivers' hours and so forth, would have a big impact on Northern Ireland.

967

We have also highlighted the harmonisation of taxes. CBI Northern Ireland supports competition in taxes. We know from our land boundary that, compared to the rest of the UK, anything to do with that might help Northern Ireland because of our problems on the back of that. That is just a feeling, and we were conscious when we highlighted some issues that those must be teased out in some interdepartmental committee.

968

Mr Shannon: I apologise for not being here for your presentation. I want like to ask about fisheries. Many people reliant on or interested in the fisheries sector, including myself in my elected role, feel that they are not considered in decisions on quota regulations. How could that be improved? From your statement, which refers to small businesses, I assume you want an open, transparent and accountable European Union that is in favour of business and enterprise. That is one example of where I feel it has failed.

969

Mr Smyth: We are all very disappointed. A great deal of enthusiasm emerged from the Lisbon summit two years ago, where the Council of Ministers agreed that Europe must become more competitive and enterprising. We have failed significantly since then and so look forward to the Barcelona summit.

970

I am not an expert on fisheries, but the best approach is one of early warning and intelligence through networking to ascertain what is likely to emerge. That reflects comments that we are perhaps somewhat late in certain areas, but we have a very good intelligence network. We must work with other areas with an interest in fisheries, though we shall not always share the same concerns. However, as soon as we get advance warning of what decision-makers are considering, we must exert influence through formal or informal networks. We must ask them if they realise the potential impact.

971

Mr Shannon: In the example I have taken the problem has been that quota regulations have been suggested in November and ratified in December. A one-month or five-week period is not long enough to respond to decisions. Scientists will have been working for 12 or 24 months on new quota recommendations. Fishing organisations - perhaps even MEPs - will not have had time. There is not enough time for accountability.

972

Mr Smyth: I cannot answer that, but I appreciate that we shall not win every battle.

973

Mr Shannon: Perhaps we might win just one for the fishermen.

974

Mr Maskey: I apologise for missing the start of your presentation. If you have dealt with either of my questions, I shall pass on to the next questioner and get the answers from the Committee Clerk. I appreciate that this may be difficult, but I should like your views on the single currency and additionality. For many of us, what we get from Europe has been a regular concern over the years.

975

The Chairperson: We have only today rather than all week.

976

Mr Smyth: I shall outline the CBI position, and my colleagues will represent the view of the Federation of Small Businesses. The CBI members were consulted back in 1999. Its position is that the UK should proceed with European monetary union provided that existing EU members achieve sound budget positions and greater labour-market flexibility, that the exchange rate on entry is competitive and that our economies converge enough. That is a key issue.

977

In 1999 about 52% of our members supported entering the euro. Thirty-one per cent preferred to wait and see, and about 15% believed that we should not enter in the foreseeable future. We had conducted a joint survey with the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry two years before, and it is fair to say that a slightly higher percentage of Northern Ireland companies have always been pro-euro. That reflects the fact that we are dealing with a land boundary and the attendant uncertainties.

978

We recently consulted our members, and it is absolutely clear that people need more information. This year the CBI will produce a series of information briefs on the issues.

979

Mr Johnston: I currently chair the euro preparations forum. The first survey we conducted a few months ago indicated a great lack of preparedness for the euro in Northern Ireland. We are conducting a second survey, the results of which have not yet been published, but the indications are that around 70% of businesses are not prepared, while up to 30% are prepared. They all say that they have been adequately informed. They currently see no need to prepare for it. We recently contacted people in Dublin, their information being that the transfer to the euro went smoothly - it just happened.

980

The speed at which the legacy currency disappeared was the only thing that surprised them. We hope to have meetings with representatives of the chambers of commerce in Newry, Enniskillen, Derry and other areas close to the border. We may also have meetings with some representatives across the border to ascertain what the initial impact has been, as we do not have any information on that.

981

Ms Lestas: From the FSB's perspective, certainly at national level, there is not necessarily agreement on the single currency. However, it is being reviewed on an ongoing basis, and there are a number of discussions about it. With regard to the issue of the land border with the South, it is fair to say that we will be actively working towards ongoing reviews of the situation. We are currently drafting a Northern Ireland manifesto, and we hope that this will be finalised over the next four to six weeks. Some of the other issues that we have discussed will also be addressed in the manifesto.

982

Mrs E Bell: In both presentations, you mentioned the need for cohesion and communication and you presented the idea of forward planning, which is essential. You have given us an idea of what you have done and what you are in the middle of doing. However, how do you see the role of the Assembly and the Office of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels linking with yours? When we were in Brussels we visited Scotland Europa. That organisation worked with people like you. Would you see that sort of relationship developing between you and us?

983

Ms Lestas: Like Mr Smyth, I am not an expert on fisheries, but it is an example of where legislation and policy appears to the small businesses to be imposed, rather than to be a consultative process. Currently that is the basis of it. There is the opportunity for the political sector and the business sector to work together through the Brussels office. If the role of the office were to be expanded to have more of an Assembly stance and include some of the social partners, then we would have a direct link into what is happening and how it is happening. Timing is of the essence in the consultation process, so a streamlined approach through this Committee and through some form of European committee would enable us to have some points of contact, and currently that does not happen.

984

Ms Lewsley: With regard to EU Directives and the impact that they have, particularly in small businesses, one of the areas that I have dealt with is paternity leave. While there are small businesses that would like to grant it, they cannot because the positions are skilled ones, and it is not possible to bring in a replacement for four to six weeks. Therefore there is a case for asking for that to be impact-assessed, particularly with regard to small businesses. There is also an issue on the financial side in the sense that it could make or break the company. That is something we need to look at and to be more proactive about.

985

Ms Lestas, you talked about pilot initiatives that were needed. Can you expand on that, and explain what kind of initiatives you think we need?

986

Ms Lestas: I was making the point that the Assembly has an opportunity to support and work with as many as three Government Departments to pilot initiatives for small business. It would allow small businesses to learn more from other European countries. Where we could also support their developments, it would be a two-way process. There are currently some European initiatives, but they are very ad hoc, and the approach is unco-ordinated. Perhaps it needs a co-ordinated assessment of what we might examine, what we might usefully bring here from the Continent and vice versa. Afterwards we might examine piloting some initiatives which could be mainstreamed.

987

Dr McDonnell: I should like to return to the question of how we might bring about consultation and networking, which you both touched on. I believe Ms Lestas said a European forum was needed. We all agree in principle, but how do the practicalities pan out? From where does it operate? Whom do you include? Who provides funding?

988

Mr Roberts: It is an issue for both the CBI and ourselves. The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister is examining a similar approach. We all agree in principle, and it is merely a matter of detail. There is currently no formal relationship or communication between members of the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions, MEPs, the Northern Ireland Assembly and also with ourselves, the social partners including businesses, trade unions, and so on. While we did not wish an elaborate arrangement akin to the Civic Forum, an ad hoc forum could meet from time to time to discuss issues of obvious mutual concern arising from the European Union.

989

We attempted to map up a possible structure. The Civic Forum already has representatives from major sectors such as business, trade unions and agriculture. Perhaps they might be drawn in rather than there being an elaborate selection or consultation process. We feel that such communication is absolutely essential and that there should also be a European affairs committee. I know there was a proposal for a European affairs committee before the decision was taken to merge everything into the present Committee of the Centre. Since the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, from whom you have already taken evidence, have European Affairs Committees, a new committee or subcommittee would give us a useful conduit to build relationships. I believe the other social partners would agree.

990

Ms Lestas: We should be quite happy to work with you in planning it, examining an action plan for the next few years detailing how that might be developed.

991

Mr Smyth: We do not see it as some great institution but as something fairly informal that would meet regularly. There may be a core membership, but you could involve people with special interests in such issues as enlargement or the environment, perhaps bringing in local authorities. In some cases companies might be able to participate and target resources on areas of interest. I see something fluid, and that is where you link it in with the Internet, for if you can provide information, everybody can access it. However, to debate matters and prioritise issues, you need a small core forum with opportunities to communicate more broadly using e-commerce.

992

Mr Johnston: The overall theme here is that the lack of understanding surprises us. Yet where there is a process, we can have that knowledge and understanding. The various parts of the community are not well enough appraised of the process and its ramifications. The euro is arriving, yet 70% of businesses are not prepared.

993

Mr Beggs and Mr Shannon and other members of the Committee raised various issues. We should not be surprised. There is a process in place. You as public representatives and we as representatives of business organisations, as well as the businesses that we are involved in, should take active steps to ascertain what is going on. Perhaps then, having taken stock, we should try to set up the necessary frameworks, procedures and structures that will enable us to tackle the problems that can come from Europe.

994

The Chairperson: How closely does the CBI work with MEPs?

995

Mr Smyth: We provide briefings on key issues. Most of our interface with MEPs happens at a national level. We might be working in several areas - for example, unemployment and the environment - and we send out briefings on a fairly general level. If we deal with any particular issues, we send a briefing ourselves.

996

The Chairperson: Have you had reasonable success in having legislation modified through the MEPs?

997

Mr Smyth: I am not in a position to measure that success, although it is important that they are aware of our issues. Of course, with regard to their influence on broad issues, there is the European Parliament and many other people to influence as well. There is sympathy on the Northern Ireland issues that we represent, and the MEPs welcome the briefings they receive from us.

998

The Chairperson: How serious is the Northern Ireland business community about Europe? Scotland Europa was set up 10 years ago to represent the business community, universities, and so on in Scotland. To date, there is no equivalent in Northern Ireland. Are you actively considering that now that the Executive has an office in Brussels? European issues impinge more and more on our daily lives. Is the business community taking the matter seriously enough?

999

Mr Smyth: Northern Ireland is dominated by small or medium-sized companies, which are not resourced to be able to do that. They find it difficult to understand most of the language and the issues. There is so much - I get copies of all sorts of things. We need a sieving mechanism.

1000

In the early 1990s the business community and others got together to help support and set up the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe. There was a recognition of its importance, and several larger companies contributed to that. However, Northern Ireland is dominated by small and medium-sized companies, and we must find another mechanism. Certainly, companies, through our members, use our office in Brussels to access information. We welcome the fact that there is now a regional office, because that way there will be more opportunities for us.

1001

The Chairperson: That is a fair comment, given the nature of banking in Scotland in particular, which has substantial resources.

1002

Mr Gibson: There is a big difference in emphasis. The CBI has always been very proactive and worked through the UK national Government. It set up a lobbying system, which is ongoing and active, and the intelligence system is there.

1003

Your report pointed out the weaknesses and prioritised them. What do you consider the three most important points the Committee should find ways to achieve an immediate solution to?

1004

Ms Lestas: It is fair to say that in many ways this is the start of the process. To come back to the previous point, which is linked to this, it is also fair to say that the small business sector in Northern Ireland is not particularly co-ordinated when it comes to the European dimension. I would go as far as to say that perhaps there is a total lack of understanding of the impact that Europe has on developments in Northern Ireland's business sector. That message has yet to get across.

1005

Like our colleagues in Wales and Scotland, where there are also devolved Governments, we in the Federation of Small Businesses welcome the opportunity to work with you. Bearing in mind that we are very close to what goes on, we could probably add much to prioritising the important issues and the needs of the business sector. It is also important to link those issues to the forward scheduling from England so that our priorities work alongside that.

1006

Mr Gibson: You do not disagree that the two elements in paragraph 29 of your submission are still your main priorities? Perhaps you would also prioritise the other six?

1007

Mr Smyth: I am reluctant to prioritise because that was not the subject of our consultation. We have had a reasonable stab at what the priorities should be, but it is up to the Executive. While views may differ, we do not see the area of SMEs and smaller firms as a priority because that is at UK level and there is no regional dimension. Where is Northern Ireland different? It has a land boundary, and there is environment, transport, and so on, and we focused on those. At UK level we are very concerned at the legislation and bureaucracy emerging from Brussels, but at national level that has been handled as well as possible. Let us therefore focus on what can make a difference from a Northern Ireland perspective.

1008

Mr Roberts: Following on from what was said earlier, we would like to see a European Parliament office in Belfast. From your inquiry you will know that there is currently one in Scotland. There is also one in London, and I understand that there are plans to establish an office in Wales. A small office to dispense information on the workings of the Parliament would be a very useful development in Northern Ireland - certainly in Belfast - and a useful interface. I have spoken to MEPs at other forum, and Jim Nicholson indicated his support for such a development.

1009

The Chairperson: How useful has the European Economic and Social Committee been to the business community?

1010

Mr Smyth: That is difficult to assess. I have a great deal of sympathy for those who are on that committee. Bill Tosh has sent copies of briefing papers and asked for comments. It is one of a range of institutions, and I am unwilling to judge its effectiveness only from our perspective.

1011

The Chairperson: You referred to available funding and to an organisation in the Republic of Ireland which was dedicated to tapping into that. What realistic opportunities are there for Northern Ireland to tap into that funding? Can you give us some examples of where it could be applied?

1012

Mr Smyth: I am not aware of all the opportunities, but there are such initiatives as the Eastern European programmes and overseas development programmes, and so on where we should perhaps do more. Someone has to sieve that information, because individual companies will not be linked, aware or able to do that. There should be mechanisms, perhaps through Invest Northern Ireland, to draw that back and match it up. Leaf Technologies won a very significant award before Christmas 2001 for their work with the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) through a European programme.

1013

Our feedback is that Northern Ireland has had a limited success, whether due to lack of awareness or interest - perhaps a bit of both. There are opportunities, and someone should get out there and take hold of them.

1014

Returning to an earlier question, it may be possible to second people from some of our larger companies to go to Brussels for six months. That would be a very good development opportunity. The people in Brussels must be very closely aware of the needs of business and its changing environment and must feed that into the system, whether to individuals, Invest Northern Ireland or to the Industrial Research and Technology Unit. On the research and development side there is a great deal of opportunity, and these companies must be much more proactive. I am inundated with information that is not sufficiently sieved, and many opportunities are lost.

1015

Ms Lestas: The FSB agrees with that. There are so many programmes, and part of the issue is to get a handle on exactly which ones are relevant. Another issue is that the European divisions of most Government departments are so concentrated on administering the current round of European programmes that there is limited vision beyond 2006. We all know that that will have a crucial impact on development in Northern Ireland. Even at this stage we need to develop a co-ordinated approach and to look at additional programmes, outside those that are relevant for an Objective 1 region.

1016

The Chairperson: We are aware of the Treasury mentality, which is fed through the Department of Finance and Personnel, that if something is too hard to administer, it does not want it, even if it is beneficial.

1017

Mr Johnston: If opportunities are lost, it is because of a lack of knowledge. Over the years, Mr Smyth and I have noticed that there is a lack of knowledge and awareness. We must develop a co-ordinated approach to ensure that everyone is properly informed about what is available and what can be done.

1018

We should not forget some of the practical implications of what is likely to happen, following the arrival of the single currency. I am aware of a company that previously tendered in sterling in the Republic. Sterling will no longer be accepted - companies must tender in euros. A supplier to that company could not submit a tender in euros and has lost business as a result. Such issues may start to loom larger. Therefore this is a matter not only of knowing about the legislation, but also of analysing the implications of what is happening, regardless of whether the UK joins the single currency. The single currency is in place and is likely to have a serious impact on businesses.

1019

Ms Lestas: Whenever Europe is mentioned, the small business sector thinks of bureaucracy and red tape. It would be very useful if we were given support to sieve out that bureaucracy and red tape to make European programmes more user-friendly.

1020

The Chairperson: I thank you all for coming. The presentations and your answers were very useful. I wish you well in your businesses. This augurs well for everyone's prosperity.

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

Wednesday 13 February 2002

Members present:
Mr Poots(Chairperson)
Mr Gibson (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Beggs
Mrs E Bell
Dr Birnie
Mr Maskey
Mr K Robinson
Mr Shannon

Witness:
Mr John Kennedy, Northern Ireland Centre in Europe

1021

The Chairperson: I welcome Mr John Kennedy from the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe (NICE). Mr Kennedy will make a 10-minute presentation, which will leave up to 45 minutes for questions.

1022

Our specialist adviser Ms Whitten is working on an independent basis, assisted by Prof Mitchell, from the University of Strathclyde. However, Ms Whitten is also an employee of NICE. To avoid a conflict of interests, the briefing paper on NICE has been prepared by the Committee Clerk, and Ms Whitten will sit in the public gallery during the session. It was almost the case that Mr Kennedy could not attend the Committee because of Ms Whitten. However, I insisted that NICE should be here, despite the fact that she had worked for it in the past. I would like to hear Ms Whitten's views, given that she was closely involved in European affairs and had an office based in Brussels for several years when Northern Ireland was under direct rule.

1023

Mr Kennedy will now give his presentation, and then Members may ask questions.

1024

Mr Kennedy: I thank the Committee for the opportunity to make an oral submission. We have already made a written submission, but I hope that this evidence will be of value to the inquiry.

1025

The Northern Ireland Centre in Europe was founded in 1992 as a cross-party initiative to address issues arising from membership of the European Union. Since then it has provided support on a cross-party basis and across the various sectors. The organisation has exhibited its strengths and the development of considerable knowledge and experience of working in the European Union environment. It has built considerable networks through the European institutions and through various levels and types of expertise in other regions of the EU. It provides independent analysis and support. Those three strengths are clearly borne out by the evidence from inquiries into the work of the organisation.

1026

The most important aspect of the organisation is that its three key strengths enable it to use and apply the knowledge and experience, or the independent analysis, and to make its networks available to the sectors in Northern Ireland. Those sectors include politicians who represent the electorate, district councils, private-sector organisations, agriculture and rural partnerships, et cetera.

1027

The centre has carried out a wide range of work, including the provision of support for Northern Ireland organisations on many visits to the European institutions. It also includes a large workload of meetings, papers and research projects in Northern Ireland to help to build the capacity of organisations to address issues that arise from membership of the EU. As the Committee will know, a large body of information on European issues is available. The main value of the centre's work is to take that information, pare it down and put it in context, so that it can be used by organisations that seek to match their strategies with the opportunities or threats that exist in the context of the European Union.

1028

I do not claim that NICE has not made mistakes. Any organisation that has worked in such an area for ten years will have done. However, it has tried to learn from those mistakes. It is important to acknowledge that and to put the lessons learnt before the Committee.

1029

The first point drawn from NICE's experience is that, in its early days, the organisation tried to cover the entire spectrum. It is important to identify clearly what a region can achieve, and to ensure that resources are concentrated on what can be achieved. Secondly, to go to the European institutions, or to be in Brussels, is often seen as an end in itself. Rather, it is a means to an end, and a means to bring our strategies to a successful conclusion. The central lesson is to ensure that the region uses all the routes that are available it. European Directives and legislation provide for several formal steps, but many opportunities for a region occur through informal links, the work of representatives to the European bodies and through direct access to the EU Commission and European Parliament officials.

1030

The key issue that has emerged as a result of the organisation's experience and extensive research is the need to analyse the available information and to put it in context to equip decision-makers. That can work only within the context of a clear overall strategy. In that respect, the centre has made an important contribution to Northern Ireland over the 10-year period. In order to use that successfully a region must avail of every opportunity that emerges. Members of the European Parliament play an important role in scrutinising the European institutions. Northern Ireland has three able MEPs, who have ensured that that has been the case.

1031

There is a role to be played, particularly in the present period of devolved government, whereby the Programme for Government and the priorities that the Executive set are matched to the opportunities and the threats that result from membership of the European Union. The Northern Ireland Centre in Europe adds a further dimension through the networks that it has put in place, its knowledge, experience and independent analysis. NICE welcomes the Assembly and its Committees, which bring an additional dimension that was lost during direct rule. Northern Ireland suffered from that.

1032

District councils can be used to disperse information and to gather knowledge based on direct experience. The private sector can also play a part. A key lesson for NICE is that if it succeeds in tapping in and co-ordinating work, it can operate effectively. I want to give two examples. It should be noted that Objective 1 status for Northern Ireland was secured as a result of work that was carried out outside the formal frameworks by the three Northern Ireland MEPs to build up a case and a level of understanding. A similar approach secured the first and second Peace programmes.

1033

References have been made to the complexity of European Union issues. Practical examples of potential complexity from within Northern Ireland are: the current round of the structural funds programmes, the Building Sustainable Prosperity programme, the presence of an Assembly and elected Members, and the creation of an opportunity to make a direct input. The establishment of monitoring committees that take account of the voice of elected Members and other interested parties has put in place a more local and transparent programme. The outcome is to ensure that the return on the investments of European funds from that programme should be better employed on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland. An important necessity is to ensure that the European strategy is a means of dealing with the priorities that are set by the local Administration. That is one of the key issues. We must use the opportunities and defend against the threats to Northern Ireland.

1034

NICE has a strong track record. There is a great deal of evidence to support that. For example, the organisation identified several wide-ranging issues at an early stage. Those include the opportunities that are available with European support to strengthen local economic development work through councils. NICE also identified at an early stage the opportunities of local partnerships to support development initiatives.

1035

By examining forthcoming issues to provide an early warning, two key issues will be identified. First, the need to examine the governance of the region and the governance of its European dimension - the need to manage constructively the relationship between different sectors to ensure that they work together, rather than isolating different elements and creating further bureaucracy. Extensive research shows that the successful regions are those that bring together the sectors that seek to benefit from their membership of the European Union.

1036

Secondly, the need for sustainability of learning is key. It is vital as we proceed to the next stage of membership of the European Union that we learn from our experience of the last period. It is particularly important for NICE that its learning be built upon. NICE believes that good knowledge and skills have been put in place and that valuable networks of expertise and networks into the European institutions have been created. It is important that those are used to identify real opportunities. NICE has not received a single phone call or any other form of communication from the Executive office in Brussels. That is a mistake for Northern Ireland that we should rectify.

1037

The next key issue in building for the future is the use of informal channels, which should continue. The presence of the Executive office is an important step for Northern Ireland, which is to be welcomed. However, there are other opportunities that should be continued. In the last few weeks, a senior European Commission official approached NICE to discuss how Northern Ireland would handle the period after 2006. By definition, that work cannot be done on an official basis only, because the European Commission cannot enter into official dialogue with Northern Ireland without entering into it with the United Kingdom Government on a formal basis.

1038

There is a great desire to support Northern Ireland, but we will lose opportunities to progress if we do not continue to develop those networks. I regret that those networks are not being developed to serve the interests of Northern Ireland.

1039

Time, money and effort must be invested where the best return is available. I discussed earlier the necessity to co-ordinate the message, but there are many issues in respect of which the return results from the work that is done in Northern Ireland. I will give a specific example. NICE recently had a meeting on the agriculture and rural sector with Commissioner Fischler. That one-hour meeting came after over a year's work between the agricultural and rural sectors. The fisheries sector, which often finds itself isolated in those cases, was also involved. From that, a work programme is being prepared and the Commissioner's officials have been in contact with us on a couple of occasions to check the development of that work. Such opportunities should continue to be built on.

1040

Contacts with the institutions in the European Union or in Brussels are simply one part of an overall process. There are many examples of work that has been done over the years that should be built upon. I gave a sectoral example. Several Committee members who have sat on district councils will have seen the benefits of that work. Meetings are the tip of the iceberg and a long process leads into and from those issues, from which Northern Ireland has availed a great deal.

1041

Northern Ireland must send out a clearer message. The business community spoke earlier about its desire for a greater level of co-ordination. That desire is shared among all sectors. The core issues must be clarified. A filter must be used to identify what is, and is not, important. There is a real opportunity for Northern Ireland to progress in the next period if we begin to set the strategy now.

1042

If we start now to prepare for the period after 2006 and to put in place a collective approach to deal not only with the end of the structural funds programme but with the changes in the European Union that that will bring about, the future could be bright. However, it will only be so if we realise now that there are over 200 regions in the European Union, which do not care whether or not we work together in Northern Ireland. We should care about that and ensure that all sectors are involved. We must not isolate ourselves in a bureaucratic approach, or one that allows only one part of the spectrum to be addressed. Too much progress has been made; it should not be thrown away.

1043

Mrs E Bell: I sympathise with NICE on its lack of contact with the Executive office in Brussels. I want to put that lack of contact in context so that I will not think any the worse of the office. Are you saying that, during the preparations for the opening of the office, there was no contact or meetings because of the experience that NICE had built up? People know that NICE was there for Northern Ireland, not just for Northern Ireland in a UK context. Rather, you were there for Northern Ireland businesses, education and other such sectors. You built up much contact.

1044

Mr Kennedy: We had to fulfil a role that involved some ambiguity pre-devolution. During the talks in late 1997 we took an initiative because of our close contact right across the political spectrum. I went on behalf of NICE and the board to talk to the advisers of the direct rule Ministers, and to point out that in a devolved situation, Northern Ireland would require a formal presence in Brussels.

1045

However, as we said at the time, that on its own is not enough. The work to build a collective approach should continue. There has been a great deal of evidence from other regions that a formal approach on its own is not the most successful method. Not only are we not opposed to the Office of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels, we believe that it is vital. The response of the adviser to the Secretary of State was that although such a step had not been considered, it would need to be explored.

1046

NICE was involved in discussions on the Executive office in Brussels. We found the premises for the office, because we were told that the two organisations would be based at a shared location. However, it was later made clear to NICE that there would not be a joint office. All sectors should have access to the resource - that needs to be clarified. However, the issue is much wider than that. It would be very sad if Northern Ireland were to turn that into a divisive argument. We need to progress constructively.

1047

To respond directly to your question, there has been no conversation, consultation or exchange of information between the Executive office in Brussels and NICE.

1048

Mrs E Bell: When members of the Committee of the Centre visited Brussels, they saw the advantages of having a varied network of contacts with other regions. We were told that many meetings had been organised for the office. You said, Mr Kennedy, that that office should not be for the sole use of the Executive. I agree. However, what recommendations or advice would you give the Committee so that it can highlight that the Executive office cannot be a stand-alone operation?

1049

Mr Kennedy: The office itself is not the sole issue. It is important that no one should get involved in the potential for divisiveness that has emerged. Our organisation regrets how it was handled. However, we need to get a clear message, through the European networks, that it is a Northern Ireland office for every sector in Northern Ireland. That message can be expressed by allowing all sectors to play their part. Let us make sure that businesses, councils, and other sectors get an opportunity to do that.

1050

However, on a wider level, we need to draw on the lessons and networks that were put in place by NICE. I do not suggest that NICE feels miffed about the existence of an Executive office. The key point is that we all need to pause to ensure that we build on the progress made to date.

1051

Mr Maskey: The launch of the Executive office, which I watched on television, was lamentable. The office seemed to be in an empty building on an empty street, and few people appeared to be at the event, except a couple of local journalists. I am surprised that there has been no contact from the office. Northern Ireland now has a different dispensation and a regional Government. On a European scale, the North is a fairly small place, and I accept the need to build on NICE's work. Local councils have funded some of that work, so public money is involved. How do you deal with the new dispensation? There is a Government here, and I agree that it is appropriate that there should be a formal regional presence in Brussels.

1052

How do you square that guiding principle with the ability to marry the important work that NICE has done over the years with the work of the Executive office? There would have to be a difference, notwithstanding the negative situation that has arisen. If all things were equal, and if proper discussions had taken place, how would you advance the argument that your work can be incorporated?

1053

Mr Kennedy: I identified three specific actions of our organisation over the years. As you say, NICE has worked closely with councils. However, it has never interfered with any council's policies. It has provided information knowledge and analysis because that is its expertise. Nearly 20 years ago, for my sins, I wrote the first postgraduate thesis on Northern Ireland in the European Union. I have been stuck in that area ever since.

1054

NICE tends to be the focal point for people who see value in our approach. Similarly, it has networks within the European institutions and networks of expertise. Over the ten years of NICE's existence it has developed a large network of experts from throughout the European Union. It provides an independent analysis. We have been through most of the corridors of Europe and most of the issues. There is not then, necessarily, a contradiction - we have never sought to cross the line by taking on a formal role. The Ministers decide the actions of the Northern Ireland Executive. The Northern Ireland Assembly is the forum for political debate and analysis. NICE seeks to make a resource available to the Northern Ireland Administration and to the sectors in Northern Ireland, including the councils, the private sector and the agricultural and rural sector. It has had a strong track record. We can work together effectively.

1055

NICE has had a co-operative relationship with the Department of Finance and Personnel, and has worked closely with senior officials in the Department on the issue of structural funds. I have learned a good deal from those officials, despite being familiar with the issues for a long time, and they have done so too.

1056

I am not here to report to the Committee in anger. I am here to report to the Committee in sadness, because a mistake has been made. There is a real opportunity for Northern Ireland to build and to make things work together. The three Northern Ireland MEPs have done a first-class job. However, it is not unusual for NICE to get signals from the MEPs that a particular issue is coming up, and that we must make sure that messages get through, or that delegations go across, or that those issues should be raised or focused upon when senior officials or commissioners come here. By definition, that cannot be done through a bureaucratic approach alone.

1057

It is important that this opportunity be taken for the benefit of everyone. In time, staff at the Executive Office in Brussels and the relevant staff in the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will find that co-operation is beneficial. It took a while for us all to learn to work together with the officials in the Department of Finance and Personnel. It was not easy at the start, but there is a real opportunity to make this work constructively.

1058

Mr K Robinson: I am afraid that I am in limbo on account of my incomplete knowledge of the situation. Did NICE get a red card, or did it lift the ball and go off in a huff? What is the state of the game at the moment? Does NICE still exist? If so, where is it located and what is it currently engaged in? If we can get over the current hiatus, how do you envisage the necessary work being progressed so that we can all play the game together? I am sorry to be so blunt, but I need to get back so that I know where I am going from.

1059

As a councillor, I have experience of NICE's work. I am aware of the help that was given and the unofficial contacts that were used to allow the council to do something unique in local government. I would hate to think that a regional assembly such as this could not excel and go beyond that point. I am concerned that we might be going backwards.

1060

Mr Kennedy: NICE still exists. To paraphrase Mark Twain, any reports of our demise are greatly exaggerated. We moved to new office premises in Belfast. Many members are familiar with our premises in Belfast and Brussels. When it became clear that NICE would not have access to the office in Brussels, it re-located to Regus, an international organisation that allows us to rent accommodation in one location and use its offices elsewhere. NICE moved to the Regus office in Belfast, so it has access to the Regus offices in the Schumann area of Brussels beside the roundabout at the site of the old Commission building. The Scottish Executive office also has its office in that building.

1061

Did NICE get a red card? We did not go off in a huff.

1062

Mr K Robinson: NICE may not have gone off in a huff, but where is the ball? Did you take it with you or is it still in the field?

1063

Mr Kennedy: I do not know enough about football to respond to that question. Perhaps I can answer you directly. The value of NICE has been in its work with organisations such as the agriculture and rural sector and the business sector. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) acknowledges that it is now better equipped to do its business. The same applies to the fisheries organisations, with which NICE had to get directly involved when it had initial difficulties in Brussels. We introduced them to the Commission, and helped them to find their way round it. I would no longer presume to tell the Northern Ireland fisheries organisations about any of those matters now. Therefore, NICE has moved on and is now seeking to integrate those organisations more closely with the other sectors to assist further development.

1064

NICE is still involved in many issues in that respect. It has worked closely with local government and several partnership-based initiatives. It is still used by the European Commission as an informal sounding board. Over the past couple of years it has been involved in activities that are now being used by the Commission in other areas as examples of good practice. NICE continues to make a positive and significant contribution.

1065

Since devolution, some of NICE's work has developed constructively, for example, its activity with the monitoring committees and, in addition, there has been more broad-scale work in relation to the structural funds. There has been a problem over the role of the officials of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister through the Office of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels. It would be better to characterise those problems that did arise as resulting from a clumsier handling of certain issues than was expected. I like to think that that is what has happened; otherwise negative conclusions must be drawn. The First Minister, the Deputy First Minister, the two junior Ministers and senior party representatives have always told NICE that its work is valuable.

1066

Many European issues exist therefore a clear message must be transmitted to everyone. That is in the interests of improving the perception of Northern Ireland abroad and working together. There is substantial evidence that the way to succeed as a region of the European Union is to work collectively. That does not mean that NICE is the sole organisation to which that applies, but such co-operation is necessary.

1067

Mr K Robinson: You have not answered the second part of my question. If the Committee can get to grips with the current hiatus, how do you envisage the progression of the necessary work that Northern Ireland has to do?

1068

Mr Kennedy: Two key issues need to be addressed collectively. First, we need to unite to support a vision of Northern Ireland's place as a region of the European Union - how we address the many issues and prioritise the key issues that will create a return for Northern Ireland.

1069

Secondly, we need to plan and manage the transition to the end of the structural funds period, which is not just a funding period, but the time when several accession states will join. Much will change, not just the funding that Northern Ireland will receive. It is not beyond our competence in Northern Ireland to find a way to build on the three key benefits of the NICE - its knowledge and experience of key officials and regions, its analysis, and its networks of experts and practitioners who can help and advise. Many Committee members have had direct experience of that. The third benefit is the provision of independent analysis. There must be an organisation that can stand back from the official Government policy and make suggestions, highlight implications or any items that should be added to the agenda. In addition to my research on European issues, I taught public policy, and none of the activity that I mentioned offends the rights of an Executive or Cabinet, an Assembly or Committee. This is the most sensible way for Northern Ireland to develop, given the way in which the European Union has worked. I hope that we can progress in that way.

1070

Mr K Robinson: That was a helpful answer.

1071

Mr Shannon: You mentioned that it was a good idea to target specific European issues in order to work more effectively. How can the many areas for which we have a remit be covered at the same time and effectively? That is a simplistic question. However, we are aware of the diverse subjects to be covered.

1072

Mr Kennedy: You cannot cover all of them and be effective. A key learning point is that it will be necessary to identify core issues and prioritise. However, in prioritising policy areas, the starting point should not be to consider the European element, rather to examine the priorities in Northern Ireland as part of our overall strategy and the Programme for Government. That will readily suggest the EU issues to focus on. In NICE's experience, you do need to prioritise how to go about dealing with issues. There are lessons for Northern Ireland and capacity needs to be built. We must take care in how we communicate.

1073

There should be co-ordination and support. In the NICE, we work closely with the three MEPs, or through their advisors, to ensure that they are informed of issues that might arise, and equally they check with us. Similarly, we need to match the work of the Economic and Social Committee members and the Committee of the Regions with the priorities that are being set for Northern Ireland. Those priorities should be set in general terms, and the mechanisms are readily identifiable. The presence of a local Executive, which sets priorities in the Programme for Government, provides a clear and ready element of that. On a European analysis, my concern is that the process of carrying out the integration of the work must be managed also.

1074

Mr Beggs: I am sorry to hear of your experiences, but we will try to improve Northern Ireland's representation in Europe and the level of partnership among the sectors. I noted from the report that Scotland Europa has operated effectively in partnership with Government and non-Government organisations. There is an increased role for improving relationships between our MEPs, NICE and the Executive. Is there space in the facility for NICE to link up the formal structures of Government to some of the informal structures?

1075

Secondly, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) stated the benefits of having a forum in Northern Ireland to facilitate the sectors that have an interest in Europe. Would NICE be willing to act as a focal point for co-ordinating that? How is NICE funded at present, and how much money would be needed to carry out that work?

1076

Mr Kennedy: There are three parts to your question, but if I miss anything please tell me.

1077

It is important to learn from other regions and other parts of the European Union. The different financial structure in Scotland was mentioned during the last presentation. A different base exists there. Although there are important lessons to be learnt, we cannot simply apply them directly in Northern Ireland. NICE was involved in discussions with Scotland and Wales before devolution. It informed, and was part of, the development of the ideas that were used there. It is disappointing that Northern Ireland did not choose the collective way forward. That can be addressed.

1078

I have been never been in the offices in Brussels so I do not know the answer to that question.

1079

The Chairperson: The answer is yes.

1080

Mr Kennedy: At the time when NICE thought that it would be involved in the Executive Office in Brussels, it was involved with the private sector in Northern Ireland. The CBI stated that also. NICE discussed with several Northern Ireland companies the possibility of their kitting out and supporting the office. We also talked to several local artists, craftsmen, designers, et cetera, all of whom were interested in supporting the office. From what I hear, that opportunity was missed. That is a pity. There are synergies and energies that could be used in that regard.

1081

During NICE's existence, it has found it difficult to raise money from its private sector base, given the structures. At its height, we raised almost £100,000 a year from the private sector to support Northern Ireland's collective interest. At present, NICE raises no money for that sector, because there is not a collective approach. We must be aware that there are several dimensions. I was the representative who went around the boardrooms and made many of the presentations on the subject, therefore I know that we cannot return to such levels in one simple step; it will take time - my predecessor as chief executive of the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe would say the same. That is indicative of how we need to examine the situation in Northern Ireland. We must share the opportunities, resources, burdens, and so on.

1082

Our core base has always been through finance provided by local government because, pre-devolution, that is where the political parties were able to influence it. The idea to establish NICE came from Northern Ireland's political parties. Local government shouldered what was arguably an unfair burden. They carried a heavy load for a long time. At its height, when NICE was involved in Brussels, the largest amount of funding that it ever received from the Northern Ireland Departments was £172,000 a year. Out of that, it had to handle not just staff costs, but overheads, et cetera.

1083

More recently, NICE has worked on a contract base. It has developed a cost-effective way of working in that it has a small number of core staff, and it engages people on contracts. We try to identify people with the highest level of expertise. NICE's projects are financed at present through financial support from councils, and we undertake projects. The major element of project work during the last two years has been NICE's work on the structural funds, through the Department of Finance and Personnel. That project base is a good model, and it could be used effectively in other ways. Having stood in front of 26 district councils annually for many years, I know that NICE must run a tight ship, and it must be accountable. However, it has proven to be a cost-effective model.

1084

Mr Beggs: I have a question on developing a forum to deal with European issues to network effectively and to discuss areas of concerns on which we need to lobby collectively. Do you have regular contact with all the MEPs and representatives on the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee?

1085

Mr Kennedy: We have ongoing, but irregular, contact. We have positive working relationships with the three MEPs. A member and an alternate on the Committee of the Regions have been changed more recently so we have not had a direct relationship in that way, although we do have through the district councils that they both serve on.

1086

However, we have detailed and ongoing working relationships with the members of the Economic and Social Committee, the previous members of the Committee of the Regions and those who have retained their posts. The new Ulster Unionist appointee is Dermot Nesbitt, who used to come to our board meetings and other events when Sir Reg Empey was unavailable and was therefore our main contact.

1087

Contact has been ongoing and enduring, but it tends to be influenced by policy issues. NICE does not have regular monthly meetings with those representatives; we meet when the need arises. One MEP says that that is how all Members of the European Parliament prefer to do business, rather than be swamped with paperwork.

1088

A forum is important to co-ordinate and share information, but we must be certain of its purpose. It would be all too easy for a group of people to come together without making progress on issues. However, if the forum were well considered, it could make a serious and significant contribution. In the early stages, it could be used to share information and, most importantly, to promote understanding of the actions. NICE finds that it is when people do not understand the actions that tension arises.

1089

In NICE's analysis, Northern Ireland cannot access much more European funding than current levels. According to comparative studies of access to funding, Northern Ireland has done well on a per capita basis, but we must examine how Northern Ireland can change the nature of its relationship with Europe and engage in a way that results in greater productivity. A forum would be useful to raise people's understanding of such initiatives.

1090

Mr Gibson: Thank you for your presentation and your contribution to local councils, including Omagh District Council. While you were in Brussels, you will have noticed the CBI's competence. They were working through the national Government and had no reason to get involved at this level. In the middle of their contribution they indicated our great lack of knowledge of Europe.

1091

Your speciality is the provision of information. To use David Trimble's expression at the opening of the office that this was for all of Northern Ireland, "All in, none out". A research and analysis unit, for example, was mentioned. Is it reasonable to expect that we could have a research unit that would operate on behalf of Northern Ireland to distil information on the 1,200 funding organisations, which are spread throughout Europe in an almost equal number of offices? How could that information be pulled together, so that we can make Northern Ireland aware of Europe? What kind of recommendation should we make?

1092

Mr Kennedy: You may respond with exasperation, particularly after the Committee's long involvement in the inquiry on this subject. There are many ways in which information can be filtered to a region, but there is much less to the European dimension than meets the eye. It may not seem so, but when information is filtered from a regional perspective -

1093

Mr Gibson: I would hate to feel small. We do not have much information about Europe.

1094

Mr Kennedy: As I said in my written submission, I was taught one thing at a very early stage. After I graduated, I went to a university at which my professor was a leading expert on Europe. He did much of the work that supported the development of the European Parliament. The first thing that he said to me was that I should always beware of those who try to make European issues sound complex. He said that if people used jargon, they did not know what they were talking about. Complexity is often used as a way to cover up many issues. As Mark Twain wrote, "I wanted to write you a short letter, but I didn't have time". From a regional perspective, there is a relatively limited EU agenda. People often confuse the matter and think that we must go to Brussels to get the required expertise. A region's success is based on what happened here, within the region. The expertise that is required is in this room. The expertise that has been missing in Northern Ireland - and I say this genuinely - is the expertise that can be brought together by elected representatives who hear from constituents daily. That is the missing piece of the jigsaw in Northern Ireland, and that is the part of the relationship that we need to form.

1095

One of the famous texts on European dimensions says that a region has two choices - it can be either a taker or a shaper. We all want Northern Ireland to be a shaper, rather than simply a taker. That is possible if we can put that part of the jigsaw in place. We must shape our understanding and our message. In other words, we must take the muddle of information that we receive and shape it into manageable amounts. We must also work on our strategy, whether that be at council level, Assembly level, business level, or whatever. If we shape our message in that way, Northern Ireland can continue to prosper for a long time.

1096

We have done well, and Europe has been a friend of Northern Ireland. I am not arguing in favour of or against European integration, but we have had a very sympathetic hearing. Northern Ireland can continue to be heard sympathetically, despite the challenges that we will face, if we shape our message in that way. We must address the part of the spectrum that involves bringing understanding of what we hear and we must shape the message that we bring back to Northern Ireland. There is overwhelming evidence that in this the role of elected representatives is key. That is why it is sad that those bumps in the road appeared exactly at the time of devolution. We should be able to move forward with a much greater level of confidence in these times.

1097

To move forward we do not need to get stuck on issues such as the size or number of offices. To be frank, we could do our jobs if we had access to a phone, a desk and, occasionally, a meeting room. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and others could operate in the same way. What matters is the message that is sent out to people. Different elements in Northern Ireland must be seen to be working together. We benefit enormously from the joint work of our three MEPs, and all credit is due to them for that. That is the kind of message that we must send out to get the necessary work done.

1098

Mr Gibson: Just yesterday, a written answer was given to a question about the review of local administration, from ministerial desks downwards. Should one of the outcomes of the review be that councils are required to have an awareness of the EU or a facility that accommodates EU concerns? In other words, in order to ensure that such awareness reaches all the way to the first tier of representation, should criteria be set that require Government bodies to have an EU unit or a certain level of awareness of EU matters?

1099

Mr Kennedy: Councils have played a positive role and often an unsung one. I am concerned that when the words "European Union" are placed in front of certain issues, people tend to blank them out and assume that they are complicated. In Northern Ireland, we must realise that, as indicated, 60%, 80%, maybe 90% or more of issues handled by Government bodies have an EU dimension. We must take down those false walls and realise that we are in a situation where what matters is the way in which we go about the business. Local councils have played a vital role not only in this area, in several other areas. That is the field that I know best. My seven years' experience of working directly on that matter, and several years of university research, have shown that local councils are the first point of contact for citizens, right across the spectrum. That should be acknowledged tangibly, because it is a cost-effective way of handling these matters. However, we must ensure that it integrates with the work at regional government and Executive level. That integration and co-ordination will make the difference, in practical ways, between success and failure.

1100

The Chairperson: What is the nature of the discussions that NICE has had with the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister?

1101

Mr Kennedy: As I said, NICE has been working in a constructive way with the Department of Finance and Personnel on its new responsibilities for European structural funds. Before Christmas, that work was widened when the Department of Finance and Personnel officials involved in the discussions officials from the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in those discussions. Good progress has been made to identify ways in which constructive work can be developed.

1102

Events in the last few years might have left me cynical, but it might not be coincidence that such progress took place just after the Committee began to investigate how issues were being handled. It is for the Committee to form its own opinion on that. There have been discussions on the way in which NICE can build on the knowledge gained, particularly by using the models of approach that the Department of Finance and Personnel used. Neither conclusions nor final outcomes have resulted from those discussions. My understanding, from the discussions in which NICE has been involved, is that Ministers desire a positive outcome. However, it will take more time, presumably a short time, before that is concluded.

1103

The Chairperson: Does NICE still have a role?

1104

Mr Kennedy: That is for others to decide. There is only value in NICE having a role, if people see a need for it.

1105

The Chairperson: Others would have to decide whether NICE has a role because they fund it, but, as a spokesperson for the organisation, would you be prepared to request funding from others to retain its role because you see value in it?

1106

Mr Kennedy: There are clear issues that still need to be addressed in Northern Ireland through an approach that involves personnel other than those in the Executive and the civil servants who work in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. NICE's role has always been to develop issues dynamically. Therefore, there is a role for an organisation to continue that work.

1107

NICE has been examining its structure and the way in which it works. The board has made it clear that it is keen to make the appropriate changes. What was appropriate, pre-devolution, is not appropriate after devolution. However, to co-ordinate work, you need somebody with whom to co-ordinate in a structured way. That is how your second question interfaces with your first question, and what those discussions have been about.

1108

The Chairperson: Does NICE still have a role in Brussels?

1109

Mr Kennedy: It has an ongoing role. Despite the difficulties, the requests for information, and its role as a point of contact for officials from the Commission, have not diminished. That role has continued, and I have been surprised by the degree to which it has continued.

1110

As I said earlier, Brussels is a means to an end. Therefore, there is no need for the NICE to have a large presence in Brussels. However, its contacts and networks have been in place up to, and including, the last few days. It is an important crossroads in an important network.

1111

The Chairperson: NICE works with established contacts. Over the years, is there a danger that some established contacts would be lost as new people become involved?

1112

Mr Kennedy: Yes, there is a danger, and that is an important point. If Northern Ireland's case has been damaged, it is due to the confused message that has been sent out. That damage must be undone. Northern Ireland must send out a clear message. The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister went some way towards doing that when the Northern Ireland Executive Office was opened, but there is still work to be done.

1113

We must get a clear message out in Northern Ireland and ensure that people understand the different roles that are being proposed and, most importantly, understand that those roles are complementary. It is, perhaps, the lack of understanding of the complementary nature of those roles that has been the problem.

1114

The Chairperson: Thank you for your presentation.

top

APPENDIX 2

PROCEEDINGS OF THE COMMITTEE

COMMITTEE OF THE CENTRE
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
Wednesday 20 JUNE 2001
ROOM 144, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

Present: Mr Edwin Poots MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Oliver Gibson MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs Jnr MLA
Mrs Eileen Bell MLA
Dr Esmond Birnie MLA
Mrs Annie Courtney MLA
Ms Patricia Lewsley MLA
Dr Alasdair McDonnell MLA
Mr Eugene McMenamin MLA
Mr Conor Murphy MLA
Mr Ken Robinson MLA
Mr Jim Shannon MLA

In Attendance: Mr Hugh Farren (Committee Clerk)
Ms Stella McArdle (Committee Clerk)
Mr John Conlan
Mrs Gillian Lewis
Ms Laurie Roberts

Apologies: Mr David Ervine MLA
Mr James Leslie MLA

The meeting opened at 2.00pm in public session.

Mr McMenamin joined the meeting at 2.01pm.

Dr Birnie joined the meeting at 2.03pm.

Mr Murphy joined the meeting at 2.04pm.

Mrs Bell joined the meeting at 2.07pm.

Ms Lewsley joined the meeting at 2.15pm.

Mr Shannon joined the meeting at 2.19pm.

Mrs Bell left the meeting at 2.40pm.

Mr Murphy left the meeting at 2.44pm.

Dr McDonnell joined the meeting at 2.48pm.

7. Paper on the Scrutiny of European Union Matters

Members considered a paper on work areas relating to European Union matters which the Committee could undertake for scrutiny as part of its European Union remit.

Agreed: OFMDFM's strategy for formulating, co-ordinating and implementing policy priorities for promoting the Administration's interests within the European Union should be an issue for scrutiny.

Agreed: The Brussels office and the future role of the Northern Ireland Centre for Europe should be an issue for scrutiny and could be included in OFMDFM's strategy.

Agreed: An audit of European Union contacts should be instigated.

Agreed: A Committee visit to Brussels would be beneficial; it should involve a structured schedule of events including the Euro; and members should be adequately briefed before the visit.

Action: Clerk

Dr Birnie left the meeting at 3.00pm.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 3.05pm.

[Extract]

COMMITTEE OF THE CENTRE
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
WEDNESDAY 5 SEPTEMBER 2001
ROOM 144, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

Present: Mr Edwin Poots MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Oliver Gibson MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs Jnr MLA
Dr Esmond Birnie MLA
Ms Patricia Lewsley MLA
Mr Alex Maskey MLA
Dr Alasdair McDonnell MLA
Mr Eugene McMenamin MLA
Mr Ken Robinson MLA

In Attendance: Mrs Debbie Pritchard (Principal Committee Clerk)
Mr Hugh Farren (Committee Clerk)
Ms Stella McArdle (Committee Clerk)
Mr John Conlan
Mrs Gillian Lewis
Ms Laurie Roberts

Apologies: Mrs Eileen Bell MLA
Mr Fred Cobain MLA
Mrs Annie Courtney MLA
Mr David Ervine MLA
Ms Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA
Mr James Leslie MLA
Mr Jim Shannon MLA

The meeting opened at 2.07pm in public session.

Dr McDonnell joined the meeting at 2.08pm.

Mr Robinson joined the meeting at 2.09pm.

Mr Maskey joined the meeting at 2.35pm.

7. European Affairs - Inquiry - Terms of Reference

Members considered and debated the Clerk's paper on a European Affairs Inquiry. The Committee agreed the following Terms of Reference:

"An evaluation of the effectiveness of the current approach of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Devolved Government in the engagement of Northern Ireland with the institutions of the European Union."

The Committee also agreed that the methodology for the Inquiry should include a 'European Familiarisation Seminar', widespread consultation and gathering of evidence, analysis of other regions, benchmarking and best practice, a visit to the Northern Ireland Executive Office in Brussels and production of a report. Appointment of a Specialist Adviser and a timetable commencing in October 2001 with a completion date of February 2002 were also agreed.

Action: Clerk

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 2.50pm.

[Extract]

COMMITTEE OF THE CENTRE
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
WEDNESDAY 12 SEPTEMBER 2001
ROOM 144, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

Present: Mr Oliver Gibson MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs Jnr MLA
Mrs Eileen Bell MLA
Ms Patricia Lewsley MLA
Mr Conor Murphy MLA
Mr Eugene McMenamin MLA

In Attendance: Mrs Debbie Pritchard (Principal Committee Clerk)
Mr Hugh Farren (Committee Clerk)
Ms Stella McArdle (Committee Clerk)
Mr John Conlan
Mrs Gillian Lewis
Ms Laurie Roberts

Apologies: Mr Edwin Poots MLA (Chairperson)
Dr Esmond Birnie MLA
Mrs Annie Courtney MLA
Mr David Ervine MLA
Mr James Leslie MLA
Mr Alex Maskey MLA
Dr Alasdair McDonnell MLA
Mr Ken Robinson MLA
Mr Jim Shannon MLA

The meeting opened at 2.11pm in public session.

4. Matters arising

Mrs Bell joined the meeting at 2.18pm.

European Affairs Inquiry - Specialist Adviser: The Committee considered and discussed a paper clarifying the method, indicative costs and likely timescale for appointment of a Specialist Adviser to assist with the European Affairs Inquiry. Members agreed to proceed with the appointment along the lines detailed in the paper.

Action: Clerk

Mr Murphy left the meeting at 2.55pm.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 3.25pm.

[Extract]

COMMITTEE OF THE CENTRE
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
WEDNESDAY 3 OCTOBER 2001
ROOM 144, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

Present: Mr Edwin Poots MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs Jnr MLA
Mrs Eileen Bell MLA
Dr Esmond Birnie MLA
Mr Fred Cobain MLA
Mrs Annie Courtney MLA
Ms Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA
Ms Patricia Lewsley MLA
Dr Alasdair McDonnell MLA
Mr Conor Murphy MLA
Mr Jim Shannon MLA

In Attendance: Mrs Debbie Pritchard (Principal Committee Clerk)
Mr Hugh Farren (Committee Clerk)
Ms Stella McArdle (Committee Clerk)
Mr John Conlan
Mrs Gillian Lewis
Mr Chris Brown

Apologies: Mr Oliver Gibson MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Maskey MLA
Mr Eugene McMenamin MLA
Mr Ken Robinson MLA

The meeting opened at 2.09pm in public session.

Ms Gildernew joined the meeting at 2.10pm.

Mr Beggs joined the meeting at 2.10pm.

Dr McDonnell joined the meeting at 2.12pm.

Mrs Courtney joined the meeting at 2.16pm.

Mr Shannon joined the meeting at 2.21pm.

Ms Gildernew left the meeting at 2.29pm.

Mr Murphy joined the meeting at 2.35pm.

Dr McDonnell left the meeting at 2.48pm.

Mr Murphy left the meeting at 3.25pm.

CLOSED SESSION

7. European Affairs Inquiry - Selection Process for Specialist Adviser

The members considered and debated the selection process for a Specialist Adviser to assist the Committee with its European Affairs Inquiry.

One application was rejected on the basis of cost and value for money. (The Assembly Legal Adviser later confirmed this was in order.)

Members debated whether to consider the selection of a Specialist Adviser during the current meeting or refer the applications to a cross-party group for interview at a later stage. Four members voted for the selection of a Specialist Adviser during the current meeting, three members voted to refer the applications to a cross-party group for interview at a later stage and one member did not vote.

Agreed: The Specialist Adviser would be selected during the meeting.

Ms Lewsley left the meeting at 3.47pm.

Mrs Bell left the meeting at 3.47pm.

Mrs Courtney declared a potential conflict of interest.

Mrs Courtney left the meeting at 3.53pm.

Members discussed the applications and then, using an assessment matrix, identified the candidate they considered most appropriate.

Action: Clerk

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 4.13pm.

[Extract]

Committee of the Centre
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
WEDNESDAY 17 OCTOBER 2001
ROOM 144, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

Present: Mr Edwin Poots MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Oliver Gibson MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs Jnr MLA
Mrs Eileen Bell MLA
Ms Patricia Lewsley MLA
Mr Alex Maskey MLA
Dr Alasdair McDonnell MLA
Mr Eugene McMenamin MLA
Mr Ken Robinson MLA
Mr Jim Shannon MLA

In Attendance: Mrs Debbie Pritchard (Principal Committee Clerk)
Mr Hugh Farren (Committee Clerk)
Ms Stella McArdle (Committee Clerk)
Mr John Conlan
Mrs Gillian Lewis
Ms Laurie Roberts
Mr Chris Brown

Apologies: Dr Esmond Birnie MLA
Mrs Annie Courtney MLA
Mr David Ervine MLA
Ms Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA
Mr James Leslie MLA

The meeting opened at 2.05pm in public session.

Mrs Bell joined the meeting at 2.07pm.

Mr Robinson joined the meeting at 2.10pm.

Mr Maskey joined the meeting at 2.25pm.

Mr Shannon joined the meeting at 2.31pm.

Dr McDonnell joined the meeting at 2.56pm.

Mr McMenamin left the meeting at 3.06pm.

Mrs Bell left the meeting at 3.22pm.

The Chairperson left the meeting at 3.22pm - Mr Gibson, Deputy Chairperson, in the Chair.

8. European Union Inquiry - Commencement of Inquiry

Members noted that the Chairperson and some Committee staff had held an initial meeting with the Specialist Adviser for the European Union Inquiry.

Agreed: The commencement of the European Union Inquiry should be officially announced by Public Notice.

The Public Notice should be placed in the Belfast Telegraph, Newsletter, and Irish News.

The closing date for responses should be 21 January 2002.

The Committee re-considered the European Union Inquiry Terms of Reference and agreed the following:

"An evaluation of the effectiveness of the current approach of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive in their engagement with institutions of the European Union"

The Deputy Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 3.40pm.

[Extract]

COMMITTEE OF THE CENTRE
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
WEDNESDAY 24 OCTOBER 2001
ROOM 144, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

Present: Mr Roy Beggs Jnr MLA
Mrs Eileen Bell MLA
Dr Esmond Birnie MLA
Ms Patricia Lewsley MLA
Mr Alex Maskey MLA
Mr Eugene McMenamin MLA
Mr Ken Robinson MLA

In Attendance: Mr Hugh Farren (Committee Clerk)
Mr John Conlan
Ms Laurie Roberts
Mr Chris Brown
Mr Hugh Widdis (Researcher)

Apologies: Mrs Annie Courtney MLA
Ms Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA
Mr James Leslie MLA
Mr Conor Murphy MLA

The meeting opened at 2.07pm in public session.

The Clerk informed members that the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson would not be present at the meeting, thus it was necessary to elect a Chairperson. The Clerk took the Chair. Mr McMenamin proposed that Ms Lewsley take the Chair; Mrs Bell seconded this. The question was put, that Ms Lewsley do take the Chair. This was carried unanimously.

Ms Lewsley in the Chair.

4. (c) Terms of Reference for the European Union Inquiry: The Committee noted that the Assembly Legal Services had advised that the revised Terms of Reference for the European Union Inquiry would be outside the remit of the Committee because of its focus on the Northern Ireland Executive. It was agreed to revert to the original Terms of Reference drawn up at the meeting of 5 September 2001. These are as follows:

"An evaluation of the effectiveness of the current approach of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Devolved Government in the engagement of Northern Ireland with the institutions of the European Union."

Action: Clerk

Mr Robinson joined the meeting at 2.25pm.

Mrs Bell left the meeting at 2.58pm.

Mr Maskey joined the meeting at 3.17pm.

Mr McMenamin left the meeting at 3.45pm.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 4.01pm.

[Extract]

COMMITTEE OF THE CENTRE
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
WEDNESDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2001
ROOM 144, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

Present: Mr Edwin Poots MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Oliver Gibson MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs Jnr MLA
Ms Patricia Lewsley MLA
Mr Conor Murphy MLA
Mr Ken Robinson MLA
Mr Jim Shannon MLA

In Attendance: Mrs Debbie Pritchard (Principal Clerk)
Ms Stella McArdle (Committee Clerk)
Mr John Conlan
Mrs Gillian Lewis
Ms Laurie Roberts
Mr Chris Brown

Apologies: Mrs Eileen Bell MLA
Dr Esmond Birnie MLA
Mrs Annie Courtney MLA
Mr David Ervine MLA
Ms Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA
Mr James Leslie MLA
Mr Alex Maskey MLA
Mr Eugene McMenamin MLA

The meeting opened at 2.11pm in public session.

Mr Robinson joined the meeting at 2.12pm.

Mr Murphy left the meeting at 2.53pm.

Mr Beggs joined the meeting at 2.55pm.

8. European Union Inquiry

The Specialist Adviser joined the meeting at 3.54pm.

Members considered papers from the Clerk and the Specialist Adviser outlining progress and the proposed way forward. It was noted that a Public Notice about the Inquiry was placed in the regional newspapers on Tuesday, 30 October 2001. It was also noted that the Specialist Adviser is acting independently and this allows the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe to be invited to give a written submission.

The Specialist Adviser answered members' questions about her paper.

Ms Lewsley left the meeting at 4.08pm.

Agreed: Timetable outlining target dates for initial findings of the Inquiry, and evidence sessions from First Minister and Deputy First Minister and key witnesses.

Written submissions should be sought from a number of bodies/organisations.

The Committee will visit Brussels week commencing 21 January 2002. The Committee will also visit the Scottish Parliament European Committee and Westminster European Committees.

The Specialist Adviser left the meeting at 4.14pm.

Action: Clerk

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 4.16pm.

[Extract]

COMMITTEE OF THE CENTRE
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
WEDNESDAY 21 NOVEMBER 2001
ROOM 144, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

Present: Mr Edwin Poots MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs Jnr MLA
Mrs Annie Courtney MLA
Ms Patricia Lewsley MLA
Mr Alex Maskey MLA
Mr Conor Murphy MLA
Dr Alasdair McDonnell MLA
Mr Eugene McMenamin MLA
Mr Ken Robinson MLA
Mr Jim Shannon MLA

In Attendance: Mrs Debbie Pritchard (Principal Clerk)
Ms Stella McArdle (Committee Clerk)
Mr John Conlan
Mrs Gillian Lewis
Mr Chris Brown
Ms Eileen Regan, Assembly Researcher

Apologies: Mr Oliver Gibson MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mrs Eileen Bell MLA
Dr Esmond Birnie MLA
Mr David Ervine MLA
Ms Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA
Mr James Leslie MLA

The meeting opened at 1.42pm in public session.

2. Chairperson's business

(a) Invitation for the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to appear before the Committee: The Chairperson explained that the OFMDFM Economic Policy Unit's EU framework document would not be available until January 2002. That being the case, members agreed to invite OFMDFM officials to brief the Committee about current developments on EU matters on 5 December 2001 and the First Minister and Deputy First Minister will be invited to brief the Committee on the EU framework document on 6 February 2002.

Action: Clerk

4. Matters arising

(a) EU Inquiry - Visits to London, Edinburgh and Brussels: Members considered and agreed the Committee visits and meetings with the two Westminster European Committees in London, the Scottish MEPs in Edinburgh and the Northern Ireland MEPs and others in Brussels.

Action: Clerk

Mr Shannon joined the meeting at 1.49pm.

Mr Murphy joined the meeting at 2.03pm.

Mrs Courtney left the meeting at 2.09pm.

Dr McDonnell joined the meeting at 2.15pm.

Mr Robinson joined the meeting at 2.18pm.

Mr Maskey joined the meeting at 2.20pm.

6. European Union Inquiry

The Specialist Adviser, assisted by Professor James Mitchell, joined the meeting at 3.14pm. Members considered a paper from the Specialist Adviser setting out main issues such as:

  • UK - EU Policy;
  • the impact of the EU on regions; and
  • relationships.

The Specialist Adviser and Professor Mitchell developed these issues and answered members' questions.

Dr McDonnell left the meeting at 3.35pm.

Mr McMenamin left the meeting at 3.42pm.

The Specialist Adviser and Professor Mitchell left the meeting at 3.47pm.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 3.56pm.

[Extract]

COMMITTEE OF THE CENTRE
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
WEDNESDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2001
ROOM 144, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

Present: Mr Edwin Poots MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Oliver Gibson MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs Jnr MLA
Mrs Eileen Bell MLA
Dr Esmond Birnie MLA
Ms Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA
Dr Alasdair McDonnell MLA
Mr Eugene McMenamin MLA
Mr Ken Robinson MLA
Mr Jim Shannon MLA

In Attendance: Mrs Debbie Pritchard (Principal Clerk)
Ms Stella McArdle (Committee Clerk)
Mr Hugh Farren (Committee Clerk)
Mr John Conlan
Mrs Gillian Lewis
Mr Chris Brown

Apologies: Mr Fred Cobain MLA
Mrs Annie Courtney MLA
Mr David Ervine MLA
Mr James Leslie MLA
Ms Patricia Lewsley MLA
Mr Alex Maskey MLA
Mr Conor Murphy MLA

The meeting opened at 2.06pm in public session.

Ms Gildernew joined the meeting at 2.07pm.

Mr Beggs joined the meeting at 2.08pm.

4. Matters arising

European Union Inquiry - Travel Arrangements: Members agreed to complete and return the pro-forma about the forthcoming visits to London, Edinburgh and Brussels as soon as possible. The members also agreed to liaise with Committee office staff about detailed travel arrangements.

Action: Clerk

Mr Shannon joined the meeting at 2.12pm.

The Chairperson suspended the meeting at 2.16pm.

The Chairperson reconvened the meeting at 2.17pm.

Mr Robinson joined the meeting at 2.29pm.

Dr McDonnell joined the meeting at 3.06pm.

Dr McDonnell left the meeting at 3.26pm.

Mr McMenamin left the meeting at 3.29pm.

Mrs Bell left the meeting at 3.45pm.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 4.20pm.

[Extract]

COMMITTEE OF THE CENTRE
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
WEDNESDAY 5 DECEMBER 2001
ROOM 144, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

Present: Mr Edwin Poots MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Oliver Gibson MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs Jnr MLA
Dr Esmond Birnie MLA
Mrs Annie Courtney MLA
Ms Patricia Lewsley MLA
Mr Alex Maskey MLA
Mr Eugene McMenamin MLA
Mr Ken Robinson MLA
Mr Jim Shannon MLA

In Attendance: Mrs Debbie Pritchard (Principal Clerk)
Mr Hugh Farren (Committee Clerk)
Ms Stella McArdle (Committee Clerk)
Mr John Conlan
Mrs Gillian Lewis
Ms Laurie Roberts
Mr Chris Brown
Mr Tim Moore, Researcher

Apologies: Mrs Eileen Bell MLA
Ms Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA
Mr James Leslie MLA
Mr Conor Murphy MLA

The meeting opened at 2.10pm in public session.

Mr Robinson joined the meeting at 2.15pm.

Mrs Courtney joined the meeting at 2.20pm.

Ms Lewsley joined the meeting at 2.22pm.

Mr Maskey joined the meeting at 2.28pm.

7. European Union Inquiry

The Chairperson declared membership of the Community Support Framework Monitoring Committee. The Deputy Chairperson, Mr Beggs, Mr McMenamin and Mr Robinson each declared that they were members of Partnership Boards.

i. Briefing by the Specialist Adviser

The Specialist Adviser joined the meeting at 3.32pm and gave the members a short briefing on issues they may wish to raise about the European Union Inquiry.

ii. Evidence from OFMDFM officials

The evidence session began at 3.35pm. Evidence on the European Union Inquiry was taken from Mr Will Haire, Director, Economic Policy Unit and Public Service Directorate, Mr Murray Cameron, Head of Public Service Improvement Unit and Mr Tony Canavan, Head of Office of the NI Executive in Brussels, from OFMDFM. The Minutes of Evidence will appear in the Committee's report on the Inquiry. It was agreed that the Committee would seek a written response to the issues in the Specialist Adviser paper not covered in the meeting.

Action: Clerk

Mr Shannon joined the meeting at 3.38pm.

Dr Birnie left the meeting at 3.43pm.

Ms Lewsley left the meeting at 4.03pm.

Mr Maskey left the meeting at 4.04pm.

Mr McMenamin left the meeting at 4.09pm.

Mr Shannon left the meeting at 4.10pm.

The Specialist Adviser and the officials left the meeting at 4.34pm.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 4.44pm.

[Extract]

COMMITTEE OF THE CENTRE
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
WEDNESDAY 9 JANUARY 2002
ROOM 144, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

Present: Mr Edwin Poots MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Oliver Gibson MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs Jnr MLA
Mrs Eileen Bell MLA
Dr Esmond Birnie MLA
Mr Conor Murphy MLA
Dr Alasdair McDonnell MLA
Mr Eugene McMenamin MLA
Mr Ken Robinson MLA
Mr Jim Shannon MLA

In Attendance: Mrs Debbie Pritchard (Principal Clerk)
Mr Hugh Farren (Committee Clerk)
Ms Stella McArdle (Committee Clerk)
Mr John Conlan
Mrs Gillian Lewis
Ms Laurie Roberts

Apologies: Mrs Annie Courtney MLA
Mr David Ervine MLA
Ms Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA
Mr James Leslie MLA
Ms Patricia Lewsley MLA

The meeting opened at 2.05pm in public session.

Mr McMenamin joined the meeting at 2.09pm.

Mrs Bell joined the meeting at 2.13pm.

6. European Union Inquiry

Members noted that BBC (NI) have shown an interest in the Committee's European Union Inquiry and propose shadowing the Committee and attending the evidence sessions at the Scottish Parliament. It was also noted that there may be interviews with various members.

Dr McDonnell joined the meeting at 2.21pm.

Mr Robinson joined the meeting at 2.22pm.

The Committee considered a letter from OFMDFM about the junior Ministers' attendance at the Committee meeting of 6 February 2002. Mr Nesbitt will not be attending and OFMDFM proposed that Mr Haughey will attend accompanied by officials. Following discussion on available options it was agreed that Mr Haughey together with officials should give evidence, about the OFMDFM EU Strategy paper, to the Committee on 6 February 2002.

i. Evidence from Department of Government, University of Manchester

The evidence session began at 2.24pm. Evidence on the European Union Inquiry was taken from Professor Simon Bulmer, Head of Department of Government. The Minutes of Evidence will appear in the Committee's report on the Inquiry.

Mr Beggs joined the meeting at 2.26pm.

Mr Murphy left the meeting at 2.52pm.

Dr McDonnell left the meeting at 3.12pm.

Professor Bulmer left the meeting at 3.13pm.

Mr Shannon left the meeting at 3.14pm.

ii. Briefing by Specialist Adviser

The Specialist Adviser joined the meeting at 3.14pm and gave the members a short briefing on issues they may wish to raise during the Committee visits to London and Edinburgh.

The Specialist Adviser left the meeting at 3.17pm.

Mr Shannon rejoined the meeting at 3.17pm.

Mr Robinson and Mr McMenamin left the meeting at 3.18pm.

Dr Birnie left the meeting at 3.20pm.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 3.48pm.

[Extract]

COMMITTEE OF THE CENTRE

MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
FRIDAY 11 JANUARY 2002
ROOM 1, COMMITTEE CHAMBERS BUILDING, SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT

Present: Mr Edwin Poots MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Oliver Gibson MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs Jnr MLA
Mrs Eileen Bell MLA
Dr Esmond Birnie MLA
Mr David Ervine MLA
Mr Conor Murphy MLA
Mr Ken Robinson MLA

In Attendance: Ms Stella McArdle (Committee Clerk)
Mr John Conlan
Mr Chris Brown
Mr Tim Moore (Researcher)

Apologies: Mr Fred Cobain MLA
Mrs Annie Courtney MLA
Ms Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA
Mr James Leslie MLA
Ms Patricia Lewsley MLA
Mr Alex Maskey MLA
Dr Alasdair McDonnell MLA
Mr Eugene McMenamin MLA
Mr Jim Shannon MLA

The meeting opened at 9.25am in public session.

1. Apologies

Apologies are listed above.

2. Chairperson's welcome

The Chairperson opened the meeting by welcoming everyone and thanking the Scottish Parliament's European Committee for accommodating the Committee of the Centre.

3. European Union Inquiry

i. Briefing by Specialist Adviser

The Specialist Adviser, Ms Claire Whitten, joined the meeting at 9.26am and gave the members a short briefing on issues they may wish to raise during the evidence sessions.

The Specialist Adviser concluded her briefing at 9.30am.

The Chairperson suspended the meeting at 9.30am.

The Chairperson reconvened the meeting at 9.31am.

ii. Evidence from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA)

The evidence session began at 9.32am. Evidence from a Scottish Local Authority perspective was taken from Mr Tom Sullivan, Head of European Office, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. The Minutes of Evidence will appear in the Committee's report on the Inquiry.

Mr Sullivan left the meeting at 10.27am.

iii. Evidence from Scottish MEP

The evidence session began at 10.28am. Evidence from a Scottish MEP perspective was taken from Professor Sir Neil MacCormick, MEP. The Minutes of Evidence will appear in the Committee's report on the Inquiry.

Mr Beggs joined the meeting at 11.14am.

Professor Sir Neil MacCormick left the meeting at 11.25am.

The Chairperson suspended the meeting at 11.26am.

The Chairperson reconvened the meeting at 11.35am.

iv. Evidence from The Scottish Parliament's European Committee

The evidence session began at 11.36am. Evidence from the Scottish Parliament's European Committee perspective was taken from Mrs Irene Oldfather, MSP, Convener, Mr Stephen Imrie, Clerk, and Mr David Simpson, Assistant Clerk. The Minutes of Evidence will appear in the Committee's report on the Inquiry.

The representatives left the meeting at 12.18pm.

The Chairperson suspended the meeting for lunch at 12.19pm.

The Chairperson reconvened the meeting at 2.15pm.

v. Evidence from the former Chief Executive, Scotland Europa and former Chief Economist, Royal Bank of Scotland

The evidence session began at 2.16pm. Evidence on the European Union Inquiry from a private sector perspective was taken from Mr Grant Baird, former Chief Executive, Scotland Europa and former Chief Economist, Royal Bank of Scotland. The Minutes of Evidence will appear in the Committee's report on the Inquiry.

Mr Baird left the meeting at 3.09pm.

CLOSED SESSION - 3.10pm.

vi. Discussion with Professor Mitchell and Ms Claire Whitten

Professor Mitchell and Ms Claire Whitten started the discussion at 3.11pm. There was an open discussion about the various issues raised during the evidence sessions and other matters relating to the Inquiry.

Professor Mitchell and Ms Whitten concluded the discussion at 3.52pm.

4. Any other business

None.

5. Date and time of next meeting

The next meeting of the Committee will be held on Wednesday, 16 January 2002, at 2.00pm in Room 144, Parliament Buildings.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 3.53pm.

COUNCILLOR EDWIN POOTS MLA
Chairperson, Committee of the Centre

16 January 2002

COMMITTEE OF THE CENTRE
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
WEDNESDAY 16 JANUARY 2002
ROOM 144, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

Present: Mr Edwin Poots MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Oliver Gibson MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs Jnr MLA
Mrs Eileen Bell MLA
Dr Esmond Birnie MLA
Mrs Annie Courtney MLA
Ms Patricia Lewsley MLA
Mr Conor Murphy MLA
Dr Alasdair McDonnell MLA
Mr Ken Robinson MLA
Mr Jim Shannon MLA

In Attendance: Mrs Debbie Pritchard (Principal Clerk)
Mr Hugh Farren (Committee Clerk)
Ms Stella McArdle (Committee Clerk)
Mr John Conlan
Mrs Gillian Lewis
Ms Laurie Roberts

Apologies: Mr Fred Cobain MLA
Mr David Ervine MLA
Ms Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA
Mr James Leslie MLA
Mr Alex Maskey MLA
Mr Eugene McMenamin MLA

The meeting opened at 2.01pm in public session.

2. Chairperson's business

(a) European Union Inquiry: The Chairperson informed members that there were difficulties in arranging a formal evidence session with Sir Nigel Sheinwald, UK Representative to the European Union. Members agreed that Committee office staff would endeavour to arrange an evidence session with Sir Nigel Sheinwald, by video conference, at the earliest available date.

Action: Clerk

The Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson thanked Committee office staff for their assistance in organising the recent successful visits to Westminster and the Scottish Parliament.

Dr Birnie joined the meeting at 2.06pm.

Mrs Bell joined the meeting at 2.07pm.

Mr Beggs joined the meeting at 2.10pm.

Mr Shannon joined the meeting at 2.11pm.

Dr McDonnell joined the meeting at 2.18pm.

Ms Lewsley left the meeting at 2.40pm.

Mr Shannon left the meeting at 2.45pm.

Mr Robinson left the meeting at 2.46pm.

Mr Murphy left the meeting at 2.59pm.

Dr Birnie left the meeting at 3.02pm.

8. Any other business

Westminster meetings: The members noted a summary of the meetings held at Westminster on 10 January with the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee and the House of Lords European Union Committee.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 3.04pm.

[Extract]

COMMITTEE OF THE CENTRE
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
WEDNESDAY 23 JANUARY 2002
IN THE NI EXECUTIVE OFFICE, BRUSSELS

Present: Mr Edwin Poots MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Oliver Gibson MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mrs Eileen Bell MLA
Dr Alasdair McDonnell MLA
Mr Ken Robinson MLA

In Attendance: Ms Stella McArdle (Committee Clerk)
Mrs Gillian Lewis
Mr Tim Moore (Researcher)

Apologies: Mr Roy Beggs Jnr MLA
Dr Esmond Birnie MLA
Mr Fred Cobain MLA
Mrs Annie Courtney MLA
Mr David Ervine MLA
Ms Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA
Mr James Leslie MLA
Ms Patricia Lewsley MLA
Mr Alex Maskey MLA
Mr Conor Murphy MLA
Mr Eugene McMenamin MLA
Mr Jim Shannon MLA

The meeting opened at 9.51am in public session.

1. Apologies

Apologies are listed above.

2. Chairperson's welcome

The Chairperson opened the meeting by welcoming everyone and thanking the Office of the Northern Ireland Executive, Brussels for accommodating the Committee of the Centre.

3. Chairperson's business

(a) European Union Inquiry - evidence session with Sir Nigel Sheinwald, UK Permanent Representative to the European Union: The Chairperson informed members that the earliest date for Sir Nigel Sheinwald to give evidence on the EU Inquiry by video-conferencing would be Monday, 4 February 2002 at 10.00am. Members agreed that the Committee office staff should proceed with arrangements for this evidence session.

Action: Clerk

(b) Official opening of the NI Executive Office - Brussels: The Chairperson informed members that he had received an invitation to attend the official opening of the NI Executive Office - Brussels on 30 January 2002 at 6.00pm. As the Chairperson is unable to attend he nominated the Deputy Chairperson to attend the reception hosted by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

4. European Union Inquiry

i. Briefing by Specialist Adviser

The Specialist Adviser, Ms Claire Whitten, joined the meeting at 9.54am and gave the members a short briefing on the issues they may wish to raise during the evidence sessions.

The Specialist Adviser concluded her briefing at 9.58am.

ii. Evidence from Scotland Europa

The evidence session began at 9.59am. Evidence on the European Union Inquiry from a non governmental organisation and local government sector perspective was taken from Mr Donald MacInnes, Head of Scotland Europa. The Minutes of Evidence will appear in the Committee's report on the Inquiry.

Mr MacInnes left the meeting at 10.57am.

The Chairperson suspended the meeting at 10.57am.

The Chairperson reconvened the meeting at 11.08am.

iii. Evidence from the Scottish EU Office

The evidence session began at 11.09am. Evidence from the Scottish Executive EU Office's perspective was taken from Mr George Calder, Head of the Scottish Executive EU Office. The Minutes of Evidence will appear in the Committee's report on the Inquiry.

Mr Calder left the meeting at 12.10pm.

The Chairperson suspended the meeting at 12.10pm.

The Chairperson reconvened the meeting at 3.34pm.

iv. Evidence from Mr John Simpson

The evidence session began at 3.35pm. Evidence from an economic and social Committee perspective was taken from Mr John Simpson. The Minutes of Evidence will appear in the Committee's report on the Inquiry.

Mr Simpson left the meeting at 4.31pm.

5. Any other business

None.

6. Date and time of next meeting

The next scheduled meeting of the Committee will be held on Wednesday, 30 January 2002 at 2.00pm in Room 144, Parliament Buildings.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 4.32pm.

COUNCILLOR EDWIN POOTS MLA
Chairperson, Committee of the Centre

30 January 2002

COMMITTEE OF THE CENTRE
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
WEDNESDAY 30 JANUARY 2002
ROOM 144, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

Present: Mr Edwin Poots MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs Jnr MLA
Ms Patricia Lewsley MLA
Mr Ken Robinson MLA
Dr Alasdair McDonnell MLA
Mr Jim Shannon MLA

In Attendance: Mrs Debbie Pritchard (Principal Clerk)
Mr Hugh Farren (Committee Clerk)
Mrs Roisin Donnelly
Mrs Gillian Lewis
Ms Laurie Roberts

Apologies: Mr Oliver Gibson MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mrs Eileen Bell MLA
Dr Esmond Birnie MLA
Mr Fred Cobain MLA
Mrs Annie Courtney MLA
Mr David Ervine MLA
Ms Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA
Mr James Leslie MLA
Mr Alex Maskey MLA
Mr Eugene McMenamin MLA
Mr Conor Murphy MLA

The meeting began at 2.19pm in closed session.

Dr McDonnell joined the meeting at 2.30pm.

Dr McDonnell left the meeting at 3.19pm.

PUBLIC SESSION - 3.25pm

3. Chairperson's business

(a) Junior Minister Evidence and Update: The Chairperson informed members that the Junior Minister, Denis Haughey will be giving evidence on the OFMDFM Strategy on Europe as part of the EU Inquiry on the 6 February 2002.

(b) Video Conference - Sir Nigel Sheinwald: The Chairperson reminded members that the video conference evidence session in relation to the EU Inquiry will be held on Monday 4 February 2002 at 10am in Room 135. The session will last 1 hour. The Deputy Chairperson Mr Oliver Gibson will chair this session.

Action: Clerk

7. European Union Inquiry

(a) Evidence Session

The Chairperson informed the Committee that the evidence session scheduled for this meeting had been cancelled as Rev Dr Ian Paisley had to go to London. The Chairperson advised that the session would be rescheduled for a later date.

Action: Clerk

(b) Clerk's Report

The Committee discussed the Clerk's report on the progress of the EU Inquiry and receipt of written submissions.

The Committee agreed to take additional evidence sessions from the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe and a joint session from CBI(NI) and the Federation of Small Businesses.

The Committee discussed and agreed that a launch of the report should take place on the same day as the debate and the launch should be held in the Long Gallery.

Action: Clerk

9. Any Other Business

(a) Brussels Meetings: The members noted summaries of the meetings with MEPs in Brussels on 23 January 2002, and with the Assistant to the Secretary-General of the European Commission on 24 January 2002.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 3.51pm.

[Extract]

COMMITTEE OF THE CENTRE
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
MONDAY 4 FEBRUARY 2002
ROOM 135, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

Present: Mr Edwin Poots MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Oliver Gibson MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mrs Eileen Bell MLA
Dr Esmond Birnie MLA
Ms Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA
Mr Ken Robinson MLA
Dr Alasdair McDonnell MLA

In Attendance: Mrs Debbie Pritchard (Principal Clerk)
Mr Hugh Farren (Committee Clerk)
Ms Stella McArdle (Committee Clerk)
Mr John Conlan
Ms Laurie Roberts

Apologies: Mr Roy Beggs Jnr MLA
Mr Fred Cobain MLA
Mrs Annie Courtney MLA
Mr David Ervine MLA
Mr James Leslie MLA
Ms Patricia Lewsley MLA
Mr Alex Maskey MLA
Mr Eugene McMenamin MLA
Mr Conor Murphy MLA
Mr Jim Shannon MLA

The meeting began at 10.16am in public session.

1. Apologies

Apologies are listed above.

2. European Union Inquiry

Evidence from Sir Nigel Sheinwald, KCMG: The evidence session, via video-conferencing, began at 10.18am. Evidence on the European Union Inquiry was taken from Sir Nigel Sheinwald UK Permanent Representative to the European Union. The Minutes of Evidence will appear in the Committee's report on the Inquiry.

Ms Gildernew left the meeting at 10.31am.

Mrs Bell left the meeting at 10.36am.

The evidence session ended at 10.55am.

4. Any other business

None.

5. Date and time of next meeting

The next two meetings of the Committee will be held on Wednesday 6 February 2002 in Room 144, Parliament Buildings and on Thursday 7 February in the Private Dining Room, Parliament Buildings.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 10.57am.

MR OLIVER GIBSON MLA
Deputy Chairperson, Committee of the Centre

6 February 2002

COMMITTEE OF THE CENTRE
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
WEDNESDAY 6 FEBRUARY 2002
ROOM 144, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

Present: Mr Oliver Gibson MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs Jnr MLA
Mrs Eileen Bell MLA
Dr Esmond Birnie MLA
Ms Patricia Lewsley MLA
Mr Conor Murphy MLA
Mr Ken Robinson MLA
Dr Alasdair McDonnell MLA
Mr Eugene McMenamin MLA
Mr Jim Shannon MLA

In Attendance: Mrs Debbie Pritchard (Principal Clerk)
Ms Stella McArdle (Committee Clerk)
Mr John Conlan
Mrs Roisin Donnelly
Mrs Gillian Lewis
Ms Laurie Roberts

Apologies: Mr Edwin Poots MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Fred Cobain MLA
Mrs Annie Courtney MLA
Mr David Ervine MLA
Ms Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA
Mr James Leslie MLA
Mr Alex Maskey MLA

The meeting began at 2.04pm in closed session.

Mr Beggs joined the meeting at 2.07pm.

Mr Shannon joined the meeting at 2.07pm.

Dr McDonnell joined the meeting at 2.08pm.

Mrs Bell joined the meeting at 2.08pm.

Mr Robinson joined the meeting at 2.11pm.

PUBLIC SESSION - 2.55pm

Mr Murphy left the meeting at 2.55pm.

3. European Union Inquiry

i. Evidence session from the Junior Minister and OFMDFM Officials

The Specialist Adviser joined the meeting at 2.58pm.

The evidence session began at 2.59pm. Evidence was taken from Mr Denis Haughey, Junior Minister, Mr Will Haire, Second Secretary and Mrs Julie Mapstone, Head of European Policy and Co-ordination Branch on OFMDFM's Framework for Developing Northern Ireland's Participation in the EU. The Minister highlighted key considerations and identified areas for action. The Minutes of Evidence will appear in the Committee's report on the Inquiry.

It was agreed that a meeting should be arranged between the Junior Ministers and the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson to discuss how best they can liaise on European matters in future.

Action: Clerk

Dr McDonnell left the meeting at 3.31pm.

Mr Beggs left the meeting at 3.33pm.

Mrs Bell left the meeting at 3.41pm.

Dr Birnie left the meeting at 3.43pm.

The Junior Minister and OFMDFM officials left the meeting at 3.45 pm.

ii. Draft EU Strategy

Members discussed OFMDFM's Draft EU Strategy. The Committee agreed that the papers should be forwarded to the Statutory Committees for comment.

Action: Clerk

iii. Evidence session with Rev Dr Paisley MP, MEP, MLA

The Deputy Chairperson informed Members that it was not possible to reschedule the evidence session with Dr Paisley in relation to the EU Inquiry; however a written submission from Dr Paisley would be submitted to the Committee.

iv. Discussion on written submissions from organisations/bodies

The Specialist Adviser, Ms Claire Whitten presented a summary of the written submissions to date and highlighted key issues identified by the Committees, Local Government, Non Government Bodies and Universities.

4. Chairperson's business

(c) Brussels Meetings: The Deputy Chairperson extended his appreciation to the Clerk and Committee staff for their effective organisation of the recent visits to Brussels.

The Deputy Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 4.00pm.

[Extract]

COMMITTEE OF THE CENTRE
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
WEDNESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2002
ROOM 144, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

Present: Mr Edwin Poots MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Oliver Gibson MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs Jnr MLA
Mrs Eileen Bell MLA
Dr Esmond Birnie MLA
Ms Patricia Lewsley MLA
Mr Alex Maskey MLA
Dr Alasdair McDonnell MLA
Mr Conor Murphy MLA
Mr Ken Robinson MLA
Mr Jim Shannon MLA

In Attendance: Mrs Debbie Pritchard (Principal Clerk)
Mr Hugh Farren (Committee Clerk)
Ms Stella McArdle (Committee Clerk)
Mrs Roisin Donnelly
Mrs Gillian Lewis
Ms Laurie Roberts
Mr Paul McCrossan

Apologies: Mr Fred Cobain MLA
Mrs Annie Courtney MLA
Mr David Ervine MLA
Ms Michelle Gildernew MP MLA
Mr James Leslie MLA
Mr Eugene McMenamin MLA

The meeting began at 2.02pm in public session.

Dr Birnie joined the meeting at 2.04pm.

2. Chairperson's business

(a) Additional Meetings - EU Inquiry: The Chairperson advised members that it would be necessary to review the timescale of the Committee's agreement to, and publication of, the EU Inquiry Report as some submissions were still outstanding and the Statutory Committees needed more time to consider the draft EU framework document. The Chairperson presented two options to the Committee: to either postpone the publication until after the Easter recess or arrange additional meetings of the Committee in order to meet the deadline previously agreed. The Committee agreed to extend the agreed timescale until after the Easter recess.

Action: Clerk

(b) Review of Inquiry discussion paper identifying key issues: The Committee agreed to discuss the paper relating to the EU Inquiry in closed session at the next meeting on 20 February 2002.

Mrs Bell joined the meeting at 2.08pm.

Mr Murphy joined the meeting at 2.11pm.

5. (g) Letter from the Specialist Adviser: The Committee considered the letter from the Specialist Adviser requesting additional days for work undertaken in relation to the EU Inquiry. The Committee agreed to this request.

Action: Clerk

6. European Union Inquiry

i. Evidence from the Federation of Small Businesses and Confederation of British Industry NI

The evidence session began at 2.26pm. Evidence was taken from Ms Michelle Lestas and Mr Glyn Roberts from the Federation of Small Businesses and Mr Nigel Smyth, Director, CBI(NI) and Mr Bryan Johnston, Chairman, Image Investments on behalf of CBI(NI). The representatives highlighted key considerations for the business sector in Northern Ireland in relation to the European Union. The Minutes of Evidence will appear in the Committee's report on the Inquiry.

Mr Maskey joined the meeting at 2.43pm.

Mr Murphy left the meeting at 2.45pm.

Mr Shannon joined the meeting at 2.48pm.

Mr Robinson joined the meeting at 3.08pm.

Ms Lewsley left the meeting at 3.17pm.

Dr McDonnell left the meeting at 3.22pm.

The representatives left the meeting at 3.22pm.

ii. Evidence from the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe (NICE)

The evidence session began at 3.25pm. Evidence was taken from Mr John Kennedy, Chief Executive, NICE. Mr Kennedy gave background information about the work of NICE and identified current and future priorities for NI within the context of the European Union. The Minutes of Evidence will appear in the Committee's report on the Inquiry.

Dr Birnie left the meeting at 3.42pm.

Mrs Bell left the meeting at 3.50pm.

Mr Maskey left the meeting at 3.57pm.

Mr Kennedy left the meeting at 4.20pm.

iii. Additional information relating to the EU Inquiry

(a) Written submissions from organisations/bodies

The Committee noted the written submissions relating to the EU Inquiry from the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development, the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and a letter from OFMDFM responding to issues raised by the Committee.

(b) Memorandum of Understanding and Concordat

The Committee noted receipt of the material relating to EU policy issues namely, the Memorandum of Understanding, Joint Ministerial Committee information and the Concordat on EU Policy Issues.

(c) Report of Round Table discussions in Brussels: The Committee agreed that this paper is included in the EU Inquiry Report as an annex to the minutes of this meeting.

Action: Clerk

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 4.25pm.

[Extract]

ANNEX

Round Table discussion

The following paper provides a summary of the key issues raised in the Round Table discussion. The purpose of the Round Table was to provide an opportunity for the members to discuss and debate some of the ideas developed over the course of the inquiry. A number of participants with a wide range of experience in EU issues assisted the Committee in the Round Table. These included

  • Imma Buldu, Director, Patronat Catala pro Europa
  • Donald MacInnes, Chief Executive, Scotland Europa
  • Des Clifford, Head of Brussels Office, National Assembly for Wales
  • Micheal O'Conchuir, European Alliance Group, Committee of the Regions [former head of Dublin European Office, Former head of Merseyside Regional Office]

No single model

All participants agreed that there is no one single model for a regional approach to EU issues. A region needs to look at its own needs and create its own model which responds to those needs. It is important to have flexibility to be able to respond to needs of the different sectors.

An integrated approach - built on experience

Both Scotland and Wales explained that they built on their experience pre devolution. In both cases the current approach is to work along with Scotland Europa and Wales European Centre respectively, not against them. This allowed them to build on the existing contacts and networks and use them as a platform for the region as a whole. In Catalonia they developed a public consortium to deal with EU issues as the government did not want to act alone.

The importance of the MEPs, CoR and ECOSOC members was also discussed. These were identified as important elements in a successful regional approach. The MEPs have an important role with the increased powers of the European Parliament and the CoR and ECOSOC are recognised as giving good opinions on issues.

Importance of local structures

It was suggested that success lies in building good foundations within the region. In Catalonia the model of partnership used in Brussels is replicated in the structures in the region and translated through into all sectors of society. These structures represent all the interests of society and the activities of the consortium include briefings, training, events etc for all sectors.

Local input was a major issue behind the success of the Merseyside office. Locally it was felt that all sectors should be involved. Europe needs to be credible and relevant for people on the street and this requires good communication.

Limited resources- need to prioritise

The UKRep facilities and expertise across a wide range of EU issues are important as the member's state role is central. However it was agreed that given the limited resources available to a region, making use of all networks, both formal and informal and all sectors is essential.

In order to have an influence in EU issues it is important to identify a limited number of strategic aims over a long term period. Wales have decided they could not cover the whole pitch and therefore have identified 4 important strategic aims including Structural funds; Agriculture; State aids and competition; Inter-regional links.

In Catalonia there is a budget for public activities, working for whole of Catalan society. Staff follow different dossiers and policies rather than specific customers. This allows information to be shared with all interests. The Catalan structure includes an advisory committee with parliamentary, academic, local and socio-economic interests who meet once per year to agree activities.

Strategic objectives

All agreed that the EU is not just about funding. There is a need for a region to appear a serious and credible reliable partner. This means sharing resources, making best use of information to identify strategic objectives. Specific projects can be good to position Northern Ireland and if well defined can contribute to the policy agenda of the EC. It may then be possible to identify funding sources to sustain these projects and initiatives. When positioning a region within the EU, it was suggested that softer cultural aspects can bring good benefits.

Training and support

It is important to ensure that the region has the capacity to deal with EU issues. In Wales they have set aside a budget to finance secondments to EC and UKRep for both officials and outside individuals from NGOs. The objective is to develop and make use of this expertise for the good of the region.

The Catalans have a comprehensive funding programme for training and development programmes. Scholarships also exist for Catalan students to study in European universities. Need to think about relationships in Northern Ireland and making use of expertise available to Northern Ireland.

Strategic role of Committee

The input of the European Committee in Wales is seen as essential to its EU approach which requires the widest possible support - cross party and other sectors. The Executive welcomes and benefits from the active involvement of the Committee whose central role is to create a strategic forward thinking environment.

The Committee can identify gaps in the system and establish wider priorities. Scrutiny of EU legislation forms a very small part of the work programme. They have decided to identify 5 or 6 priorities from the EC work programme and to use this to form a work programme for the Committee. The objective is to agree a single document of direct significance to Wales. The Committee also invites the ambassador for each presidency of the EU to meet the Committee and receive presentations on issues of interest e.g. euro, transport etc.

In Catalonia the European Committee is not very active and tends to deal with broad issues such as the debate on European Governance.

COMMITTEE OF THE CENTRE
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
WEDNESDAY 20 FEBRUARY 2002
ROOM 144, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

Present: Mr Edwin Poots MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Oliver Gibson MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs MLA
Mrs Eileen Bell MLA
Mr David Ervine MLA
Dr Alasdair McDonnell MLA
Mr Eugene McMenamin MLA
Mr Conor Murphy MLA
Mr Ken Robinson MLA
Mr Jim Shannon MLA

In Attendance: Mrs Debbie Pritchard (Principal Clerk)
Mr Hugh Farren (Committee Clerk)
Ms Stella McArdle (Committee Clerk)
Mr John Conlan
Mrs Roisin Donnelly
Mrs Gillian Lewis
Mr Paul McCrossan
Ms Laurie Roberts

Apologies: Dr Esmond Birnie MLA
Mr Fred Cobain MLA
Mrs Annie Courtney MLA
Ms Michelle Gildernew MP MLA
Mr James Leslie MLA
Ms Patricia Lewsley MLA
Mr Alex Maskey MLA

The meeting began at 2.05pm in public session.

Dr McDonnell joined the meeting at 2.06pm.

Mr Murphy joined the meeting at 2.08pm.

Mr Gibson left the meeting at 2.21pm.

Dr McDonnell left the meeting at 2.33pm.

Mr McMenamin left the meeting at 2.45pm.

Mr Ervine joined the meeting at 2.58pm.

Dr McDonnell re-joined the meeting at 3.04pm.

CLOSED SESSION - 3.22pm

Mr Ervine left the meeting at 3.22pm.

Dr McDonnell left the meeting at 3.24pm.

8. European Union Inquiry

The Specialist Adviser joined the meeting at 3.24pm.

Additional information relating to the EU Inquiry

(a) Discussion Paper

The Committee reviewed the key issues arising from the evidence submitted to the Inquiry and discussed options for recommendations to be included in the draft report. The review was based on a discussion paper prepared by the Clerk and the Specialist Adviser to the Inquiry.

The Committee agreed the following in relation to the emerging recommendations:

Sections 1 and 5: Required further consideration by the Committee at next week's meeting.

Section 2: Agreed to include this with amendments to parts g and i.

Section 3: Agreed to include this section.

Section 4: Agreed to include this with rewording of 4a(iv), 4b(vi), 4c(v) and additional
recommendation at 4d.

Section 6: Agreed to include this section with rewording at 6d.

Section 7: Agreed to include this section with rewording of 7a and 7d.

Mrs Bell joined the meeting at 4.03pm.

Mr Shannon left the meeting at 4.15pm.

It was agreed the Clerk would prepare a draft report for consideration at the meeting on Wednesday, 6 March 2002.

Action: Clerk

(b) Written Submissions from Organisations

The Committee noted the written submissions relating to the EU Inquiry from Sir Nigel Sheinwald KCMG, the NI Fisheries in Europe and Dr Ian R K Paisley MP MEP MLA.

(c) Timetable for EU Inquiry & Approval of Evidence

The Committee noted the revised timetable for the completion of the EU Report. The Committee discussed the list of evidence submissions to the Inquiry and agreed to exclude the following submissions from the final report:

  • NI Chamber of Commerce and Industry - nil response
  • Environment Committee - research report and appendix
  • Patronat Catala pro Europa - organisation information
  • NI Fish Producers - appendix

The Committee also agreed the inclusion of the submission by Dr Ian R K Paisley MP MEP MLA in the final report.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 4.52pm.

[Extract]

COMMITTEE OF THE CENTRE
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
WEDNESDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2002
ROOM 144, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

Present: Mr Oliver Gibson MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs MLA
Dr Esmond Birnie MLA
Ms Patricia Lewsley MLA
Dr Alasdair McDonnell MLA
Mr Barry McElduff MLA
Mr Conor Murphy MLA
Mr Jim Shannon MLA

In Attendance: Mrs Debbie Pritchard (Principal Clerk)
Mr Hugh Farren (Committee Clerk)
Ms Stella McArdle (Committee Clerk)
Mrs Roisin Donnelly
Mrs Gillian Lewis
Mr Paul McCrossan
Ms Laurie Roberts

Apologies: Mr Edwin Poots (Chairperson)
Mrs Eileen Bell MLA
Mrs Annie Courtney MLA
Mr Fred Cobain MLA
Mr David Ervine MLA
Mr Alex Maskey MLA
Mr Eugene McMenamin MLA
Mr Ken Robinson MLA

The meeting began at 2.06pm in closed session.

3. European Union Inquiry

The Specialist Adviser joined the meeting at 2.07pm.

Emerging Recommendations - remaining issues for decision

The Deputy Chair invited discussion on the options presented in the Clerk's memo. Members agreed to consult with their respective Parties before confirming the recommendations for inclusion in the Draft EU Report. The Deputy Chairperson asked members to forward their views to the Clerk before 5pm on Monday, 4 March 2002.

Mr Beggs joined the meeting at 2.11pm.

Mr Shannon joined the meeting at 2.16pm.

The Specialist Adviser left the meeting at 2.22pm.

Action: Clerk

Dr McDonnell joined the meeting at 2.36pm.

Mr Murphy left the meeting at 2.46pm.

PUBLIC SESSION - 2.46pm

Dr McDonnell left the meeting at 3.10pm.

The Deputy Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 3.44pm.

[Extract]

COMMITTEE OF THE CENTRE
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
WEDNESDAY 6 MARCH 2002
ROOM 144, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

Present: Mr Edwin Poots MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Oliver Gibson MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs MLA
Dr Esmond Birnie MLA
Ms Patricia Lewsley MLA
Mr Alex Maskey MLA
Mr Conor Murphy MLA
Dr Alasdair McDonnell MLA
Mr Eugene McMenamin MLA
Mr Ken Robinson MLA
Mr Jim Shannon MLA

In Attendance: Mr Hugh Farren (Committee Clerk)
Ms Stella McArdle (Committee Clerk)
Mr John Conlan
Mrs Roisin Donnelly
Ms Pauline Innes
Mr Paul McCrossan
Ms Laurie Roberts

Apologies: Mrs Eileen Bell MLA
Mr Fred Cobain MLA
Mrs Annie Courtney MLA
Mr David Ervine MLA
Mr BarryMcElduff MLA

The meeting began at 2.04pm in public session.

5. Correspondence

(a) Letter from OFMDFM about EU-UK Chairs' meeting: The Committee noted the letter from OFMDFM which responded to a number of questions previously raised by the members about the nomination process to the Committee of the Regions, the planned progress of consultation with the Assembly on twinning/linkages and update on the Governance White Paper and Charter of Competence.

The members agreed to include the letter as a submission to the EU Inquiry Report.

Action: Clerk

Dr McDonnell joined the meeting at 2.24pm.

Mr Robinson joined the meeting at 2.26pm.

CLOSED SESSION - 2.46pm.

7. European Union Inquiry

The Specialist Adviser joined the meeting at 2.46pm.

i. Confirmation of Emerging Recommendations

The members discussed and agreed the two remaining recommendations for inclusion in the report. The first recommendation was agreed by a majority decision and the second was agreed unanimously.

Mr Murphy left the meeting at 2.58pm.

ii. Additional Information relating to the EU Inquiry

The Committee agreed to include additional submissions to the Inquiry report about the Draft Framework document received from the Committees for Finance & Personnel, Employment & Learning, Culture, Arts & Leisure, Enterprise, Trade & Investment and also the Social Development, Education, and Environment Committees. The Committee also agreed to include a submission from the Scottish Parliament European Committee about the Committee of the Regions Representation in Scotland.

Action: Clerk

iii. Consideration of the Draft Report

The Committee considered the European Union draft report for the first time.

The overall format of the report and Contents were agreed.

It was agreed that the Committee's recommendations would be set out at the beginning of the report.

Mr Maskey joined the meeting at 3.05pm.

Section 1 was agreed.

Section 2 was agreed.

Section 3.1 paragraphs 3.1.1 - 3.1.7 were agreed.

minor amendment to paragraphs 3.1.8 & 3.1.9.

paragraphs 3.1.10 & 3.1.11 were agreed.

minor amendment to paragraphs 3.1.12 & 3.1.13.

paragraphs 3.1.14 & 3.1.15 were agreed.

Order of paragraphs 3.1.16 & 3.1.17 to be swapped and minor amendment to 3.1.7. Additional paragraph to be included elaborating on issues raised in 3.1.16 & 3.1.17.

Dr McDonnell left the meeting at 3.30pm.

Section 3.2 paragraphs 3.2.1 & 3.2.2 were agreed.

minor amendment to paragraph 3.2.3.

paragraph 3.2.4 was agreed.

minor amendment to paragraph 3.2.5.

paragraphs 3.2.6 - 3.2.9 were agreed.

The Committee agreed to defer consideration of paragraphs 3.2.10 & 3.2.11 until the next meeting.

paragraph 3.2.12 was agreed.

Mr Shannon left the meeting at 3.39pm.

paragraphs 3.2.13 - 3.2.15 were agreed with additional evidence added to enforce this paragraph.

minor amendment to paragraph 3.2.16.

Mr McMenamin left the meeting at 3.43pm.

Ms Lewsley left the meeting at 3.43pm.

paragraphs 3.2.17 - 3.2.19 were agreed.

minor amendment to paragraph 3.2.20.

paragraphs 3.2.21- 3.2.22 were agreed.

Section 3.3 paragraphs 3.3.1 - 3.3.5 were agreed.

Agreed to combine recommendations at 3.3.6 & 3.3.8.

paragraph 3.3.7 was agreed.

paragraphs 3.3.9 - 3.3.11 were agreed.

Quotes used at 3.3.12 need to be reviewed and slight rewording of the recommendation.

Paragraph 3.3.13 was agreed.

Paragraph 3.3.14 needs to be reviewed.

The meeting was suspended at 3.57pm and reconvened at 4.00pm.

Paragraphs 3.3.15 - 3.3.18 were agreed.

The recommendations at 3.3.19 and 3.3.20 need to be considered further.

Paragraphs 3.3.21 - 3.3.26 were agreed.

Minor amendment to paragraph 3.3.27.

Paragraph 3.3.28 was agreed.

Minor amendment to paragraph 3.3.29.

Paragraph 3.3.30 was agreed.

Paragraph 3.3.31 needs to be reviewed.

Minor amendment to paragraphs 3.3.35 & 3.3.36.

Paragraph 3.3.38 was agreed.

Minor amendment to paragraph 3.3.39.

Section 3.4 paragraphs 3.4.1 - 3.4.8 were agreed.

3.4.9 - 3.4.11 moved to previous section dealing with this subject and minor rewording to 3.4.10 & 3.4.11.

The Specialist Adviser left the meeting at 4.28pm.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 4.32pm.

[Extract]

COMMITTEE OF THE CENTRE
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
WEDNESDAY 20 MARCH 2002
ROOM 144, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

Present: Mr Edwin Poots MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Oliver Gibson MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs Jnr MLA
Mrs Eileen Bell MLA
Dr Esmond Birnie MLA
Mr Danny Kennedy MLA
Ms Patricia Lewsley MLA
Mr Alex Maskey MLA
Dr Alasdair McDonnell MLA
Mr Eugene McMenamin MLA
Mr Jim Shannon MLA

In Attendance: Mr Hugh Farren (Committee Clerk)
Ms Stella McArdle (Committee Clerk)
Mr John Conlan
Mrs Roisin Donnelly
Ms Pauline Innes
Mrs Gillian Lewis
Ms Laurie Roberts

Apologies: Mrs Annie Courtney MLA
Mr Duncan Shipley Dalton MLA
Mr David Ervine MLA
Mr Barry McElduff MLA
Mr Conor Murphy MLA
Mr Ken Robinson MLA

The meeting began at 2.08pm in public session.

Ms Lewsley joined the meeting at 2.13pm.

5. (c) Information from European Committees: Members noted the information from UK-European Committees and further information available from the Committee office including: the weekly agenda for the House of Lords, a list of current no named day debates and inquires, and a European Union Select Committee Progress of Scrutiny update.

Mrs Bell informed the Committee that on a recent visit to the USA, she had met the Chair of the US Committee on International Relations Sub-Committee on European Affairs who was interested in maintaining links with the Committee of the Centre in relation to European matters. Members agreed to forward a copy of the Committee's European Union Inquiry report to the Sub-Committee when published.

Action: Clerk

Mr Shannon joined the meeting at 2.16pm.

Dr McDonnell joined the meeting at 2.20pm.

Dr McDonnell left the meeting at 2.43pm.

Mr Beggs joined the meeting at 2.48pm.

Mr Mc Menamin left the meeting at 3.13pm.

Dr McDonnell rejoined the meeting at 3.20pm.

CLOSED SESSION - 3.26pm.

Ms Lewsley left the meeting at 3.26pm.

8. European Union Inquiry

The Principal Clerk and Specialist Adviser joined the meeting at 3.29pm.

Final Draft Report

The Committee discussed the memo prepared by the Principal Clerk of Standing Committees, which addressed the wording of the report's recommendation at paragraphs 70, 71 and 72, and the wording of the Motion lodged with the Business Committee.

Mr Kennedy joined the meeting at 3.32pm.

Members discussed three options for the wording of paragraphs 70, 71 and 72 presented in a paper prepared by the Clerk and agreed to replace the current recommendation with the alternative wording presented in option number three.

Mr Beggs left the meeting at 3.36pm.

Amended Motion

Members also agreed to revise the wording of the motion for the debate. The wording of the motion was amended from,

'That this Assembly notes.'

to,

'That this Assembly accepts the recommendations outlined in the report of the Committee of the Centre on their Inquiry into the "Approach of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Devolved Government on European Union Issues" and calls on the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to implement the relevant recommendations'.

The Amended motion was proposed by Mr Kennedy, seconded by Dr McDonnell and agreed by all present. The Committee agreed to forward the revised motion to the Business Committee.

Mr Gibson left the meeting at 3.46pm.

Approval of Draft Minutes

As the minutes of proceedings of this meeting were required for inclusion in the final report, the Chairperson requested that five members of the Committee meet on the 21 March 2002 at 1pm in the Committee office to approve the minutes in advance of the next Committee meeting. This was agreed.

Dr McDonnell left the meeting at 3.48pm.

Action: Clerk

Final Amendments

The Committee reviewed the final draft of the report which had been amended to take account of the discussion at the meeting on the 13 March 2002. Members reviewed the following amendments made:

Executive Summary, paragraphs 3 & 4 confirmed agreement

Section 3, paragraphs 63, 80, 81, 89, 101, 124 confirmed agreement

Section 4, paragraph 141 confirmed agreement

Order Report to be Printed

The Committee confirmed they had no further amendments and ordered the report to be printed. This was proposed by Mr Shannon and seconded by Mrs Bell.

Debate & Launch of the Report

Members also considered the Debate and Launch of the report. It was confirmed in a memo from the Clerk that three hours had been allocated to the debate which will be held on Monday, 8 April. Members agreed that the launch of the report should be held in the Long Gallery directly after the Debate at 5.15pm. A draft agenda for the launch was agreed by members.

The Principal Clerk and Specialist Adviser left the meeting at 3.54pm.

Mr Maskey joined the meeting at 3.54pm.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 3.56pm.

[Extract]

top

APPENDIX 3

LIST OF WITNESSES

Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister

Mr Will Haire, Director, Economic Policy Unit and Public Service Directorate
Mr Murray Cameron, Head of Public Service Improvement Unit
Mr Tony Canavan, Head of Office of the NI Executive in Brussels

University of Manchester, Department of Government

Professor Simon Bulmer, Head of Department of Government

Convention of Scottish Local Authorities

Mr Tom Sullivan, Head of European Office

Scottish MEP

Professor Sir Neil MacCormick, MEP

European Committee, Scottish Parliament

Mrs Irene Oldfather, MSP, Convenor
Mr Stephen Imrie, Clerk
Mr David Simpson, Assistant Clerk

The former Chief Executive, Scotland Europa and former Chief Economist, Royal Bank of Scotland

Mr Grant Baird

Scotland Europa

Mr Donald MacInness, Head of Scotland Europa

Scottish Executive EU Office

Mr George Calder, Head of the Scottish Executive EU Office

Economic and Social Committee

Mr John Simpson, Vice President (personal view)

United Kingdom Representation to the European Union

Sir Nigel Sheinwald, UK Permanent Representative to the European Union

Junior Minister, Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister

Mr Denis Haughey, Junior Minister
Mr Will Haire, Second Secretary
Mrs Julie Mapstone, Head of European Policy and Co-ordination Branch

Federation of Small Businesses

Ms Michelle Lestas
Mr Glyn Roberts

Confederation of British Industry NI

Mr Nigel Smyth, Director, Confederation of British Industry NI
Mr Bryan Johnston, Chairman, Image Investments

Northern Ireland Centre in Europe

Mr John Kennedy, Chief Executive

top

APPENDIX 4

LIST OF WRITTEN SUBMISSIONS TO THE COMMITTEE

British Council

Professor Simon Bulmer, Department of Government, University of Manchester

Confederation of British Industry Northern Ireland (CBI NI)

Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development

Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure

Committee for Education

Committee for Employment and Learning

Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment

Committee for the Environment

Committee for Finance and Personnel

Committee for Social Development

European Commission Representation in Northern Ireland

Federation of Small Businesses

Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU)

Northern Ireland Centre in Europe (NICE)

Northern Ireland Fishermen's Federation

Northern Ireland Women's European Platform (NIWEP)

Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM)

Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (Draft Framework for a Strategy)

Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (EU-UK Chairs Meeting: Extract Information)

Rev Dr Ian R K Paisley MP, MEP, MLA

Mr John Simpson, European Economic and Social Committee (personal view)

Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE)

The Queen's University of Belfast

The Scottish Parliament European Committee

UK Permanent Representation to the European Union

Ulster Farmers' Union

University of Ulster

top

APPENDIX 5

WRITTEN SUBMISSIONS TO THE COMMITTEE

WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
British Council, Belfast

These are some thoughts from those sections of the British Council in Belfast which are involved with the European Union or working on EU financed programmes.

Across the United Kingdom there is a network of European Resource Centres providing information and resources to schools and colleges about Europe. The Northern Ireland European Resource Centre network is co-ordinated within the Education & Training Group of the British Council. It was established in November 1999. Over the past year (2000-2001) it handled approximately 2,200 enquires representing 13% of the total enquiries across the UK. This demonstrates the thirst for information about Europe from teachers and students from Northern Ireland. In particular a thirst for user-friendly materials and resources specifically aimed at the school sector.

The European Resource Centre in Belfast has also observed a 30% increase in enquiries in the period January - October 2001 compared with the same period in 2000. Many of these enquirers will have received class sets of resources providing student friendly materials about Europe and its institutions. It has established links with several of the key European institutions, e.g. the European Commission and the London office of the European Parliament who both produce resources aimed at the school sector, which are disseminated throughout Northern Ireland through the European Resource Centre network free of charge.

Given the recent rejection of the Nice Treaty in the Republic of Ireland, I believe that there are lessons to be learned for the devolved government in Northern Ireland. The shock rejection result has bemused our European partners who have looked to Ireland as a European success story. As a result of the rejection the Irish government have established a National Forum on Europe. The brief of the Forum will be "to facilitate a broad discussion of issues relevant to Ireland's membership of an enlarging Union, and to consider the range of topics arising in the context of the debate on the Future of Europe". MEPs from the North and South will have the right of attendance and participation. This may well work and result in a future acceptance of the Treaty or it may signal a significant shift in the Republic's position on Europe, a shift which would go against their position for the past forty years but one which the government would have to accept. I would encourage the devolved government in Northern Ireland to lead the way in the UK by setting up a similar forum to facilitate informed discussion about the UK adopting the Euro, in particular the implications for Northern Ireland. This forum would be timely, benefiting from observed best practice from the countries who have adopted the Euro. It is better to involve people in the process before any future referendum rather than finding ourselves in the awkward position of discussing the issues after the people have decided.

The Socrates programme is well established in Northern Ireland and over 200 schools and colleges (around 15%) have taken part in Comenius activities, some in post-14 bi-lateral projects involving language learning and some in multilateral projects which take place at all levels from nursery to further education. Some very exciting and creative projects have taken place, and Northern Ireland has proportionately more Comenius activity than any other region of the UK, bringing in much needed European funding to help our schools to work collaboratively with those in other European countries. Many of our projects have involved partners in the Republic of Ireland, a factor which has helped to increase understanding within this island.

However, we could do a great deal more. One of the obstacles to expanding and developing the Socrates programme has been the problem of substitution cover for teachers, which in most European countries is covered by the state, usually through the equivalent of the ministry of education or the local education authority. It would be helpful if schools in Northern Ireland could receive similar support to encourage them to establish and maintain contact with countries overseas, thereby helping to reduce the sense of isolation and marginalisation still felt by many in Northern Ireland.

The Socrates Programme has expanded in size and scope since its inception in 1995. In addition to the Comenius Programme for schools there is also a new Programme for adult education, Grundtvig. This means effectively that there is potentially a European dimension to education from cradle to grave, from nursery into retirement. Grundtvig enables those involved in the education of adults (e.g. community groups, prisons etc. to access European funding for the exchange of ideas and information across 30 countries within Europe. Another new programme, Minerva, offers opportunities for developing the educational use of Information Technology and Open and Distance Learning within a European context. Northern Ireland is already fairly strong in these fields, but needs to take this opportunity to share information with and learn from other European states.

The dramatic increase in activity has meant that the European Schools West team in the British Council in Belfast is coming under increasing pressure in trying to deliver the Socrates Programme to the education sector in Northern Ireland. A greater investment in human resources could enable them to provide an even better service in terms of helping more educational institutions to access larger amounts of funding from the European Union. The British Council would welcome a dialogue with the Committee of the Centre to find ways of improving its service to the education community in Northern Ireland.

Paul Burrows, Team Leader European Schools West
Jonathan Stewart, European Resource Centre for Northern Ireland

February 2002

WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
Professor Simon Bulmer

Context

From the 1980s onwards the EU's territorial impact within member states became much more significant because of the growth of European structural funds.

Relatedly, in some member states (Germany, Belgium) there was increasing concern at the way in which the accretion of powers to the EU level, e.g. on broadcasting, culture or for liberalising the utilities sectors, was unbalancing the long-standing internal distribution of power away from subnational authorities (SNAs) to national ones.

In the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 some initial efforts were undertaken in order to make the EU less "blind" to SNAs, for instance through the creation of the Committee of the Regions and in permitting SNA representatives to be members of national delegations in the Council of Ministers.

Devolution in the UK has not arisen as a response to these developments. Nevertheless, the UK has consequently been brought much more into line with the decentralised pattern of government in continental Europe. And UK SNAs need to function within the more multi-levelled pattern of governance prevailing in the EU. Devolution has re-distributed the European policy-making resources amongst UK actors; the relative "losers" from this re-distribution will be those who do not seize the new opportunities.

The distribution of powers between the EU, member states and SNAs is on the agenda for the next round of EU treaty reform, initiated at Laeken in December 2001, as is the issue of improving democratic accountability in the EU. The EU context is not static.

EU-UK relations prior to devolution

Prior to devolution the territorial impact within the UK of EU membership was relatively unimportant. There was one government for the whole UK and civil servants from Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London were signed up to the same policies even if those policies did not command democratic legitimacy within some of the sub-national territories.

More evident in UK-EU relations was the politically contested nature of the European issue, and this came to the fore whenever the government in London had a small majority, e.g. in the late 1970s under Callaghan or in the mid-1990s under Major.

Characteristic of the UK government's adaptation pre-devolution has been the absorption of EU business into traditional Whitehall patterns: adopting early policy positions; sticking to them; ministers (politics permitting) and officials all "singing from the same hymn-sheet"; information-sharing on intelligence about the EU amongst officials. The UK government has a reputation amongst peers for clear and dependable policy positions, although sometimes at risk of inflexibility.

Only in recent times (since 1997) has there been a government with sufficient political commitment to European policy to recognise important complements to the existing strengths of UK EU policy-making. These complements include recognition of the importance of bilateral relations with other member governments, the need to engage in agenda-setting ahead of European summits, the need for greater capacity in Whitehall for strategic policy development and so on.

The three key nodes of UK EU policy-making remain the Cabinet Office European Secretariat (responsible for policy co-ordination), the UK Permanent Representation to the EU (responsible for facilitating input into the policy process in the EU institutions and feeding back intelligence to the UK government), and the Foreign Office (responsible for policy on the EU's institutional development and with the Foreign Secretary serving as chair of the cabinet sub-committee for European issues).

All UK government departments have been affected by EU policy. Some like MAFF/DEFRA have been operating in a thoroughly "Europeanised" context, whilst others, like the Department of Health, have been affected more marginally.

"Territorial" Departments held lead-responsibility for no areas of European policy, but had to contend with the impact of EU rules and contribute to policy-making at UK level. Territorial interests had to be fed into the relevant UK lead-Department.

Territorial secretaries of state were on the cabinet sub-committee on Europe. Their civil servants could participate in Whitehall official-level committees.

Scottish Office officials were the most prominent in UK EU policy-making. Three reasons seem important to this: greater administrative resources; a wider range of policy responsibilities affected by the EU (and administered in Edinburgh); and a 1991 management review under Ian Lang set up a European Central Support Unit to encourage in-house co-ordination, placements in Brussels institutions, training, seminars etc.. The impact of the EU on Scots law also required particular attention. Scottish civil servants frequently participated in UK delegations, e.g. in agriculture, and attended London meetings if possible (and officials from the SO's liaison office in Whitehall could deputise). There has normally been a secondee from the SO in UKRep's agriculture/fisheries department.

Scottish Office ministers also played a more active role, and attended sessions of the Council of Ministers from time to time. As ministers of the UK government, they could (and did very occasionally) lead the UK delegation to the Council, typically on fisheries.

The Welsh Office had fewer policy responsibilities, fewer resources and was less involved. The Northern Ireland Office maintained links into Brussels on agriculture and the structural funds. However, engagement at official level with European policy-making in Whitehall seemed limited, and to be conducted predominantly by liaison staff in London, thus limiting the exposure of NIO officials in Belfast to broader (horizontal) European policy issues.

Parliamentary handling of European policy was mixed. The extent of coverage of the EU issue in the House of Commons Plenum was high (unlike many other national parliaments) due to its party-political salience but often symbolic. Scrutiny of legislation by HoC committee was comparatively ineffective. Until modernisation under Blair some important issues (treaty reform, EU foreign policy) were outside its remit and its work was conducted at anti-social hours. The House of Lords Select Committee undertakes very thorough investigations on particular issues (as opposed to legislation), and its work is recognised as authoritative.

The UK's record at transposing EU legislation into national law was very high: the best of the large member states.

EU-UK relations after devolution: continuity and change

At official level many of the policy-makers remain in post from the pre-devolution era. On the mainland they remain part of an integrated civil service.

The drafting of quadrilateral and bilateral concordats between the UK government and the devolved authorities/ executives was designed to maintain the existing pattern of relations even though devolution had changed the formal rules of engagement.

Ministers in the devolved governments are accountable to elected assemblies at sub-member state level instead of to Westminster. They have no participation rights in the Cabinet and are not signed up to a UK policy line. Secretaries of state for Wales and Scotland have small liaison offices in London, sit in Cabinet and its committees but are not accountable to the assemblies in Cardiff and Edinburgh. Their role in European policy appears to be unimportant. Thus far territorially-based party-political disagreement has largely been avoided on European policy due to Labour's prominent position at all levels of British government.

Officials from Edinburgh and Cardiff may not sit on formal committees within the Cabinet system but informal ways have been found around this distinction. Informality could break down if a more adversarial political context prevailed within the UK, e.g. an SNP government in Edinburgh.

Dispute-resolution machinery at UK level exists via the Joint Ministerial Committee, which can meet at ministerial and official levels, including in a European Union policy formation, JMC(O)EU. The UK and the devolved authorities are represented on this body, but its meetings hitherto have been infrequent, have not taken on political significance and have not been to resolve disputes.

The UK government has sought to ensure that the good record for transposition is maintained post-devolution by setting down in legislation that the devolved authorities will be financially responsible for any shortcomings even though the UK government would be hauled before the European Court of Justice.

The pre-existing asymmetry between the territorial offices has been magnified further by the processes leading to devolution and by the settlements themselves. And the English "problem" looms large: some UK ministries are also English ministries, e.g. MAFF/ DEFRA, and this could lead to a conflict of interest in defining European policy.

Three competing dynamics condition how devolved executives/assemblies react to the post-devolution making of European policy. If European policy is reserved to Whitehall and Westminster, should the devolved level adapt so as to be best able to input to London? Or, since the EU is the ultimate target of policy, should adaptation be to the organisational logic of the EU? Or should executives/legislatures root themselves in the organisational logic of their territorial politics? Each implies different strategies of adaptation.

The Welsh "corporate body" model has been relatively unstable in constitutional and political terms. The National Assembly's legislative powers are limited to subordinate legislation. Its policy responsibilities remain limited. The NAW is now reviewing its powers. Note that the resignation of First Secretary, Alun Michael, was linked to the issue of whether he could deliver additional funding from HM Treasury to match additional EU structural funding allocations from Brussels.

The Scottish model is based much more on a traditional Whitehall/Westminster model, albeit with the novelty of a PR electoral system and a Lab/Lib Dem coalition. The Executive Secretariat of the Scottish Executive is a mirror of the Cabinet Office, and includes co-ordination of European policy as a responsibility.

Within the Scottish Executive devolution has been characterised by contiuity and change in the handling of European policy. Within the Scottish Executive Rural Affairs Department agricultural policy is handled pretty much as pre-devolution. Environmental policy, by contrast, has been radically re-organised because of the previous lack of strategic focus and a recognition of the need to take control of ensuring EU legislation is correctly transposed and implemented in Scotland. Previously these matters had been left to Whitehall (the DETR).

The Scottish Executive was ahead of the Welsh in establishing its office - Scotland House - in Brussels. Initial indications suggest that it has established a clear Scottish identity whilst remaining part of the UKRep "family". Its close proximity to UKRep and the facilities of its building (e.g. facilities for conferences) succeeded in maximising the SE's role while giving the capacity to promote the Scottish "brand" within Brussels.

The Scottish Office undertook considerable pre-devolution examination of how the Scottish Parliament should handle European policy. However, not all the recommendations were accepted. The Scottish European Committee has a wide remit (a combination of standing and select committee); the timing of its actions will be critical to developing an effective voice.

Initial hopes on the part of the SP to develop a complementary role to the work of the House of Commons Select Committee were dashed by issues of confidentiality concerning the sharing of information between the two parliaments.

German experience

In the run-up to the Maastricht Treaty the German Laender were leading advocates of institutional reform to the EU to make it less "blind" to SNAs.

Domestically, they made ratification in the upper house (Bundesrat) dependent on a constitutional reform that would strengthen the consultation of them by the federal government on EU policy. The domestic powers of the Laender on European policy are stronger than for UK devolved authorities.

German federalism is symmetrical in terms of executive powers, i.e. all Laender have the same powers under the German constitution. However, the size of the Laender varies considerably: from North-Rhine Westphalia to Bremen. The large states - NRW, Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg - have the resources to handle European policy well, to send officials as part of the German delegation to policy-making committees etc. The small states do not.

The Laender governments tend to co-operate with each other across party-political lines on key issues. However, they all have information bureaux in Brussels, where they may be competing with each other for EU structural funds.

The Laender parliaments are very weak in their handling of European policy.

The character of German European policy-making is much more fragmented than in the UK, e.g. coalition governments, absence of collective responsibility. The ability of the Laender to pursue parallel European policy adds to the polyphonic tendencies of Germany's diplomacy in Brussels. This character was a distinct anti-model for the UK authors of devolution.

PROFESSOR SIMON BULMER
Department of Government, University of Manchester

9 January 2002

WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
CONFEDERATION OF BRITISH INDUSTRY (CBI)
NORTHERN IRELAND

The CBI welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Committee of the Centre on its Inquiry into the current approach of the Northern Ireland Assembly and devolved government in relation to the engagement of Northern Ireland with the institutions of Europe. The CBI is an independent, non-party political organisation funded by its members in industry and commerce. Its mission is to help create and sustain the conditions in which businesses in the UK can compete and prosper. CBI members come from all sectors of UK business and include more than 250,000 public and private companies, as well as more than 200 trade associations.

Northern Ireland has already gained much from the European Union through the creation of the Single Market and through support from European Funding. But Europe must change to meet the challenges of new technology and global competition. How Europe changes will be important to the future prosperity of Northern Ireland and we therefore need to actively engage with the European institutions. The CBI believes that with an Executive/Assembly there is an opportunity to improve the current situation through greater understanding of issues which will impact on the region, high levels of commitment and the support of the local community.

Key Issues to be considered

In developing a response to the Committee and through consultation with our members it became clear that a number of key issues are of concern to the business community. These include the following:

  • The lack of information on the existing Northern Ireland strategy towards, and activities focused at, the European Union
  • The apparently ad hoc and unfocused approach to European issues
  • The difference in governance arrangements between Northern Ireland and the European Union and
  • The additionality issue - just how important is it and how does it impact on Northern Ireland's ability to access EU funds.

This response sets out our vision for the type of relationship that we would like Northern Ireland to have with the European institutions and identifies a number of key components for developing an effective strategy.

Developing a Vision

It is essential that the Executive/Assembly has a clear vision of how Northern Ireland is to present itself in Europe and how it should be perceived by our fellow Europeans. The CBI believes that Northern Ireland should seek to be a European region with a visible profile which is recognised by the key decision makers within the European institutions, which is totally in tune with the obligations and opportunities of membership of the European Union.

A presence in Brussels is essential but there must be a clearly defined role for the Northern Ireland office in Brussels. The representation in Brussels of both Wales and Scotland had an uncertain start, largely due to the lack of clarity in understanding their role and how they should interact. Lessons have been learnt and Northern Ireland should be able to reap the benefits of these learning processes through the Executive setting out its vision and strategy for interfacing with Europe.

A Co-ordinated and Strategic Approach Essential

We are not aware that the authorities in Northern Ireland are taking a comprehensive, holistic view of the implications of Northern Ireland's place as a region within the EU. A number of 'actors' are involved in European affairs although little is heard from many of them. We are unclear on the level of co-ordination across Departments, although this must be critical if we are to maximise our impact and ensure a strategic approach.

Due to the fact that Northern Ireland must work through UK departmental structures to influence the UK input to EU policy, it will be important to map what are the formal structures by which the Northern Ireland government stays in touch with UK departments at policy formation stage, tunes in to its early warning system and participates directly in briefing UK officials on the nuances of Northern Ireland interests.

Developing an Intelligence network

Many people consider that influence in Brussels depends as much on informal networking as it does on formal defined mechanisms. The success/influence of the Republic of Ireland within Europe is often associated with the number of Irish people working in Brussels and their extensively developed informal personal networks and their excellent communications with each other.

We need to ensure that we assess the extent to which Northern Ireland attempts to leverage the intelligence gathering and lobbying capabilities of its own representatives including:

  • Northern Ireland's three MEPs
  • representatives on the Committee of the Regions
  • representatives on the Economic and Social Committee

Both formal structures mechanisms and informal linkages and networks should be assessed. To what extent are there mechanisms to link in with these representatives? And to what extent do these representatives link in with the social partners?

The key here is to ensure that the circuitry which could help link everything up is operating effectively. But even effective action on these lines would still leave the local administration out. Is there merit in some kind of quarterly meetings at which social partners could exchange views and ideas with the relevant government, and other interests? This would extend to local authorities,(LAs) which in other regions appear also to have more effectively developed linkages (although clearly this is influenced by their responsibilities) - eg in the Republic or Ireland the LAs are responsible for many functions and therefore play an active role in influencing and prioritising EU matters - many officers have spent time on secondment in Brussels.

We also need to assess to what extent we expect to see a structured approach to interaction between the Northern Ireland administration and individual Commissioners on an ongoing basis, notwithstanding the fact that final decision- making on UK policy lies with the UK Government.

In this intelligence gathering and information sharing the objective must surely be to identify particular opportunities or threats to Northern Ireland and to ensure that appropriate action is taken. Too often it appears that Northern Ireland is caught on the back foot - with short lead-in times or consultation. Greater openness and early consultation is important.

We welcome the establishment of a Northern Ireland office in Brussels (- this happens to be located in the same building as the CBI office). Excellent communications between Brussels and Belfast will be essential while the networking abilities of the Brussels executive will be paramount in determining the effectiveness of Northern Ireland's influence and profile. Close liaison with UKRep, senior Commission officials and MEPs (not just Northern Ireland ones) is essential, as is contact with other Northern Ireland representatives.

Links and Lessons from other Regions

Northern Ireland must seek to learn from other regions who have successfully developed a strong presence and visibility in Brussels. We need to fully understand how to influence every appropriate forum.

It would be useful to assess existing or planned structures for formal exchange between Northern Ireland and Scotland and Wales to gather intelligence on the issues which are important, to identify which are of common interest and subject to possible joint lobbying, and to ensure briefing of potentially friendly allies who might as a result of briefing be better placed to support our case in any debate arising. Clearly there will be policy issues where a close relationship with the Republic of Ireland will be desirable. But there may also be other peripheral areas within the EU where similar policy positions will apply.

While links with other regions may prove a valuable asset, the importance of continuing to develop effective links with London and central UK government departments is vital.

There may also be merit in ensuring that relevant EU matters are discussed under the British-Irish Council.

Improving co-ordination

Overall the EU dimension is of such importance to Northern Ireland that we recommend that there should be an Inter-Departmental/Ministerial Standing Committee charged with overseeing the co-ordination on EU policy interactions, and funding opportunities across the entire body of government in Northern Ireland and to ensure that the strategy developed is effectively implemented and reviewed.

In keeping with the above and in the interests of information-sharing and maximising the effectiveness of our networks and use of resources, there should be an e-government web-based mechanism/portal for (a) sharing information on current policy initiatives and contacts internally within the Northern Ireland administration at least and (b) consideration of extending this mechanism out to share information/intelligence with other Northern Ireland stakeholders - if necessary in a more selective manner.

There needs to be a wider understanding of the range of potential stakeholders, including local authorities, community and interest groups, the educational sector and the business sector, and their interest and roles, to maximise the potential.

There may also be merit in the new Brussels office developing a forward plan of relevant events/activities in order to give the opportunity of exposure to sectors or issues which are linked timewise to take advantage of debates that are of current relevance in Brussels. Presence, timing, focus and being in context are vital if we are to excel in our influence. There is likely to merit in the Brussels office planning its own programme of events.

Northern Ireland will also need its own legislative programme to ensure the timely introduction of EU Directives. This programme should be set out and government must ensure that resources are available to deliver it, including 'buying-in' expertise where necessary.

The Need to focus and prioritise key policy issues

In developing a strategic approach there is a requirement to identify the policy areas on which the Northern Ireland Executive should be focusing its limited resources. We suggest that the following should be considered:

  • Identification/prioritisation of the top ten existing areas in which EU policy is potentially of greatest significance to Northern Ireland eg agriculture, fisheries, food, transport, environment, ICT, regional funding, energy etc
  • Identification/prioritisation of the top five areas in which EU policy is likely to be strongly focussed in the near future, and which are of prime interest to Northern Ireland eg enlargement, Single Currency, reform of CAP, harmonisation of taxes, developments within ICT, etc
  • Recognition that, with finite resources, a set of priorities should be developed from the above with special focus if Northern Ireland is to make an impact as opposed to diffuse its energies without any useful result.

Enlargement will have significant implications for Northern Ireland - both as a threat and as an opportunity. There will clearly be increased competition for investment - a number of the 'new players' are already copying the Republic of Ireland on low corporation tax rates. Enlargement brings opportunities for striking totally new market alliances which can provide us with new development opportunities, provided we select target markets, prioritise them and invest early in their development.

Maximising the Funding Opportunities

Apart from Structural Funds and the EU Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation, relatively little additional EU funds are won on a competitive basis by organisations in Northern Ireland. These other EU special initiatives and programmes are left to market forces but to date Northern Ireland neither competes for nor is successful in winning many of these competitive bids - although there are exceptions. This may be a reflection on the fact that we do not have effective networks in Brussels and we are therefore not very effective in exploiting and developing our relationship with Brussels to our advantage.

But it may be more than just having effective networks. Why is it that a small, specialist body, with limited resources like Udaras na Gaeltachta in the Republic of Ireland has been so successful in exploiting EU initiatives? One of the main reasons is that it sees EU policies, initiatives and institutions as opportunities to exploit, not as threats to be confronted or opposed. It may be that too often in Northern Ireland the EU is seen (variously) as troublesome, interfering, remote and difficult to access, aloof or unhelpful. It appears to us at times that within the public administration in Northern Ireland there are degrees of antipathy and even antagonism towards the European Commission - the Committee might wish to assess how much of this is due to the vexed question of expenditure additionality and the necessary administrative hoops that need to be addressed without actually securing truly additional funds.

It may be necessary to develop more skilled appraisals of the various programmes, such as the 6th R&D framework, Gallileo etc to identify which sectors or particular businesses might participate or exploit the opportunities.

A number of our members point to the Republic of Ireland's National Development Plan as an important basis for drawing down European funding. A co-ordinated and joined up approach does carry more weight in terms of maximising influence.

Concluding remarks

While we must accept that Northern Ireland is unlikely to achieve the influence of a national Government a strategy must be developed that addresses two clear, but not necessarily exclusive elements -

  • the intelligence on what is actually happening, or going to happen and
  • optimising Northern Ireland's ability to influence policies and programmes in our favour.

Provided we know what is going on then it is possible to set about developing an appropriate lobbying strategy. The essential ingredients required to effectively engage in the European institutions are as follows:

  • a clear vision on what the Northern Ireland Executive is wishing to achieve
  • a co-ordinated and strategic approach
  • an effective intelligence network, ensuring full use of our networks
  • learn from other regions and co-operate on issues of common interest
  • share information
  • the need to focus and prioritise key policy issues and opportunities within funding programmes

We hope this submission will assist the Committee in its deliberations.

NIGEL SMYTH
Director

24 January 2002

WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
COMMITTEE FOR AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT

During the Committee's meeting on Friday 30 November, members considered correspondence received from the Committee of the Centre (CoC), including Terms of Reference for that Committee's Inquiry into matters European.

The Committee agreed to a request by the CoC that each of the Statutory Committees would seek information from the Department with which it is associated. Members instructed me to write to the Department to ask for the following:

  • The percentage of DARD's total budget which is European funding; and
  • How often the DARD Minister attends European Council of Ministers meetings and how many opportunities the Minister has had to speak at these meetings.

PAUL MOORE
Committee Clerk

4 December 2001

SUPPLEMENTARY WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
COMMITTEE FOR AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT

Re: Information for the Assembly Committee.

The information required is in two parts:-

(a) The percentage of DARD's total budget that is directly funded from Europe is 46.7%.

The total DARD budget for 2002/03 is £394.4million and direct EU funding is as follows:-

CAP Market Support

£165.5m

Processing and Marketing Grants

£5.0m

Structural Funds

£2.7m

PEACE Programme

£9.4m

Fishing Projects

£1.5m

Total

£184.1m

(b) In the past twelve month period the Minister has attended 10 out of the twelve European Council Meetings. (Two meetings in April 2000 were missed due to the Foot and Mouth Crisis). The Minister's participation at Council starts with a discussion with the UK Minister to agree the UK negotiating line at Council. The Minister has a seat at the Council table, however, the UK Minister represents the UK position (via speech) at Council.

PAUL MOORE
Committee Clerk

19 December 2001

WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
COMMITTEE FOR CULTURE, ARTS AND LEISURE

The Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure discussed European issues at its meeting on 24 January 2002 and has asked me to respond.

To date, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure's contact with the European Institutions has been in relation to its role as a primary source of dispersal under Peace II.

The Peace II Programme's Priority 1.2 Economic Development (Sustainable Tourism Development) allocates funding for a Water Based Tourism Measure. The Department has recently launched two programmes ie the Angling Development Programme and the Water Recreation Development Programme. Approximately £5m (7.2m Euro) has been allocated to the Department from the Measure. This will be split between the programmes over the period of the Peace II programme (2001-04). The in-year figure is £1m, which equates to 1.27% of the total DCAL budget.

As a primary source of dispersal under Peace 2, the Department is unable to apply for funding under the Programme. The Department has indicated that it has no current plans to apply for any other funds that may be available within Europe.

The Minister has not, as yet, attended a meeting of the European Council of Ministers.

In terms of broader issues relating to the NI Devolved Government's involvement in influencing EU policies, the Committee has a number of comments.

It suspects that it is not alone in feeling that very little information is provided to Statutory Committees about OFM/DFM's specific role in European affairs. Neither does there seem to be a breadth of understanding, at Committee level, about the various EU institutions and how bodies here interact with them.

While Departments may be kept abreast of European information and issues, Committees do not appear to have that luxury, particularly with regard to those areas that relate directly to their statutory responsibilities.

LORETTA GORDON
Committee Clerk

24 January 2002

ADDITIONAL WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
COMMITTEE FOR CULTURE, ARTS AND LEISURE

a framework for developing northern ireland's participation in the european union

The Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure welcomed the opportunity to comment on OFM/DFM's Framework document. The Committee considered the document at its meeting on 21 February 2002.

Other than to welcome the outworking of the more structured approach to European issues suggested in the paper, the Committee has no comment to make.

LORETTA GORDON
Committee Clerk

26 February 2002

WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
COMMITTEE FOR EDUCATION

The Education Committee discussed the terms of reference of the Inquiry at its meeting on 22 November 2001 and agreed not to submit a response as it has not yet considered any European issues in detail.

The Committee did request information from the Department of Education for the Inquiry and a copy of the response is enclosed.

I hope this is helpful.

CHRISTINE DARRAH
Committee Clerk

18 January 2002

SUPPLEMENTARY WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
COMMITTEE FOR EDUCATION

(1) What percentage of the Department of Education's total budget is European Funding?

Some 0.7% (£0.9m) of the Department's 2001/02 budget at Main Estimate stage is accounted for by European Funding. This comprises largely the run out of EU Peace 1 funding (including matching funding) and a provisional amount for Peace 2 on the same basis.

(2) How often does the Minister of Education attend European Council of Ministers Meetings?

Arrangements exist for Ministers from all the devolved administrations to attend meetings of the Education Council of Ministers as appropriate. However, the Minister has not yet attended a Council meeting.

CHRISTINE DARRAH
Committee Clerk

18 January 2002

ADDITIONAL WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
COMMITTEE FOR EDUCATION

a framework for developing northern ireland's participation in the european union

The Education Committee considered the document at our meeting on 14 February 2002 and we wish to make the following comments:

(a) The Committee welcomes the Strategy and endorses the focus OFMDFM are putting on participating appropriately and effectively with the European Union.

(b) We believe it is very important that Northern Ireland interests are fully represented and communicated from an early stage and the Committee would wish to ensure that appropriate mechanisms are in place to maximise input into any education matters/issues.

(c) Given the very tight timescale it has not been possible for the Committee to consider the proposed framework in any detail. The Committee intends to request further information and a briefing from the Department of Education on relevant issues.

(d) The Committee has noted the specific topics of immediate interest to education, as listed at Annex B, and we intend to discuss these with the Department of Education to ensure all areas of education with an EU dimension are highlighted.

The Education Committee was pleased to have the opportunity, albeit a limited one, to comment on this document and we look forward to receiving the Report of the Committee of the Centre's European Inquiry in due course.

DANNY KENNEDY, MLA
Chairman

4 March 2002

WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
COMMITTEE FOR EMPLOYMENT AND LEARNING

The Committee for Employment and Learning welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Inquiry being undertaken by the Committee of the Centre into the efficiency and the effectiveness of the current approach of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Institutions of Europe. The Committee regards this as a very prevalent cross-cutting issue.

The Committee's response using a question and answer format is as follows:

1. What are the main areas within your remit where the European Union has had an impact?

Employment issues i.e. the Employment Tribunal System - Industrial Tribunals and Fair Employment Tribunals.

Where there is EC Legislation Directives this results in our Legislation being amended, for example :-

  • Terms of Employment
  • Work-Life Balance
  • Hours of Work
  • Consultation of Employees (redundancies)
  • Powers of Unions

Adoption of best practice e.g. other countries' initiatives, EU funding packages. In November 2001 the Department for Employment and Learning received £21 million of European Social Funding for employment and training projects.

2. When your committee is dealing with

(a) Legislation

(b) Inquiries

(c) Policy

(d) Funding

(e) Other

How is it made aware of any EU aspect?

This is picked up through explanatory notes, research briefings, departmental briefs, literature and web searches.

3. Approximately how many items of EU business has your Committee dealt with since Devolution in relation to:

(a) Legislation -

Three pieces of Secondary Legislation

(i) Working Time (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland)1998

(ii) Fixed Term Worker Regulations - Enabling Clause in GB Employment Bill

(iii) Industrial Tribunals and Fair Employment Tribunal (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2001

(b) Inquiries -

Two Inquiries with some reference to EU perspective:

(i) Student Finance in Northern Ireland

(ii) Education and Training for Industry

(c) Policy -

Referred to in seven Committee Responses - see item 10.

(d) Funding -

Two - see item 10.

(e) Other -

None

4. (a) How often does your Committee discuss EU related matters?

EU matters would be referred to bi-monthly/monthly

(b) How long, on average, would they last for?

Five to ten minutes.

5. What committee do you see as the lead committee on EU affairs?

Committee of the Centre

6. Do you feel that your current source of EU information is sufficient, i.e. from department, research information, and explanatory notes in a Bill?

No. It is the Committee's experience that the information provided tends to be reactive not proactive. It is clearly seen that there is a need to be in at the early stage to have any influence or impact. There is no central, user-friendly, source to access EU information.

7. How can your committee improve and enhance contacts with the European Commission?

Guidance Notes should be drawn up outlining the process. There should be one source of high quality proactive early warning information for all Committees in the Assembly.

8. Should there be a secondee scheme (e.g. Whitehall, Brussels)?

Yes - could be considered.

9. What use is made of the NI Executive office in Brussels?

Very early days to make a substantive response as the office in Brussels is there to support the Northern Ireland Executive primarily for departments and ministers. It is our under-standing that its remit does not include briefing and informing committees.

10. Additional information/comments

(i) To date, the Minister for Employment and Learning has not attended any Council of Ministers meetings.

(ii) The Department for Employment and Learning's Financial Audit Support Team (FAST) undertakes some 70 audits each year of EU projects and Intermediary Funding Bodies. Such audits are undertaken based on a risk analysis or at the request of the Department's European Unit when it identifies a cause for concern in a particular case. Following a FAST audit report the European Unit or the relevant Intermediary Funding Body has responsibility to follow it up. Such follow up is monitored by FAST, which produces a quarterly management information report for the Head of Finance and European Division.

(iii) The expenditure within the Department for Employment Learning on the PEACE I Programme includes a 25% match funding contribution paid by Government. The overall EU contribution, as a percentage of Departmental Expenditure including PEACE, in the financial year 1999-2000, was 8.48%.

(iv) Funding is allocated to the following Programmes under the remit of the Department for Employment and Learning :-

(a) Northern Ireland Single Programme -

Management, Entrepreneurial and Workforce Training

Training in New Technology

Training for the Tourism Industry

Targeting Community Needs

Pathways to Employment

Skills Development

Actions for Equal Opportunities

Actions for Special Target Groups

Research, Evaluation and Publicity

Training Infrastructure

Training for the Food Sector

(b) PEACE I Programme -

Boosting Growth and Retraining for Peace

Action for Jobs

Improving Accessibility and Quality of Training, Education and Employment Services

Accompanying Infrastructure and Equipment Support

Co-operation between Public Bodies

Sub-Programme 7 : Technical Assistance

Sub-Programme 8: Flagships

(c) Community Initiatives -

Now

Horizon

Integra

Youthstart

Employment Technical Assistance

Interreg II

Konver

Retex

(v) The Committee's recommendations, in the Report on the Inquiry into Education and Training for Industry, stemmed from the poor position of Northern Ireland relative to other European Countries, for example :-

Recommendation 1

Further additional funding and resources should be made immediately available to support literacy and numeracy development schemes to correct the poor levels of adult basic skills in Northern Ireland. These schemes should include provision for both personal development and social skills training.

Recommendation 2

Initiate and fund research into developing effective models of workplace basic skills development and the effective sharing of best practice.

(vi) The Committee for Employment and Learning has responded on the following areas which interface with European funding, strategy and legislation :-

(a) Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations (NI) 2000 - Response to the Department for Employment and Learning - 9 November 2000.

(b) Executive's draft Programme for Government (October 2000) and Public Expenditure Plans 2001/02 - Response to the Committee for Finance and Personnel - 9 November 2000.

(c) Proposals to simplify and speed up Equal Pay Industrial Tribunal cases - Response to Department for Employment Learning - 28 February 2001.

(d) Urban Regeneration and Community Development in Northern Ireland - Response to the Committee for Social Development Inquiry - 5 July 2001.

(e) Single Equality Bill for Northern Ireland - Response to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister - 5 July 2001.

(f) Improving Rights for Disabled People - Northern Ireland Executive Response to the Disability Rights Task Force - Response to the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister - 29 November 2001.

(g) Employment Tribunal System - 'Routes to Resolution: Improving Dispute Resolution in Britain' issued by the Department of Trade and Industry - Response to the Department for Employment and Learning -29 November 2001.

(h) Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 (TUPE) - 10 January 2002.

(vii) The Committee recommends that the Northern Ireland Executive Office in Brussels adopt a policy of support for all Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

(viii) The Committee recommends that the Northern Ireland Assembly should have a dedicated proactive Information Service on European issues for Committees and Members.

DR ESMOND BIRNIE MLA
Chairman

24 January 2002

SUPPLEMENTARY WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
COMMITTEE FOR EMPLOYMENT AND LEARNING

The Minister for Employment and Learning has provided the following information on European funding matters.

The Minister has not attended any Council of Ministers meetings.

With respect to European funding the period for which information was sought was not specific. The table at Annex 1 gives details of the European funding administered by the Department in the financial year 1999-2000. The Northern Ireland Single Programme finished on 30 June 2000. Thus 1999-2000 was the last full year under the old programmes and is the most appropriate basis on which to respond.

It should be noted that the expenditure shown in Annex 1 is out-turn information. The Department's main budget control total for 1999-2000 is shown for comparison purposes.

As PEACE funding was additional to the Northern Ireland block it was managed and monitored by DFP separately from main Departmental budgets. In contrast EU receipts for other EU programmes are 'earned' by Block expenditure. Most receipts under the Northern Ireland Single Programme were earned by continuing Departmental programme provision but in the Department for Employment and Learning core departmental budget was also used to fund non-departmental projects, for example in the community and voluntary sector. Figures for these are shown separately in Annex 1.

The table in Annex 1 divides expenditure according to the European programme measures under which incurred as a means of indicating the purpose for which it was used. In PEACE part of the expenditure was administered by Intermediary Funding Bodies. Such expenditure is shown separately within the relevant measures.

The Department has a well developed system of auditing EU projects, Intermediary Funding Bodies and external providers of main Departmental programmes such as Jobskills. Its Financial Audit Support Team (FAST) undertakes some 70 audits a year of EU projects and Intermediary Funding Bodies. Such audits are undertaken based on a risk analysis or at the request of the Department's European Unit when it identifies a cause for concern in a particular case. Following a FAST audit report the European Unit or the relevant Intermediary Funding Body has responsibility to follow it up. Such follow up is monitored by FAST which produces a quarterly management information report for the Head of Finance and European Division. The Comptroller and Auditor General reported in December on the Department's control of European Funding. This is a matter first for the Public Accounts Committee but it will be noted that, contrary to media headlines, the report acknowledged the work done by the Department in this area.

Where EU receipts are earned by continuing Departmental programmes there are two audit processes. These programmes are subject to Internal Audit with the audit reports sent both to the relevant Head of Division and to the Department's Audit Committee chaired by the Accounting Officer. External providers of Departmental main programmes are audited by FAST in the same way as are EU projects.

Evaluation/Review

European programmes are subject to ex-ante, mid-term and ex-post evaluation. In most cases programme evaluation is the responsibility of DFP as the managing authority. The exception were Employment and Adapt where the Department, and previously the Department of Economic Development, was the managing authority. A final evaluation of these programmes was produced last year.

Allocation of Funding

All projects including government programmes were required to complete applications. These were scored, and considered by selection panels made up of officials. Funding was allocated according to the recommendations of this selection process. In the case of Interreg there was liaison with southern Departments as joint agreement was required for funding of projects under this initiative.

Administration

Where EU receipts are earned by main Departmental programmes administration the European administrative aspect is through the European Unit obtaining necessary expenditure and monitoring information from the relevant Division and including that in returns to DFP.

The Department's European Unit undertook the full administration of funding to third party projects under the Single Programme and Initiatives including selection of projects to be supported, issuing of offers, checking claims and processing payments and collecting monitoring information. The Unit administered PEACE funding both directly to projects, or to Intermediary Funding Bodies. Intermediary Funding Bodies were responsible for selection and administration of funding to projects within their remits.

DR ESMOND BIRNIE MLA
Chairman

24 January 2002

ANNEX 1

EUROPEAN EXPENDITURE 1999 - 2000

DEPARTMENT FOR EMPLOYMENT AND LEARNING

EXPENDITURE

1. Northern Ireland Single Programme

Sub-Programme Measure

Total
£

Amount Paid to Third Party Projects 1999-2000
£

Amount Earned by Department's Programmes [i]
£

1.1.6

2,472,815

2,194,552

278,263

1.1.7

2,500,261

1,438,301

1,061,960

1.2.5

1,988,848

258,158

1,730,690

2.1.4

5,914,485

955,554

4,958,931

2.2.1

9,268,940

1,574,355

7,694,585

2.2.2

7,586,255

62,008

7,524,247

2.2.3

1,827,798

687,068

1,140,730

2.2.4

4,776,853

3,843,749

933,104

2.2.5

238,539

123,819

114,720

2.2.6

538,201

538,201

0

4.1.3

952,671

20,470

932,201

Total

38,065,666

11,696,235

26,369,431

2. PEACE I Programme

Sub-Programme Measure

Total Spend
1999-2000 [ii]
£

Amount Paid to Intermediary Funding Bodies
£

Amount Paid to Projects directly funded by the Department
£

1.1

4,598,394

4,441,430

156,964

1.2

5,058,811

4,491,051

567,760

1.3

778,000

778,000

0

1.4

1,155.204

777,906

377,298

3.3 (B)

103,485

0

103,485

7

758,842

751,040

7,802

8

931,500

0

931,500

Total

13,384,236

11,239,427

2,144,809

3. Community Initiatives

3.1 Employment

Scheme

Total Spend 1999-2000
£

Now

417,416

Horizon

255,897

Integra

220,748

Youthstart

503,353

Employment (technical assistance)

61,208

Total Employment

1,458,622

3.2 ADAPT

Scheme

Total Spend 1999-2000
£

ADAPT

935,064

ADAPT (technical assistance)

7,576

Total ADAPT

942,640

3.3 INTERREG II

Initiative

Total Spend 1999-2000
£

INTERREG II

534,690

3.4 KONVER

Initiative

Total Spend 1999-2000
£

KONVER

53,807

3.5 RETEX

Initiative

Total Spend 1999-2000
£

RETEX

80,364

4. Expenditure Summary

 

£

Northern Ireland Single Programme

Third - Party Projects

11,696,235

Government Programmes

26,369,431

PEACE I (EU Contribution @ 75%)

10,038,177

Community Initiatives

3,070,123

Total

51,173,966

Total Department Expenditure

Excluding PEACE 1 [iii]

589,757,764

Including PEACE 1

603,142,000

EU contribution as a percentage of Departmental Expenditure, including PEACE

8.48%

DESCRIPTION OF MEASURES

1. Northern Ireland Single Programme

Measure 1.1.6: Management, Entrepreneurial and Workforce Training

As industrial strengthening and regeneration could be achieved only if investment in infrastructure and processes was matched by development of appropriate skills and abilities at all levels within the workforce, the Management, Entrepreneurial and Workforce Training Measure aimed to secure economic growth through vocational education and training and personal development.

The Departmental Programmes funded were Management Development courses including the Executive Development Programme, the Strategic Leadership Programme and the New Horizons Programme.

Measure 1.1.7: Training in New Technology

To enable new technologies to be successfully implemented and used to increase competitiveness and stimulate economic development, the Training in New Technologies Measure sought to provide the necessary technological skills and qualifications to those working within companies or those seeking employment.

The Departmental programmes funded under the Measure were the vocational education programmes in new technologies delivered by Colleges of Further Education.

Measure 1.2.5: Training for the Tourism Industry

The Tourism Sub-Programme was designed to improve the marketing and promotion of Northern Ireland and to develop and enhance tourist amenities and facilities. As none of this would be effective without skilled and qualified people to carry out the marketing and promotion and manage and service the facilities, the Training for the Tourism Industry Measure was designed to ensure the highest level of appropriate skills and qualifications amongst people working in the tourism and hospitality industries.

The Department programmes funded were the vocational education programmes in tourism and hospitality delivered by Colleges of Further Education.

Measure 2.1.4: Targeting Community Needs

The Targeting Community Needs Measure aimed to promote greater equality and equity by improving the social and economic conditions of the most disadvantaged areas and people through encouraging the acquisition of marketable skills and assisting the integration of deprived and marginalised people.

The Departmental Programme funded under the Measure was the Jobskills Access Programme.

Measure 2.2.1: Pathways to Employment

The Pathways to Employment Measure, established to ensure a better match between supply and demand in the labour market, supported a number of projects which aimed to increase the number of people in Northern Ireland possessing qualifications at NVQ Level 2 in a wide range of skill areas.

The Departmental Programme funded under this Measure was the Jobskills programme which delivers high quality skills training via a network of training organisations.

Measure 2.2.2: Skills Development

The aim of the Skills Development Measure was to establish and implement a craft training system which was standards based, widely accessible and supported by industry. This Measure also supported skills training at NVQ Level 3 or above provided by contracted training organisations under the Jobskills Programme to raise the skills levels of the workforce to internationally competitive levels.

Measure 2.2.3: Actions for Equal Opportunities

The Actions for Equal Opportunities Measure addressed the specific pre-vocational and vocational training of men and women to ensure that they could play a full and equal part in the labour market. The Measure sought to broaden access for both sexes to education, training and all employment areas by accommodating a wide range of activities such as courses, guidance, counselling and information campaigns.

The Departmental Programmes funded were the vocational educational programmes in Colleges of Further Education which sought to provide training for young women in non-traditional areas.

Measure 2.2.4: Actions for Special Target Groups

Aimed at people at risk of exclusion from the labour market (including people with disabilities, ex-offenders and people lacking basic educational skills and qualifications). Actions for Special Target Groups Measure was designed to raise the levels of confidence, skills and qualifications among participants and to enable them to enter employment or self-employment or to progress to further education and training.

The Departmental Programmes funded were residential training for disabled people and the Jobskills Access Programme.

Measure 2.2.5: Research, Evaluation and Publicity

The Research, Evaluation and Publicity Measure was used to provide assistance with the development of training projects, the evaluation of schemes and projects funded under the ESF Measures and the dissemination of the results of research and evaluation. It was also used to publicise the ESF Measures of the Single Programme and activities funded under them.

The Departmental projects funded under the Measure included the promotion and evaluation of ESF assisted Government programmes such as Jobskills and publication of the Labour Market Bulletin.

Measure 2.2.6: Training Infrastructure

The Training Infrastructure Measure aimed to ensure the successful implementation of training programmes particularly by the voluntary and community sector. The Measure provided assistance towards the provision of ancillary infrastructure, for example to construct or adapt building, to provide childcare facilities, to provide access and accommodation for disabled people and to provide training equipment such as computers.

No Departmental Programmes were funded under this Measure.

Measure 4.1.3: Training for the Food Sector

The purpose of the Training for the Food Sector Measure was to provide those working or intending to work, within the food sector, with the necessary skills and qualifications, in terms of management, marketing and production processes. The aim was to improve and maintain competitiveness and to contribute to the creation of a strong and viable food sector in Northern Ireland.

The projects funded under the Measure included the Jobskills Programme and more specifically the structured training in the range of skills applicable to posts within the food sector.

2. PEACE I Programme

Measure 1.1: Boosting Growth and Retraining for Peace
(Intermediary Funding Bodies TWN/NIVT/PROTEUS)

To promote reconciliation by:

  • providing skills and qualifications needed to take advantage of the economic development and employment opportunities provided by Peace; and
  • addressing the specific training and retraining needs arising as a result of the peace process.

Measure 1.2: Action for Jobs
(PROTEUS/LEDU)

To promote peace and reconciliation through initiatives aimed at boosting action for jobs and combating unemployment especially among disadvantaged groups.

Measure 1.3: Improving Accessibility and Quality of Training, Education and Employment Services
(EGSA/PlayBoard/PROTEUS)

To promote reconciliation and take advantage of the opportunities provided by peace through enhancement of the facilities and support services needed to enable people, particularly those from disadvantaged groups and areas, to access education, training and employment.

Measure 1.4: Accompanying Infrastructure and Equipment Support
(EGSA/TWN/PlayBoard/NIVT/PROTEUS/LEDU)

To provide in support of other measures, the facilities necessary to maximise the opportunities for employment and training, especially in deprived areas. To support the development of people and small businesses, including tourism and of sub-contracting from larger business.

Measure 3.3(B): Co-operation between Public Bodies

To release further synergies in the provision of public services through co-operation between public bodies leading to an improvement of services in the interests of the border communities.

Sub-Programme 7: Technical Assistance

To allow technical assistance to be used to assist the development of proposals to promote the aims of the Programme, to strengthen and enhance its management, co-ordination and implementation and to provide information and publicity.

Sub-Programme 8: Flagships

Projects to provide a lasting impact and, which will fully reflect the purpose and spirit of the Programme after it has come to an end.

3. COMMUNITY INITIATIVES

3.1 Employment

NOW

To support projects which combat stereotyping in occupational choices and which contribute to greater representation of women at managerial and higher technical levels. There is a special emphasis on training for new technology especially of a type facilitating self-employment and working from home.

HORIZON

To help the re-integration of persons with disabilities into employment through support for work placements, training, counselling and placement services and adaptations of equipment.

INTEGRA

To help people at risk of exclusion from employment including ethnic groups with inadequate knowledge of English, the long-term unemployed, and ex-offenders. Projects include language tuition where needed.

YOUTHSTART

To benefit young people through projects aimed at new approaches to reducing the numbers of unqualified school-leavers, counteracting drop-outs and strengthening links between education and work.

3.2 Employment Technical Assistance

The ADAPT initiative has four interrelated objectives:

  • to accelerate the adaption of the workforce to industrial change;
  • to increase the competitiveness of industry, services and commerce;
  • to prevent unemployment by developing the workforce through improving qualification and their internal and external flexibility and ensuring greater occupational mobility; and
  • to anticipate and accelerate the development of new jobs and new activities, particularly labour-intensive ones; this includes the potential of SMEs (small/medium-sized enterprises).

3.3 INTERREG II

This initiative has the following objectives:

  • to promote the creation and development of cross-border networks and linkages;
  • to promote and diversify the local economies, thus reducing vulnerability to external changes;
  • to improve the skills of persons in the region;
  • to improve both internal and external access;
  • to protect the area's natural environment; and
  • to diversify within the primary production sector.

3.4 KONVER

Designed to assist regions weakened by the decline of defence industries and installations. To cover all regions of the UK and Gibraltar. The programme focuses mainly on environmental improvements of defence and military sites and buildings.

3.5 RETEX

To support areas reliant on the textiles and clothing industries.

ADDITIONAL written submission by:
committee for employment and learning

response on the draft framework for developing northern ireland's participation in the european union

At their meeting on 21 February 2002, the Committee for Employment and Learning agreed their response on the draft 'Framework for Developing Northern Ireland's Participation in the European Union (EU)'. The Committee recognises that this is a draft framework to inform a strategy, around which Northern Ireland's contribution to the European Union can be developed and made more effective and have thus limited their comments to this end.

The Committee agreed that each of the ten government departments in Northern Ireland needed to have effective contacts with the EU on areas within their specific remits, in order to build up expertise. However, the Committee also supports the role of the single unit, within the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM), to act as a central co-ordinator.

The Committee would appreciate further information on the European dimension of employment and training issues and of the Committee's legislative role within the EU context. The Committee has often in the past been the recipients of EU directives, particularly in the area of employment legislation, and it is often unclear whether the Committee, or the Northern Ireland Assembly, has any regional discretion to amend this legislation.

The Department for Employment and Learning has a key role in the administration of European funding in Northern Ireland eg it received £21m of European Social Funding in November 2001 for employment and training projects. Areas such as labour mobility and student exchanges also lie within their remit and involve considerable interaction with the EU. The Committee would also look to Europe for models and benchmarks of excellence in areas such as training systems and community education.

To this end, the Committee recommends that the Northern Ireland Executive Office in Brussels should provide support for all MLAs and that a dedicated and proactive information service on European issues should be established for all Assembly Committees.

Finally the Committee would urge proactivity and would support all efforts to inform all relevant persons and organisations of EU policies under consideration at an early stage. There needs to be a central, user-friendly source to access EU information.

There is still a view that Northern Ireland is seen to be reacting to EU directives and members would wish the forthcoming strategy to address how consultation on such policies could better reflect the needs of Northern Ireland as a region.

DR ESMOND BIRNIE MLA
Chairman

21 February 2002

WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
COMMITTEE FOR ENTERPRISE, TRADE AND INVESTMENT

NI ASSEMBLY REPRESENTATION IN BRUSSELS

I understand that the Committee of the Centre is undertaking an inquiry into "the effectiveness of the current approach of the NI Assembly in the engagement of Northern Ireland with the institutions of the European union."

The Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment recently visited Brussels as part of its inquiry into Energy. During this visit, and on a subsequent visit to the Louvain Institute by the Committee Clerk, it became very apparent that the NI Assembly needs to engage more fully with the European Institutions, especially the European Commission.

The Committee has expressed its concern that by the time European Directives are implemented in Northern Ireland through either primary or subordinate legislation it is essentially too late to influence or change the policy. While some steps have been taken to be included in the process at an earlier stage - we now receive copies of MEP briefings - the Committee is of the opinion that more needs to be done.

In our opinion the NI Assembly needs to be represented in Brussels by an individual/group of individuals employed by the Assembly. This would ensure that Committees would be informed at a very early stage what policy issues are being considered, what legislation is being planned and at what stage of the process it has reached. This would provide Committees and Members an opportunity to lobby the decision makers allowing the Northern Ireland perspective to be heard.

A presence in Brussels would also raise the profile of the Assembly and provide a useful conduit for information coming from and going to the European Institutions and to assist in arranging visits for Members to Brussels and vice versa.

The Office of the NI Executive (ONIE) is based in Brussels but its raison d'être is to serve the needs of the Executive not the Assembly. There would be a clear conflict of interest if ONIE's remit were to be expanded (assuming of course that the Executive would agree to any change).

Other Parliaments/legislatures do have a presence in Brussels and the Committee sees no reason why the Northern Ireland Assembly should not also be represented in the heart of Europe.

PAT DOHERTY MP MLA
Chairperson

19 November 2001

ADDITIONAL WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
COMMITTEE FOR ENTERPRISE, TRADE AND INVESTMENT

A Framework for Developing Northern Ireland's Participation in the European Union

The Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment considered the above issue at its meeting today and would offer the following comments:

The draft document provides a welcome new commitment on the part of the Executive to increase its knowledge of EU affairs, its involvement in EU activities and its influence on EU policy-making. The plans to draw together departmental priorities, prepare strategies and promote a co-ordinated, overarching Governmental approach to the European Union is an important first step.

However the framework lacks any real appreciation of the responsibility of the Executive and Government Departments to inform, advise, facilitate and encourage active involvement in EU affairs among interest groups throughout Northern Ireland and among the public at large.

While it is accepted that the Executive and Government Departments need to greatly improve their own procedures for implementing back-logged EU Directives, for influencing EU policy and for lobbying EU institutions, they should also work to enable greater participation of all sectors of society in EU affairs. In this way, the benefits of EU membership to the citizens of Northern Ireland become far more far-reaching.

Reference is made in the overall aims of the framework to "improving understanding of the EU among Northern Ireland departments and 'in the wider society'" but this is not appropriately translated into action points.

Only two of the sixteen action points make reference to links with the wider society - the establishment of a Forum on Europe and the development of inter-regional linkages which "might also facilitate the engagement at other levels of universities, local government, business and voluntary organisations".

In the 'framework of aims and objectives' (Annex A), only one of twenty-two recommendations refers to the wider society - "encourage the capacity of sectors outside Government to operate within the EU". The remainder focus on the role of Ministers and Departmental officials.

The Committee recommends the inclusion in the framework of a detailed and proactive strategy to address the means of involving wider society in the process through:

  • recognition of the role and work of Assembly Committees in scrutinising EU legislation and actively involving these committees in the programme, including access to Brussels Office and early intelligence operations;
  • the establishment of a committee on European Affairs in the Assembly to scrutinise all areas of EU legislation;
  • recognition of the role played by local government by facilitating the development of links with the EC and at an inter-regional level and encouraging town twinning;
  • preparing a highly visible public information strategy in co-operation with the EC Office in Northern Ireland and other EU information outlets to inform wider opinion of the opportunities available;
  • encouraging DETI to facilitate greater links with business in the EU and in the enlargement countries and to promote NI for other European tourists; and
  • making greater use of the vast European experience of the Community and Voluntary Sector and the Social Partners in policy preparation and information exchange.

Departmental role

In Annex B, the Departments set out their responsibilities with EU dimensions, giving each area a 'High' or 'Medium' priority. The Committee was surprised to see that Economic and Monetary Union and consumer protection are medium priority for DETI.

In light of this, the Committee recommends a re-evaluation of Departmental priorities to bring them more in line with Executive programme priorities.

PAT DOHERTY MP MLA
Chairperson

27 February 2002

written submission by:
Committee for the Environment

At its meeting on 17 January 2002, the Committee considered a number of key issues regarding the Department of the Environment's relationship with EU institutions and agreed the following response:

Interaction between the Department of the Environment and EU Institutions

The Department of the Environment has advised that there have been several discussions between Departmental Officials and the European Policy and Co-ordination Unit (OFMDFM) on EC related environmental issues. In addition to contacts at Official level, the Minister of the Environment met with the joint Chairs of the European Union Policy Group, Mr Dermot Nesbitt and Mr Denis Haughey, on 28 November, to discuss EC environmental policy and legislation, including the backlog in transposing environmental Directives into NI legislation and the new Directive and UNECE Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment.

The Committee is concerned that there is a considerable risk that the Department of the Environment's outlook on the European Union may be dominated, for some time to come by the risk of infraction procedures. The Committee recommends that the Department should not simply view itself as a delivery mechanism for EU decisions and legislation but should develop its understanding of EU Institutions and improve communication with EC Officials in order to gain a sense of ownership of European environmental policy-making.

The Committee believes that the Department must address the growing need for a radical change in organisational culture to meet the demands of the devolved administration if the Northern Ireland perspective is to be fully represented in EU policy-making decisions.

The Committee is concerned that there is currently no strategy within the Department to encourage secondments to the EU Institutions. The Committee acknowledges that responsibility for facilitating secondments lies with the Department of Finance and Personnel. However, it is imperative that, given the high profile of environmental policy in EU legislation, the Department should adopt a proactive approach to EU secondment opportunities. Secondments to the European Union should be viewed as an opportunity to increase the necessary expertise to deal with complex and technical EU policy issues and arrangements should be put in place to ensure that staff who benefit from secondment are placed in positions where their experience can be fully exploited on their return to Northern Ireland.

The Influence of the Department of the Environment over EU Policy

The Department of the Environment operates under the principles set out in a Memorandum of Understanding and Supplementary Agreements between the UK Government and the devolved administrations. Under the Memorandum, the Department's Environmental Policy Division (EPD) is normally copied into papers relating to the proposed UK negotiating position on EC Directives on the environment. Where these impact on devolved matters relating to the environment, the agreement of the Minister of the Environment is sought on the UK negotiating line. EPD Officials also attend meetings between the UK lead department and the devolved administrations to discuss the implementation of complex EU Directives such as the Landfill Directive. The Department's Planning Service is currently the Northern Ireland co-ordinator for input to the UK development control issues and subsequent transposing legislation.

The extent of involvement by the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland is limited to the level of expertise and resources available, given the Department's key priority, which is to address the backlog of EC Directives awaiting transposition. These resource issues may impact on the Department's ability to effectively monitor and anticipate European environmental policy developments and their likely impact on Northern Ireland.

The Impact of the NI Strategy on the Department of the Environment

A Senior Official from the Environmental Policy Division represents the Department on the European Union Policy Group (EUPG) which was established to take forward the Executive Strategy towards the European Union. The aim of the Strategy is to develop a cohesive approach for Northern Ireland to the EU, establishing policy priorities and enabling Northern Ireland to pursue its interests effectively. The Department is working with the EUPG to develop its own understanding and knowledge of the EU Institutions and is exploring ways to improve communication with EC officials working on environmental policy and legislation.

The key period for Ministerial and Official participation in EU decision-making should come prior to the negotiation with EU partners, and when the UK position is being formulated.

Summary of Recommendations for Improvement

The Committee for the Environment would recommend that:

  • the Department of the Environment should adopt a proactive approach to EU secondment opportunities and to develop a systematic approach to deploying the newly acquired skills and networking capacity of Departmental Officials on their return from secondment;
  • the Department should also consider establishing facilities to encourage staff to join the Office of Public Service European Fast Stream. These are permanent posts for those who wish to work for the EU institutions. This would provide a clear incentive opportunity structured around the acquisition of European policy skills;
  • the Department should encourage the necessary networking skills to allow Officials to develop both informal and formal linkages to work effectively with EU Institutions. Key considerations when dealing with the environment are the cross-cutting and cross-departmental implications, as underlined by the concept of sustainable development. At the European level, the environment and sustainable development will increasingly impact on trade, foreign and security considerations; and
  • the Northern Ireland Assembly Committees should receive copies of the relevant MEP briefings as a source of information on European policy developments.

The Committee of the Centre had requested advice on two specific questions relating to the Department of the Environment's relationship with EU institutions. The Department of the Environment has responded as follows:

  • 1.8% of the total budget of the Department of the Environment is European funding
  • The Minister of the Environment has never attended the European Council of Ministers' meeting

The Committee was concerned to note that the Minister of the Environment has not yet attended a meeting of the European Council of Ministers, particularly as there has been a total of 22 visits by other Northern Ireland Ministers since devolution. Given the Department's involvement in EU legislation, the Committee would strongly recommend that the Minister should take the lead in developing a positive relationship between the Department and the EU Institutions and consider arranging a visit to Brussels in the near future.

A detailed briefing paper provided by the Assembly Research and Library Service on the effectiveness of Northern Ireland institutions in engaging with the European Union as it relates to the environment is available from the Environment Committee.

JOHN SIMMONS
Committee Clerk

21 January 2002

additional written submission by:
committee for the environment

ofmdfm framework for developing northern ireland's participation in the european union

The Committee for the Environment has asked me to write and thank you for the opportunity to comment on issues relating to the environment raised in the OFMDFM Framework for Developing Northern Ireland's Participation in the European Union.

The Committee was pleased to note that the Framework goes some way in addressing a number of the recommendations made in its response of 21 January 2002 to the Committee of the Centre's European Inquiry. For example, the development of appropriate training and secondment opportunities and the commitment to improving essential networking skills should assist Northern Ireland to participate more fully in the early stages of policy formulation and more effectively pursue its own interests in Europe.

The Environment - A Cross Cutting Governmental Issue

The Committee notes that, in addition to Environment, four of the seven European policy areas identified in the Framework Document have important environmental content - Structural Funds, Agriculture, Fisheries and Education, Training & Employment (education for sustainable development and training and building skills for the green economy).

The Committee is concerned that the environment should not be 'compartmentalised' but should be viewed by the Executive, Northern Ireland Government Departments and the wider community as a core cross cutting issue. In this light, OFMDFM may wish to emphasise the opportunity presented by the EU Structural Funds as an important vehicle to bring Northern Ireland into line with the levels of environmental awareness and good practice in other parts of the EU by ensuring that funded programmes are rigorously proofed for their environmental impact.

Improving Understanding of the EU in the Wider Community

The introduction to the Framework Document refers to facilitating an improved understanding of the EU among the Northern Ireland Departments and the wider community and paragraph 4 goes some way to recognise this concern. Many non-government organisations working in Northern Ireland, including the World Wide Fund for Nature, Friends of the Earth and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, have considerable understanding of the workings of the EU and are involved in Europe-wide networks with wide experience of lobbying on environment issues.

The Committee recommends that the Department may wish to utilise the experience and contacts provided by organisations such as these in developing strategies to engage with EU institutions.

The 'Leadership' Role of OFMDFM

In its introduction, the Framework Document describes OFMDFM as having a co-ordinating role in EU policy. The Committee is concerned that the experience of direct rule may have had a negative impact on the skill levels within individual Northern Ireland departments and believes that all departments, including the Department of the Environment, must address the growing need for a radical change in organisational culture to meet the demands of the devolved administration.

The Committee, therefore, recommends that OFMDFM should adopt a more proactive leadership role to take the necessary steps required - in terms of training and secondment opportunities - to assist departments to identify priorities and to balance the need for policy innovation against the more familiar processes of dealing with the backlog of untransposed EU directives.

Backlog of transposition of EU Directives

In its response to the Committee of the Centre's European Inquiry, the Committee expresses a concern

'that there is a considerable risk that the Department of the Environment's outlook on the European Union may be dominated, for some time to come by the risk of infraction procedures'.

The Committee reiterates its recommendation that the Department of the Environment should not simply view itself as a delivery mechanism for EU decisions and legislation but should develop its understanding of EU institutions and improve communication with EC officials in order to gain a sense of ownership of European environmental policy making.

The Rationale behind the Environment Issues Priority Rating

In Annex B of the Framework Document, the Department of the Environment has prioritised a number of its policy areas. The Committee would invite the Department to provide its rationale for its decision to designate some issues as 'medium' rather than 'high' priority, particularly biodiversity, access to environmental information and the Habitats Directive. The Committee noted that DOE had 27 out of the 100 priority areas listed and this points up that the Executive must ensure adequate resourcing to address the issues arising from these policy areas.

Northern Ireland's Profile in the EU

Finally, Objective 5 of the Framework, the Executive identified a number of steps to address the need to raise Northern Ireland's positive profile in Europe, including arranging visits to EU Member States and the institutions by Ministers and other delegations. This is in line with the earlier recommendation made by the Committee that the Minister of the Environment should take the lead in developing a positive relationship between the Department and the EU institutions and consider arranging a visit to Brussels in the near future.

JOANNE ADAIR
Committee Assistant Clerk

22 February 2002

WRITTEN SUBMIssion BY:
COMMITTEE FOR Finance And Personnel

A Framework for Developing Northern Ireland's Participation in the European Union

The paper was tabled for the Committee for Finance and Personnel's meeting on 12 February. The paper provides some helpful information on departmental priorities etc but had not been put to the Committee in draft for consultation.

The Committee have been consulted on Peace II allocations to Local Strategy Partnerships (LSPs) and received, for information only, the operational plans for Building Sustainable Prosperity and the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation. As to the consultation on Peace II allocations to LSPs the Department set a ridiculously short deadline for response and rejected the principle concern raised by the Committee in its response.

The Committee's inquiry into the Department's management of European Funding will undoubtedly flesh out some of the concerns and the Committee are grateful for sight of the strategy document. Clearly much work needs to be done to build the Assembly and its committees into European issues at the outset rather than simply consulting or not, committees after the game is effectively over.

ALAN PATTERSON
Principal Clerk

14 February 2002

WRITTEN SUBMIssion BY:
Committee for Social Development

At its meeting on Thursday 21 February 2002, the Committee for Social Development considered the "Framework for Developing Northern Ireland's Participation in the European Union".

The Committee is satisfied with the general headings listed under the Department for Social Development's responsibilities. However, I should point out that the Committee was not consulted about the list and is interested to know how the 'priorities' were determined and how they are to be weighted against those of other Departments.

STEPHEN GRAHAM
Committee Clerk

4 March 2002

WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
European Commission representation
in northern ireland

For your information, I thought it would be useful to set out the role of the European Commission Representation in Northern Ireland and some of its activities.

The Representation's main function is political and media liaison which is carried out by myself and the Press and Political Liaison Unit. We also report to Brussels on the political and economic climate in Northern Ireland. The Representation Info-Point also acts as a source of information on all EU related policies and programmes and it provides support to all members of the European Information Network in Northern Ireland.

Since devolution in 1998, the European Commission Representation has been building links and forging relationships with the Northern Ireland Assembly Members, their support staff and the Government Departments. A number of events have taken place since this time including:

  • An information seminar for all MLAs in September 1998
  • A four day visit to Brussels for all MLAs to introduce them to key people in the European Commission and to raise the awareness of the workings of the EU Institutions. Follow up events proposed for 1999 had to be cancelled due to Executive suspension. It is hoped that this can be taken up in the future, following consultation with the Northern Ireland Executive
  • Introductory seminars on the European Union and its Institutions and key policies delivered to the Assembly Research and Library Unit and a number of European Units from Government Departments
  • Informal meetings between Head of European Commission Representation in Northern Ireland and MLAs, including a number of round table discussions
  • Inclusion of First and Deputy First Ministers and other Ministers in a number of visits by high ranking Commission Officials

Other ongoing support includes:

  • a weekly round up of the main EU developments which the European Commission Representation compiles and forwards to all MLAs
  • regular assistance given by the Representation's Press and Political Liaison Unit to Assembly Researchers, Information Officers and MLAs such as answering EU related enquiries and helping liaise with Commission Officials

Finally, the Commission Representation is in discussion with Ministers Haughey and Nesbitt about possible joint actions concerning the provision of information from the European Commission's Info-Point.

JIM DOUGAL
Head of Representation

16 January 2002

written submission by:
Federation of Small Businesses

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) is the largest group representing the interests of the self-employed and those who direct business in N.Ireland. The FSB is run by business people for business people and is funded by member subscriptions.

The Federation of Small Businesses welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the Committee of the Centre European Union Inquiry. We believe that a stable government and a peaceful society are essential prerequisites to securing our vision of a vibrant economic community. The principle driving force of the Executive must be to create a business environment that will enhance the development of an enterprise culture, which will create long-term economic prosperity and employment.

The Federation of Small Businesses is committed to working in close partnership with the institutions of the European Union to secure our vision of a peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland.

We want to see an open, transparent and accountable European Union, which is pro-business and pro-enterprise.

This inquiry by the Committee of the Centre is particularly welcome at this time as the European Union faces key challenges such as the Single Currency and enlargement.

The FSB has had a number of concerns about the lack of a co-ordinated and strategic approach by the Northern Ireland Assembly to its relationship to the European Union.

In our submission we hope to address these concerns in a positive and practical way.

Establishment of an Assembly Committee on Europe

The Northern Ireland Assembly is the only devolved legislature in the United Kingdom, which does not have a European Affairs Committee. We appreciate that the Committee of the Centre does include this within its remit, but alongside a heavy portfolio of Community Relations, Victims, Civic Forum and other aspects of the OFM/DFM.

In both Scotland and Wales, European Affairs Committees have been set up to ensure that they take a strategic approach to relationships with the European Union.

These committees have also had a role in co-ordination with other subject matter committees and the scrutiny of European Legislation and its implications for their respective countries.

We would argue that the Northern Ireland Assembly set up a European Affairs Committee to undertake the role that its counterparts in Wales and Scotland are currently performing.

It would give organisations like the FSB who have had concerns over regulation and other aspects of the European Union a direct line of communication with locally elected representatives.

The European Union should be the subject of a separate Assembly Committee, rather than having to compete with other important subjects areas.

The Appointment of Junior Minister for European Affairs

While we feel that the Assembly should address this issue, the OFM/DFM should also give serious consideration to the relationships with the EU.

Again looking at Scotland and Wales, they have ensured that a single Minister should look after the European Portfolio.

In Scotland, The Deputy First Minister, Jim Wallace MSP has responsibility for European Relations in addition to his Justice Portfolio. It is a similar situation in Wales with First Minister Rhodri Morgan AM taking the role.

Given that the European Portfolio is spread among four Ministers in the OFM/DFM, it's hard to see who has the specific responsibility for Europe on a day to day basis.

We propose that either a third Junior Minister is specifically appointed to be European Affairs Minister or perhaps what is more practical, one of the two existing Junior Ministers is given the portfolio.

A new minister for European Affairs could also address the lack of co-ordination between the 11 departments with the European Union and be responsible for the practical relationships with the European Union.

The European Affairs Minister could act as vital voice for Europe and as an interface for interested groups in Northern Ireland.

A Consultative Forum on Europe

In order to bring together the various interests among the wider Civic Society and other key players in the European arena in Northern Ireland, we propose the following.

The OFM/DFM should appoint a Consultative Forum on Europe to advise and co-ordinate the wider approach to Europe. We envisage such a forum to be ad-hoc and a specific remit.

In the Republic of Ireland, following the Nice Referendum result, they established a similar such body which brings together TDs, MEPs and special interest groups.

We would suggest that the following groups be appointed

1. The Three MEPs that represent Northern Ireland in the European Parliament

2. Northern Ireland Members of the Committee of the Regions

3. Northern Ireland Members of the EU Economic and Social Committee

4. One Representative from each of the various subject groups in the Northern Ireland Civic Forum

5. The Head of Representation of the European Commission Office in Belfast

It would also be productive if the political parties in the Assembly also play a role in the proceedings of the proposed Forum. If a future European Affairs Committee is established in the Assembly, then its members may be the most appropriate to take part.

A European Parliament Office for Northern Ireland

Given that Scotland, London and Dublin have European Parliament Offices, we would argue one should be opened in Northern Ireland also.

This would provide an interface for the community in Northern Ireland and would be crucial in supplying information on its operation.

We recognise that such a development is not in the power of the Northern Ireland Assembly, but it could be an important recommendation in any final report the committee may submit after its deliberations .

If the Assembly agreed on this objective then it would be powerful advocate which would be hard to ignore.

GERALDINE QUINN
NI Policy Officer

February 2002

written submission by:
Irish Congress of Trade Unions

The Northern Ireland Committee, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, is pleased to respond to the Committee of the Centre's request to comment on the Inquiry into the European Affairs area of its remit. We note the terms of reference:

'An evaluation of the effectiveness of the current approach of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Devolved Government in the engagement of Northern Ireland with the institutions of the European Union.'

In responding we note the key issues to be examined by the Inquiry and also the fact that a number of the issues raised can only be dealt with at official Departmental level. The NIC's reply will therefore centre on our own experiences.

Traditionally, contact on European Union matters has been with the Department of Finance and Personnel. This would have been to do with the Community Support Framework and the various monitoring committees. This contact would have been during the period of direct rule. It would be fair to say that our meetings with the DFP, although generally cordial, were not always productive. Lack of direct access to Brussels and the absence of a Northern Ireland office were seen by us as major drawbacks. The general method of dealing with trade unions was, in our view, one of exclusion.

Over recent years things have improved. The best example of this was the introduction of PEACE I. With the introduction of PEACE I the social partners had much more direct access to Brussels officials. It is our view that they were much more ready to listen to, and be influenced by, the views of the trade unions. This in turn meant that our local officials started to take more account of our views. Through PEACE I the Northern Ireland Partnership Board and District Partnerships were established. Such Boards gave local people and organisations a much more balanced input and say in local decision-making. The process was also instrumental in promoting the concept of participative democracy.

Such involvement set minimum parameters to prepare for the current round of structural funds and PEACE 2. It would be fair to say that the DFP make a more genuine effort to consult. It would also be fair to say that the process should have begun much earlier and papers provided in good time to allow the social partners to give a considered response. Despite this we believe that more can be done to improve the cohesion, effectiveness and achievements of the Community Support Framework. Mechanisms should be established to enhance the capacity of the social partners to contribute to, and participate in, the formulation and management of the various programmes.

If we are to have influence over the policies of the EU then we must establish interaction, debate and discussion between the social partners and the Assembly on key policy matters. Hopefully this would lead to common policy positions. We should also seek to establish cross-sectoral consultation processes with the Assembly and it's appropriate committees. It is our view that the EU will be influenced by a transparent inclusive approach in its dealings with all of those who form society in Northern Ireland.

We welcome the establishment of the Government's office in Brussels and would wish to hear more about its aims and approach to influencing decisions affecting our community. A briefing for the social partners would be welcomed and would assist us in being able to give meaning to issues raised.

Although the above comments are general in nature we believe that they will assist the Committee of the Centre in its deliberations. It is not possible for us to comment on the Northern Ireland Strategy as we have no knowledge of it. Contact with other social partners would indicate that no consultation has taken place on this issue.

Hopefully, this short contribution has added some additional matters to your considerations and, of course, we would be happy to discuss our views with the Committee if desired.

TOM GILLEN
Deputy Assistant General Secretary

5 February 2002

WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
Northern Ireland Centre In Europe

Background

The Northern Ireland Centre in Europe was established in 1991 as a cross Party and cross sectoral initiative to provide advice, analysis and support on issues arising from membership of the European Union.

Strengths

Through its work the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe developed a number of strengths which can be summarised in the following categories.

Knowledge & experience

detailed practical knowledge of managing policy processes and identifying where success is possible

Networks of expertise

very effective networks of analysts and practitioners to support Northern Ireland's efforts in the key policy areas

Clear information & support

skills in providing clear analysis, well structured briefings and informative and productive events

Developing consensus

working models to promote understanding and consensus at all stages of the planning process

Independent analysis

the EU agenda is subject to continuous change, we have extensive experience in providing timely, independent analysis to support NI's efforts

Purpose of paper

This paper seeks to summarise the lessons from the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe experience and to assist with identifying and answering the key questions for Northern Ireland.

There are two key questions for a region in relation to EU issues.

1. Where can a region most successfully place its effort ?

There are two distinct categories of policy areas national and regional, which give rise to two distinctive categories of tasks.

National issues - the main tasks in relation to these issues are to

a) put in place cost effective monitoring processes;

b) produce effective plans to address the impact on the region.

Regional issues - these are the issues in which a region can successfully participate. The main tasks in relation to these issues are to:

a) establish a clear framework to those issues which require attention;

b) produce a coherent strategy and work plan;

c) develop and maintain networks to use the formal and informal channels available to the region.

2 How can a region be sure its efforts are being effective ?

This will depend on the following:

a) the quality of the analysis available to policy makers;

b) the clarity and relevance of the goals in the strategy and work plan;

c) the quality of the networks within the region and between the region and other sources of support and influence;

d) the effectiveness of the monitoring and review mechanisms;

e) the success in capturing the learning for the region and comparing it with approaches in other successful regions.

Where can a region most successfully place its effort?

Member state issues

A wide range of issues are primarily for debate and decision at national level - the euro, enlargement, etc. These policy areas offer little opportunity for a region to act successfully without the agreement of the member state. The main task for a region in relation to these issues is to utilise the potential of national channels. This is not to argue that the policy makers in the regions should not participate in these debates, rather to suggest that this is most productive through national mechanisms.

a. Monitoring from the regional perspective

For these issues, the core task for a region is to put in place adequate mechanisms for monitoring the policy process. To be cost effective this should make use of the national channels and mechanisms.

b. Addressing the impact at regional level

The second dimension is to ensure there are appropriate systems in place to identify policy trends as they are being developed and to make adequate preparation to assess the impact on the region. If this is done at an early stage and to a high standard it increases the opportunities for the region to reach a working agreement with the national government on how to address the issue.

This work is almost exclusively the task of the formal civil service channels. In Northern Ireland we have had limited success in this area and as yet we have not established a sufficiently clear framework to adequately address this dimension.

Regional issues

There are a very wide range of policy issues which offer considerable value for any region. For Northern Ireland to attain that value the following approaches are recommended.

a. Establish a clear framework

The first task is to put in place mechanisms to avoid the unnecessary complexity and jargon and to identify clearly and openly the key issues where benefit can be derived.

Successful regions have identified the need to establish clear, functional frameworks to provide open and informed debate within the region. However, this debate should be lead by the key issues for the region itself - and then learning and difficulties from the European experience brought to bear, not vice versa.

b. Produce a coherent strategy and work plan

It is essential to ensure that plans are established which prioritise those key areas to be addressed over a five year planning period. If this is not done the volume will quickly overwhelm the capacity.

Given the nature of the policy areas which can be productively addressed at regional level, it is important that all sectors are properly consulted and informed. A highly centralised, bureaucratic model cannot, by definition, adequately address these issues and is not appropriate to support a devolved Assembly and Executive.

Even the most centralised administrations have learned this lesson and are adjusting their approaches to ensure they can be more successful. In Northern Ireland there is considerable work to be done to move to the level of openness and skills required.

To be of value, work plans must clearly define the various roles to be carried out and set out how skills will be put in place to successfully address these roles.

c. Develop and maintain networks

If a region is to use to maximum impact the potential available it needs to ensure it uses all of the channels available. The detailed experience of the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe and the extensive research and analysis available make it possible to clearly identify the following dimensions.

i) Formal networks

In the case of regional issues the formal input to EU processes is through the members of the EU institutions - the European Parliament, the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee.

Support should be made available to help co-ordinate the impact of the Northern Ireland representatives to these institutions. This task, by definition, cannot be undertaken by the Northern Ireland Civil Service, whose task is to support the Ministers in the Executive Committee. This co-ordination should also seek to significantly improve the channels of communication between the Executive, the Assembly and the Northern Ireland representatives to those institutions.

The co-ordination of the work of the Northern Ireland members of these institutions should be a core part of the region's work plan.

ii) Informal networks

There are a very wide range of informal networks available to regions seeking to address issues arising from EU membership. In many cases, in the light of the role of the member states, the informal networks are the most likely to yield a positive return for a region.

To date, informal networks have been the most productive for Northern Ireland, particularly when they worked in co-ordination with the Northern Ireland members of the European institutions. Much of the progress secured through the work of the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe has been through using these informal networks. Given Northern Ireland's stage of development, this approach is likely to be the most effective for some time to come.

It should be remembered that it was through the use of informal channels that the Northern Ireland MEP's mobilised the support which secured Objective One funding and the special support through the Peace programmes. Together this funding has been worth almost three billion pounds.

Very useful networks had been put in place, up to and including the level of Commissioners who became regular visitors to Northern Ireland. For a number of years, they and their staff were provided extremely valuable assistance through detailed informal contacts and support.

The Northern Ireland Centre in Europe played a core role in this work. The establishment of an office in Brussels exclusively focused on the work of the Executive brought this important phase to an end. We believe the decision to abandon this work for a purely formal, led by the Civil Service with no other structured inputs was a mistake and should be reviewed.

How can a region be sure it is being effective?

There are a number of core issues which, if addressed, can significantly add to the success of a region.

a. The quality of the analysis

Issues arising from EU membership require a full understanding of the context and of the future trends. There is cause for concern in relation to the quality of the analysis provided by the Northern Ireland bureaucracy in relation to these issues.

In 1998 the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe set out a number of issues which would have significant impact for Northern Ireland in its relationship with the EU - devolution, the ending of Objective One status and the Peace programmes, enlargement. The formal response from the Northern Ireland Civil Service was that these would have "no significant impact".

Detailed proposals from this organisation to assist Northern Ireland to address these issues were dismissed, with the lack of significance being cited as the reason. We believe that analysis to have been wrong at the time and events since have added considerable evidence to support that view. Indeed, there is evidence that the quality of analysis from within the Northern Ireland Civil Service has not significantly improved.

b. Clarity and relevance of goals in the strategy and work plan

In establishing the goals it is important to avoid unnecessary complexity - the options available fall within a relatively clear framework. It is also important to ensure the strategy and work plan is fundamentally led by the Northern Ireland programme for government and then aligned to the EU agenda.

It is necessary to be clear about what opportunities are available to a region. They are mainly in relation to the learning available from approaches and models. In a number of policy areas there are valuable lessons for Northern Ireland, most clearly in relation to how policy is formulated and monitored. The models arising from the EU have performed very well in comparative studies and analysis.

c. Quality of the networks

The Northern Ireland Centre in Europe has created a number of valuable initiatives to promote coherent, agreed approaches particularly involving local government and social partner organisations. These have provided value in working constructively to promote Northern Ireland's case to the European Commission and Parliament and have received very positive feedback.

Some work was also undertaken with the Assembly, particularly in co-operation with the European Commission Representation in Northern Ireland.

With some exceptions Departments have resisted any real engagement in working groups or networks and this has retarded the potential effectiveness.

Valuable networks have also been established by the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe with individuals and organisations outside Northern Ireland. Considerable benefit has been derived through accessing analysis and expertise to assist develop and promote the interests of Northern Ireland. Before devolution a number of European Commissioners were very actively involved and supportive of this work, however considerable momentum has been lost since.

d. Effectiveness of monitoring and review mechanisms

EU supported models for designing and monitoring policy are regarded by analysts as among the best available. These models can be put to use across the range of issues arising from membership of the EU, and indeed beyond. Central to the strength of these models is the move away from focusing on inputs - mainly the level of spend - to concentrate on the outputs, results and impacts achieved through spending public money. There are valuable lessons for Northern Ireland across a range of policy areas.

The models developed by the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe in this area have been commended by the European Commission and by international experts and are now being used in other regions.

e. Success in capturing the learning

While the specific issues can vary, every region is seeking answers to the question of how best to address issues arising from membership of the European Union. One of the central benefits of membership for regions is the opportunity to learn lessons which will assist their policy processes to be more effective.

This opportunity is even more crucial to Northern Ireland, given the challenges of devolution to put in place new processes to support the assembly and to restructure the dysfunctional and overly bureaucratic processes which have grown through prolonged direct rule.

To successfully learn the lessons available and to make them available to Northern Ireland requires investment in appropriate mechanisms to undertake the necessary analysis and to make relevant proposals.

Conclusion

Membership of the European Union offers a range of opportunities, but it is vital for a region to see these in context. The most fundamental tasks are to see clearly where a region can attain benefit and to put in place the necessary steps to secure those benefits.

The Northern Ireland Centre in Europe made detailed proposals for a Northern Ireland presence in Brussels which would be open to the collective efforts set out above. These proposals were rejected in favour of an office which is solely for the Northern Ireland Executive and its Departments. Following the rejection of proposals developed by the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe to work along side the Executive office we had no option but to close our Brussels office. We regret this was the decision taken and do not believe it to be in the best model to serve the interests of Northern Ireland.

Recommendations

Within Northern Ireland we have learned a great deal about what works and what doesn't. Existing approaches, which are based on the immediate administrative agendas of Departments, are not likely to realise the maximum potential. We believe that it is necessary to fundamentally review this approach and to build on the learning available.

The Northern Ireland Centre in Europe believes that the time is right for a review of all of Northern Ireland's relations with the EU, including the arrangements for an informed debate and learning process within Northern Ireland. Such a review should seek to analyse the experience to date and build on the success attained by Northern Ireland from both formal and informal channels.

JOHN KENNEDY
Chief Executive

January 2002

written submission by:
Northern Ireland Fishermen's Federation

The Northern Ireland fishing industry has had a mixed relationship with European Institutions in particular the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

From the initial negotiation of the CFP the issue of Hague Preference discriminated against Northern Irish interests. NI being an Objective 1 area was entitled to gain in several areas under Hague Preference but because the benefits of Hague Preference were weighted to favour the Republic of Ireland NI actually came out as losers. This is manifest today as an annual loss of prime white fish quota (see attached papers).

Objective 1 status within the CFP has in the past conferred beneficial grant aid to the NI fishing industry but this situation is in transition now and Objective 1 status will be lost post 2006.

Of late the NI fishing industry would appear to be the target of CFP fishery management regimes well in excess of that experienced in other areas. Quota cuts for Cod, Haddock, Nephrops & Herring have been excessive and the NW Irish Sea has been subject to closures which are deemed inappropriate elsewhere and in many cases unsupported by science.

On top of this the NW Irish Sea appears to have been the target for closed area and other management measures the closure being unique in EU controls for Cod and recognised by the EU to be ineffectual elsewhere.

We feel the legislation is unfairly targeted against the NI fleet rather than directed by science and it is the politics of the EU and members which are driving this process.

RICHARD JAMES
Chief Executive

February 2002

WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
Northern Ireland Women's European Platform

Introduction

The Northern Ireland Women's European Platform is pleased to make input into the Committee's deliberations on the engagement of Northern Ireland with the European Union. NIWEP is prepared to meet with the Committee to engage in discussion on our submission or other points arising during the Committee's Inquiry.

Background on NIWEP

The Northern Ireland Women's European Platform (NIWEP) was founded in 1988 to offer women's organisations/ groups in Northern Ireland access to Europe and European developments and enable them to influence domestic, European and international policy. NIWEP is a member of the European Women's Lobby and has consultative status at the United Nations. NIWEP has undertaken and collaborated on a number of pieces of work with successful outcomes, including with transnational partners.

Mapping exercise

The Committee has identified the need to carry out a "mapping exercise of the various EU institutions and the Northern Ireland Government bodies who interact with them". This piece of work is welcomed and NIWEP would urge that, in the interests of transparency and increasing knowledge, the information gathered from this exercise be made available to those outside Government circles as well.

However we note that the focus of the Inquiry is "the engagement of Northern Ireland" with the institutions of the EU, not just government bodies. Much valuable and pioneering work has been done to develop access to and benefit from Europe over decades by organisations outside government. NIWEP would suggest, therefore, an extension of this mapping exercise as far as is possible to ascertain other valuable links between Northern Ireland organisations and the European Union. We appreciate a comprehensive audit may not be undertaken easily, but we believe some effort could be made in this direction now. In the longer term a fuller picture could prove valuable to the range of public, private and voluntary organisations in Northern Ireland.

Among those who have pioneered and retained the most sustained linkages are key interest groups in the voluntary and community sector with many taking a keen interest in Europe over several decades. Indeed some voluntary sector organisations and personnel played a major role in the establishment of European networks and in lobbying on European policy. These European networks are well respected and are in regular dialogue with the European Commission and the members and committees of the European Parliament.

European Networks with active Northern Ireland constituents include the European Women's Lobby (NIWEP), the Older Women's Network of Europe (OWN NI, contactable through NIWEP), the European Network Against Racism (NICEM), the European Anti-Poverty Network (NIAPN/NICVA), EuroAge (Age Concern), the Trans European Rural Network (RCN).

EU policy - a non-transferred matter

NIWEP believes it is equally important to play a proactive regional role in relation to European affairs alongside influencing the UK position in relation to European matters. This is an approach that NIWEP and many other organisations have adopted successfully over years to the benefit of our members in Northern Ireland. If NIWEP, along with its sister organisation in Scotland, had not insisted upon a UK structure for the European Women's Lobby that allowed access from each of the four nations a London-centric approach would have deprived the women of Northern Ireland of an opportunity for developing expertise, contacts and transnational experience.

It is also arguable that the activities of our MEPs in interesting the European Commission and Parliament in Objective 1 and Peace funding in Northern Ireland was reinforced by the good contacts, solid work record and strong lobbying of some Northern Ireland voluntary organisations.

It is our experience that interaction from Northern Ireland directly with Europe has paid dividends. It has helped us to "learn the ropes" first-hand, to become more aware of different cultural approaches and transnational negotiation, to bring back ideas from elsewhere, to become confident in working in a more global context, to exchange information and practice, to become exposed to models of good practice from other European countries, to find and develop partnerships, to collaborate in transnational project design, to compete for funding contracts from the European Commission to deliver projects/programmes.

NIWEP would urge OFMDFM to adopt a proactive approach to engagement with the European Union, rather than leave all or most business to be transacted through London. We would argue that this is important for the sound development of Northern Ireland as a region. Appropriate direct involvement from Northern Ireland, and indeed Scotland and Wales, broadens and deepens the UK Member State's membership of the European Union.

Degree of influence from Northern Ireland

It is unnecessary to point out that influence occurs in many forms and at many levels. It is also obvious that "influence" does not just happen like a bolt out of the blue. To exercise influence it is first important to know what is going on, to anticipate actions, to cultivate relationships. It is important to be well respected, have enduring good relations and be well positioned. To have influence at the EU level requires a commitment to prioritise the European context and to demonstrate a track record of engagement.

We would argue that direct liaison with European Commission officials has been useful over the years, and not just in relation to European Structural Funds, as has interaction with EU parliamentarians. For example the European Women's Lobby, and NIWEP directly, have addressed and lobbied the Women's Rights Committee of the European Parliament on several occasions. Voluntary organisations have been proactive on lobbying across the Commission and the Parliament on a diverse range of matters from the Maastricht Treaty, to European social policy, to Article 13.

NIWEP, and many other organisations in Northern Ireland, are used to contributing to policy development at domestic and EU level. Responses to consultations on proposed directives are often made through Northern Ireland departments to be sent up the line as part of the UK Member State response. Organisations also have a more direct route to making their views known in Europe through networks and contacts.

In the equality field the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland is represented on the European Commission's Advisory Committee for Equal Opportunities between Men and Women and thus is able to contribute directly to developments in this field.

The secondment of Northern Ireland officials to work in Brussels for periods is important. Departmental officials have also built contacts over the duration of the structural funds and many Intermediate Funding Bodies have relations in Europe that take them beyond their funding remit in Northern Ireland into offering advice on pilot programmes that lead to new policy initiatives.

There is a wealth of talent and experience on European matters among public, private and voluntary players that could be better harnessed in Northern Ireland. In addition more opportunities could be availed of at EU level to place people from all these sectors in a variety of capacities - secondments/advisors/ experts.

A NI strategy for Northern Ireland's interaction with Europe

Northern Ireland is a small but well-known region in the European Union; unfortunately our history of conflict has made us a name on the lips of many in EU institutions who have debated our situation and voted us special funds. However, it would be a travesty if Northern Ireland's relationship with Europe was to be only important for the period in which it was a beneficiary of structural funds.

NIWEP would argue that an important consideration in laying out a strategy for Northern Ireland's future interaction with Europe is how we can contribute to European development, in part to acknowledge the confidence and support the EU invested in us. This is critically linked to the future role and influence of Northern Ireland in Europe.

Efforts to influence are more likely to succeed when willingness to make a contribution to a shared goal is part of the equation. Otherwise they can be marginalized as opportunism for selfish short-term gain. Europe is a cooperative project with ambitious goals - a more united Europe, an enlarged Europe and hopefully a socially cohesive as well as financially strong Europe. The outworking of all this will have a significant impact on Northern Ireland. We can choose to drift on the tide of change taking little direct interest after funding to this region is significantly reduced. Alternatively we can help shape the future picture of Europe, sharing our experience, engaging in joint endeavours, developing cultural understanding. In return we will continue to learn new and/or different things and gain more expertise to assist us to succeed in an increasingly global and constantly changing world.

There will be many thoughts in relation to a strategy for the engagement of Northern Ireland with the European Union. NIWEP would proffer a few ideas for consideration. We believe that these build on Northern Ireland's expertise and experience and allow us both to make a contribution to the development of Europe from our small region and to gain further benefit in return.

1. A major challenge in the European Union is building a strong economic future while at the same time securing a socially cohesive society. While we have not achieved this by any means in Northern Ireland we have developed experience in strategic thinking, programme planning, project design, partnerships and some good ideas. We have both successes and failures to share. One strength is our Social Partnership of business, trade union and voluntary sector collaboration. Another is our extensive range of women's organisations and community organisations.

2. Northern Ireland has the potential to be a European leader in some aspects of equality with Section 75 and, hopefully, a new Single Equality Act. The EU focus to date has been on gender equality but with Article 13 it will address multi-dimensional discrimination and equal opportunity. Northern Ireland will soon have concrete practical experience of working multi-dimensional legislation. The European Union has prioritised gender mainstreaming. Our EU Monitoring Committees are challenged to ensure these two approaches are integrated, mutually reinforcing and applied well over the next few years of EU funding; this could prove a valuable EU pilot on equality. There is considerable value in exchanging knowledge, expertise and practical experience on the legislative provisions and implementation strategies. It could also position Northern Ireland to be in the forefront of EU experts in equality.

3. As the European Union moves to enlargement many countries that seek to join are trying to achieve stability after war and conflict often with EU assistance. Some face great difficulty. As in Northern Ireland there is work to be done in addressing economic underdevelopment, poverty and alienation, inter-community distrust and conflict. There is much can be shared about the successes and failures in Northern Ireland. A few organisations already appreciate this and have developed transnational partnerships, usually in the voluntary and trade union sectors. Others have taken the opportunity for contracted work in this field. Further steps could be taken to promote Northern Ireland's involvement in EU enlargement in such areas as peace building, community building, women's development, social inclusion, the social economy, community leadership as well as economic initiatives.

4. We often forget that the EU has a 'foreign' or 'external' role as we concentrate on our access to the centre of the European Union and its institutions. Often this role is called upon in relation to countries in conflict. Our experience within a conflict informs us that sustainable peace building must be inclusive, a key aspect of which is enabling and encouraging local communities and various interests, including women, to participate and share responsibility for the future. Again Northern Ireland has people with an understanding of conflict, peace-building and reconstruction as well valuable experience in political, civic and grassroots leadership, partnership and networking. This could be promoted through the UK relationship in the European Union as well as directly to the EU from Northern Ireland.

When the strategy for Northern Ireland's relationship with the EU is prepared it is important that it is equality proofed. We draw attention to the necessity to ensure that women are positively included in all parts of the strategy; in EU language, it should be apparent that gender mainstreaming is being addressed.

Concluding notes

NIWEP has based this input on its experience in working within the EU and international contexts.

This includes, for example:

  • production of policy and position papers on the position of women in Northern Ireland;
  • research on women and decision-making, including women on public bodies and partnership boards and the treatment of political women in the media;
  • information and policy meetings on matters such as structural and peace funds, Maastricht, social policy, partnership in policy-making;
  • submission to the EU Task Force on Northern Ireland on developing economic and social cohesion with reference to investment for women;
  • participation in EU conferences on women and the UN world conferences for women and their preparation both at EU and UN level;
  • assisting women and women's organisations to access the EU and the UN, including helping with the establishment of networks to link to pre-existing EU networks.
  • work with young women and men in relation to a Youth Parliament in Strasbourg;
  • work with women from different conflict situations.

The Northern Ireland Women's European Platform:

  • is or has been part of several transnational projects including women and decision-making, women and the European elections, mobilising young women, establishing a European women's talent bank, domestic violence, mobile IT training for rural women.
  • served as the founding chair of the UK Joint Committee on Women which established the UK membership of the European Women's Lobby;
  • developed East/West working relationships with colleagues in Scotland, Wales and England on a range of matters;
  • developed North/South working relationships and conferences on matters such as women and decision-making and investment in women;
  • hosted European women's Lobby visits to Northern Ireland;
  • participated in meetings with EU Commission and EU Parliament representatives.

NIWEP's former Chair was selected as the UK Woman of Europe in November 1998.

NIWEP's current representative to the European Women's Lobby is Ms Avril Watson.

BRONAGH HINDS
Member of NIWEP

January 2002

written submission by:
Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister

ROLE OF THE EUROPEAN POLICY AND CO-ORDINATION UNIT (EPCU)

The Unit provides a central policy and co-ordination role for the Departments in developing their relations with the European Union. The overall aim is to ensure that the Northern Ireland Executive benefits from involvement in the EU in terms of effective policy development and implementation, fulfils its EU responsibilities and develops a positive approach to participation in the EU.

The Unit approaches its work under six headings:-

1. Establishing agreed priority areas for NI in Europe

Under this heading the Unit has been working with all Departments in drafting a framework on how the Executive will develop its strategy in relation to the EU. This has been done through the establishment of a Service-wide EU Policy Group (EUPG) comprising senior civil servants, and chaired by Mr Nesbitt and Mr Haughey.

The Group is addressing how the Executive can develop its capacity to relate to the EU institutions as well as identifying and prioritising the major policy areas on which individual Departments need to focus. In addition, major cross-cutting policy areas such as Governance, Enlargement and the Future of Europe are being examined by the EPCU with a view to developing position papers for Ministerial and Executive approval.

To ensure compliance with Commission Directives, the Unit has established a database on existing directives and is liaising with Departments to ensure that work is progressed.

The Unit is also supporting the Junior Ministers in developing local networks to ensure that as broad a view as possible is taken in the development of NI policy on EU matters. Meetings have been arranged for Ministers with MEPs and local non governmental interested parties and plans include the establishment of a local EU Forum.

2. Ensuring that NI interests are taken account of in the formulation of the UK's EU Policy

UK policy on the EU is not a devolved matter and while policy is formulated centrally there is a need to ensure that NI interests are represented within that policy formulation. The Unit provides assistance to Departments in working with their Whitehall counterparts on EU issues and in particular provides liaison with the Cabinet Office European Secretariat. Representation at official level is provided at Cabinet Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office meetings. Meetings include the regular Wall/Sheinwald meetings and ad hoc meetings on matters arising on relevant issues.

The Unit works with Scottish and Welsh counterparts and meetings have been facilitated at Ministerial level with counterparts in both the Scottish and Welsh Executives. Regular support is provided for Ministers at Whitehall meetings such as the Joint Ministerial Committee (Europe) (JMC(E)) and the Ministerial Committee on European Co-ordination (MINECOR).

3. Improving understanding of the EU among NI Departments and in the wider society

The Unit was responsible for procuring and the fitting out of the Brussels Office. Now that the Office is fully staffed close liaison is maintained on the Office's work in Brussels and the preparation of briefings and policy development.

Within the work of EUPG the Unit has prepared policy papers on the secondment of civil servants to the EU institutions and will, with Executive approval, implement plans to increase the take-up of secondment opportunities by NI civil servants.

The Unit provides assistance and briefing for the visits to Northern Ireland of officials and Ministers on EU matters. The Unit is aware of the need to develop understanding of EU matters generally across NICS and beyond and plans to begin work on a programme of awareness events to meet this need.

4. Increasing NI's influence in EU Institutions

Northern Ireland has a strong interest in ensuring that its voice is heard in Europe both from the point of view of getting the most from Europe and from contributing by virtue of our experience to the formulation of overall policy. The Unit works with the Brussels Office on maintaining high level contact by Ministers and senior officials within the Commission. In this context regular Ministerial liaison is maintained with NI MEPs, Committee of the Regions (COR) and Economic and Social Committee (ECOSOC).

5. Raising NI's positive profile

The Unit arranges visits to EU Member states and institutions by Ministers and other delegates in addition to providing advice on attendance at meetings of inter regional groups.

6. Administering the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the Border Region - Measure 4.1

OFMDFM has been given responsibility for administering Measure 4.1 Outward and Forward Looking Region of Peace II. Processes are being developed for assessing the applications for funding including the establishment of selection criteria and an independent panel.

REMIT AND ROLE OF OFFICE OF THE NORTHERN IRELAND EXECUTIVE, BRUSSELS

The Executive formally decided in July 2000 the remit of an office in Brussels, to liaise with the EU Institutions on issues affecting Northern Ireland. The Scottish Executive had established a similar office in 1999 while the Welsh National Assembly opened its office in 2000.

The Office is well located for maintaining contacts with the EU Institutions, adjacent to the European Parliament and within walking distance of the Council, main Commission Directorates-General, and the UK and Irish Permanent Representations. The Office has been open in its permanent premises since May 2001, though the Director has been based in Brussels since March.

Staffing consists of the Director (Grade 5) and Deputy (Grade 7), both outposted OFMDFM officials, together with a locally-recruited Office Manager and Secretary/Receptionist. The Office has had its full complement of staff since 1 September. It has been agreed that IDB/Invest Northern Ireland will locate two consultants in the Office in the New Year for inward investment work.

As with their Scottish and Welsh counterparts, the Director and Deputy Director work under the umbrella of the UK Permanent Representation (UKRep). This ensures diplomatic accreditation with the Belgian authorities as members of the UKRep team, and gives them privileged access to the Council, Parliament and Commission. This means that the Office has a higher status in Brussels than most of the 180 regional representative offices from the rest of Europe.

The role of the Office is:

  • to monitor the development by EU Institutions of policies relevant to Northern Ireland and provide up-to-date information to Ministers and Departments;
  • to ensure that NI interests are fully represented in policy development by EU Institutions;
  • to raise the positive profile of Northern Ireland among European policy makers and opinion formers;
  • to foster mutually-beneficial links between Northern Ireland and other parts of Europe.

To date the Office has worked with Departments to establish their EU policy priorities, has provided information on a range of policy developments, has facilitated meetings for NI officials and has developed an extensive network of EU contacts, including many of NI origin. It has established links with the offices of the NI MEPs and plans to work closely with them.

The Office was designed to be used by visiting Ministers and delegations. The Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development and the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee have used it on official business in Brussels. Visits by the Committee of the Centre and the Regional Development Committee are planned for January.

Records of Ministerial visits to Brussels kept during devolution show that Northern Ireland Ministers visited Brussels 22 times. The nature of their business was as follows.

  • Visits to Agricultural Council meetings
  • Visits to Scottish Executive Office in Brussels (bi-lateral with Scottish counterparts)
  • Visits to Welsh Assembly Office in Brussels (bi-lateral with Welsh counterparts)
  • Visits to European Commission to sign off Structural Funds Agreement
  • Visits to Committee of the Regions meetings (NI Representatives on CoR)
  • Attendance at Cohesion Forum (Representatives of NI as part of the UK delegation)
  • Attendance at Ernact Conference (NI representation)
  • Visits to the European Commissioner (NI representation)
  • Visits to European Institutions (NI representation)

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development has represented Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom Delegation at Agricultural Council Meetings. The First Minister and Deputy First Minister along with the Minister of Finance and Personnel visited Brussels for the signing of the NI Structural Funds Plan along with Commissioner Barnier.

The details on secondments are not collated centrally but information held by DFP shows that staff were placed with the various institutions in Brussels as follows:

  • Grade 5 x 1 - to the European Commission
  • Grade 7 x 6 - 4 to the European Commission, 2 to the United Kingdom Permanent Representation (UKRep)
  • Deputy Principal x 2 - 1 to the European Commission, 1 to UKRep
  • Administrative Trainee x 2 - postings to various locations during their periods of secondment as part of their AT training programme
  • Specialists x 5 - to the Commission (Agricultural Economist, Principal Statistician, Principal Economist, Industrial Accountant, Veterinary Officer)

There are currently 4 staff seconded to Brussels:

  • Deputy Principal x 2 - 1 to Directorate General REGIO (Regional Policy), 1 to Directorate General Eurostat (Statistical Office)
  • Staff Officer x 1 - to UKRep
  • Executive Officer 1 x 1 - to Directorate General MARKT (Internal Market)

Normally secondments are for a 2 or 3 year period. Postings on return are at the discretion of the parent department. It is expected that departments would deploy these staff in areas of work which would benefit from their experience gained whilst on secondment.

L McCAUSLAND
Assembly Section

28 November 2001

SUPPLEMENTARY written submission by:
office of the first minister and deputy first minister

ROLE OF THE EUROPEAN POLICY AND CO-ORDINATION UNIT (epcu)

1. ESTABLISHING AGREED PRIORITY AREAS FOR NORTHERN IRELAND

EU Policy Group (EUPG)

1.1 Junior Ministers chair the EU Policy Group and its members are drawn from all departments at either Grade 3 or 5 level. It is intended that this Group should meet 5 or 6 times a year, but there is no set schedule of meetings.

1.2 The EUPG has been instrumental in developing the EU Strategy Framework paper, through members reporting back on their department's EU priorities and considering cross-departmental priorities. It has also considered issues in which Northern Ireland as a region needs to participate, for example the Commission's Cohesion Report. It has discussed and assisted in the development of a paper setting out the strategy for developing the EU awareness of staff through secondment to Brussels, and regularly considers the current state of implementation of EU directives across departments.

1.3 Identification of priority areas for OFMDFM therefore arises both out of the European Commission's work agenda, the current issues contained within it and their relevance to Northern Ireland, and from the development of the cross-departmental priorities set out in the Framework document. The identification of priorities in relation to EU related policy which fall within their remit, and the related consultation with their Assembly Committees, is a matter in which individual Ministers and their departments take the prime lead.

Commission Directives

1.4 We have revised the system for monitoring directives in the administration in recent months. It allows for the identification of directives that have not been transposed into national law by the due date and those with impending transposition dates. A quarterly monitoring exercise ensures the database is kept up to date. Officials are also in consultation with Whitehall about a tracking procedure for UK directives which the DTI and the Cabinet Office jointly are proposing to establish. This in turn may cause refinements of ours. We will continue to keep the database under review.

1.5 Some of the DFP systems and procedures, developed during Direct Rule, have been carried forward in relation to monitoring directives but further developments of the database have taken place in recent months. Some changes were made to procedures in relation to notifications about infraction proceedings and the gathering of information on newly published directives to allow for more efficient working practices.

1.6 All 5 EPCU staff have involvement at various levels in dealing with the monitoring of directives.

Local Networks

1.7 The Junior Ministers have met 2 of the 3 MEPs for discussion of European issues in relation to Northern Ireland. These were initial discussions about a broad range of issues and will be continued on a regular basis.

1.8 They have also invited the NI representatives on ECOSOC and the then NI representatives on the Committee of the Regions for similar discussions, and have met with most of them.

1.9 EU-related material which may be of interest to the Committee of the Centre is passed to them for information. Officials have met the Committee at their request on a number of occasions to discuss aspects of the EU work. This will continue, and in the near future Junior Ministers will be discussing the EU Strategy Framework with the Committee.

2. ENSURING THAT NORTHERN IRELAND INTERESTS ARE TAKEN ACCOUNT OF IN THE FORMULATION OF THE UK'S EU POLICY

2.1 We ensure that NI interests are taken account of by providing assistance to departments working with their Whitehall counterparts on EU issues and, in particular, providing liaison with the Cabinet Office's European Secretariat. Provision is made for representation of Northern Ireland at official level at relevant Cabinet Office and FCO meetings. These meetings include the regular Wall/Sheinwald meetings on EU affairs and ad hoc meetings on matters arising on relevant issues.

How is information received from Whitehall?

2.2 It is not possible to quantify the material received in EPCU from Whitehall departments in any one year. The material consists of a range of types of document, for example, negotiating position papers on current issues, explanatory memoranda on EU proposals, information on activity on late directives, FCO telegrams and MEP briefings.

2.3 Such information is provided routinely for all three devolved administrations. We believe that we receive all relevant information on EU matters. Depending on the subject matter, it is passed on to appropriate Northern Ireland departments for any necessary action.

2.4 The Wall/Sheinwald meetings discuss current EU issues and the appropriate UK approach. Northern Ireland benefits from being able to comment on these issues and influence the approach being adopted. A recent example would be the Wall-Sheinwald to discuss the issues for the last JMC(E).

2.5 Regular discussions have taken place at official level with Scotland and Wales on such issues of mutual interest as the Future of Europe debate, procedures for representation on the Committee of the Regions etc. Mr Nesbitt and Mr Haughey have visited both Edinburgh and Cardiff to discuss handling of EU issues. We are in the process of arranging a date for further Ministerial meetings with the devolved administrations.

3. IMPROVING UNDERSTANDING OF THE EU AMONG DEPARTMENTS AND WIDER SOCIETY

Brussels Office

3.1 The total budget of the Brussels Office is £465,000 for 2001/2.

3.2 Departments have been asked to identify those policy areas within their responsibility which have a European Union dimension and to categorise them as high, medium or low priority. All high priority and, as far as resources permit, some medium priority issues will be monitored by the Brussels Office. If there are significant policy developments in the fields monitored, the Office will report to the relevant Department, copying to the EPCU. It is then for the Department to deal with the information or analysis as appropriate. The Brussels Office may subsequently contact the Department to establish its reaction, if there is an expectation that the policy development will lead to ongoing exchanges between Northern Ireland and the EU Institutions.

3.3 Major policy issues with more general implications, such as the Future of Europe debate or progress on enlargement would be reported on to EPCU and OFMDFM Ministers.

Understanding of EU Matters

3.4 It is the view of EPCU that post devolution there are advantages in increasing the awareness among NICS members of the EU institutions and the way they operate. Further more specific policy needs will exist within departments, and we are encouraging departments to identify these needs.

3.5 While the EPCU has no formal remit outside of the Northern Ireland departments it is considered that benefit would be gained through promoting an interest in EU matters throughout the public sector and the wider community.

4. INCREASING NORTHERN IRELAND'S INFLUENCE IN EU INSTITUTIONS

4.1 The Commission is increasingly anxious to open up its policy development to external scrutiny and input, through consultative White Papers, conferences, seminars of experts etc. This gives opportunities for the administration and other stakeholders (eg social partners, NGOs, academics) in Northern Ireland to make a contribution. Departments have particular experience of the implementation of complex Structural Funds programmes and the Northern Ireland perspective on these is often greatly appreciated. In May 2001 the Commission organised a major European Forum on the future of cohesion and structural funds policies. This was attended by a Northern Ireland delegation and both Minister Nesbitt and Minister Haughey spoke at the Forum. The views expressed in the Forum contributed to further policy development by the Commission. Northern Ireland benefits to the extent that European policies are informed by its needs and experience, and hence are less likely to have an adverse impact on us.

5. RAISING NORTHERN IRELAND'S PROFILE

5.1 The visits set out cover a wide range of activities and policy areas and different objectives may be set for individual meetings within a visit.

5.2 EPCU does not measure the success of visits made by representatives outside OFMDFM. We do however evaluate informally visits made by our own Ministers.

6. ADMINISTERING PEACE II MEASURE 4.1

6.1 The level of staff resource appropriate to the delivery of Measure 4.1 has not yet been finally determined. It is currently administered from within the existing staff complement of EPCU, but when applications begin to be received, more staff will be necessary. All EPCU staff have been involved in preparing for the delivery of Measure 4.1.

6.2 Membership of the selection panel has not yet been finally determined. The final decision is for the Junior Ministers, acting on proposals from EPCU officials.

7. OVERALL

7.1 The EPCU is still developing its role and responsibilities. Regular monitoring meetings are held within the team to discuss progress on individual areas of work. No detailed formal evaluation system has yet been developed but measurable outputs include, for example:

  • the numbers of Ministerial briefings provided;
  • EUPG meetings arranged and serviced;
  • the numbers of visits to Northern Ireland on EU matters facilitated.

7.2 Examples of EPCU successes include the fitting out of the Brussels Office within the agreed project timescale and budget, the establishment of the EU Policy Group, the development of the EU Strategy Framework Paper in conjunction with Departments and the hosting of a number of high profile visits to Northern Ireland.

7.3 EPCU has 4 staff with a running budget of £163k for current financial year. In addition, the Unit is led by a Grade 5 who has a broad range of other responsibilities.

Remit and role of the Office of the NI Executive Brussels

8. ESTABLISHING THE BRUSSELS OFFICE

Full cost of the Brussels Office

8.1 The capital cost of fitting out the Brussels Office has now been entirely incurred except for a small final payment. The total cost is in the region of £273,000. The current expenditure budget for 2001/2 is £465,000, part of which (£50,000) was surrendered in-year. The current costs have been broken down for planning purposes as follows:

Staff salaries and related costs £302k

Administrative expenses £85k

Rent and other property-related costs £78k

What is the nature of the relationship with the Invest NI consultants?

8.2 IDB (from 1 April 2002 Invest Northern Ireland) contributed to the capital costs of fitting out the premises on the basis that one room would be available for two consultants whom they would retain for the promotion of European inward investment in Northern Ireland. The consultants are not in the chain of command of the four OFMDFM/locally engaged staff, but report to the head office of their consultancy firm in London and to IDB.

What learning was taken from the experience of the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe (NICE)? How was this done?

8.3 In its period in Brussels, NICE demonstrated the value of a non-governmental body whose operations in Brussels were funded by a range of stakeholders, to which they provided information on developments in Europe and other services. For several years they raised the profile of Northern Ireland in Brussels to the benefit of their stakeholders and Northern Ireland more generally. They demonstrated the potential for a non-governmental body representing the interests of private sector, local authority and other interests, similar to the experience of Scotland Europa and the Wales European Centre.

8.4 The focus of the Office of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels is on the same tasks which are carried out by office of the Scottish Executive and the office of the Welsh Assembly, and we have learnt much from these examples. However, as is made clear in the Framework document there is much value in allying this work of the Executive's office with the work of social partners such as those represented by NICE and in seeking a close and effective partnership. The opportunities for developing such an approach are a high priority of Ministers.

The NI Office has been set up for the Executive. Did you examine and see any advantages to the model used by the Scottish and Welsh?

8.5 The Scottish Executive Office and the Welsh National Assembly (WNA) Office were closely examined by OFMDFM and have been used as a model for the Executive Office. Though the Scottish Executive Office shares Scotland House with Scotland Europa, a non-governmental body, the two are separate entities. The Welsh Assembly and devolved executive are more closely integrated under the Welsh model of devolution, and the title of the office in Brussels reflects this constitutional arrangement. Administrative support for the WNA office is shared with the Wales European Centre. Otherwise, the Welsh and Scottish devolved administration offices are very similar. The particular benefit which this model offered was the connection with the UKRep (see below).

Was any consideration given to an office in Brussels which could also represent the interests of the Northern Ireland Assembly?

8.6 Though the primary purpose of the Office is to represent the interests of the Executive (which is, of course, elected by and answerable to the Assembly), that is not its exclusive function and services have been provided to Assembly Committees. As Assembly Committees define their interests in the EU, the office will be keen to see how it can assist within the resources it has available.

What are the advantages of UKRep status? Are there any disadvantages? The Brussels Office reports to the Northern Ireland Executive yet as part of UKRep, it is part of the National Government. How can it manage both roles - is there any conflict?

8.7 The Office works under the umbrella of UKRep in that the Director and his Deputy hold diplomatic accreditation in Belgium as part of the UK Representation to the European Community. This gives considerable advantage in terms of access to the Council and Council papers. It also facilitates access to the buildings and personnel of all other EU Institutions. Through links with the UKRep desk officers, they can draw on some of the best-informed analysis of specialist subject areas available in Brussels. This differentiates the staff of the devolved administration offices from the vast number of regional and local representative offices in Brussels. It puts them firmly within the loop on EU policy development.

8.8 The relationship with UKRep reflects the reality that the EU is a Union of 15 Member States rather than a Europe of regions. At the political level Northern Ireland policy in Europe is expressed in the Council though the UK delegation. There would be difficulties if the devolved administration were to articulate policies in Brussels which were contrary to the UK policy. Any such disputes would have to be reconciled between Belfast and London in the formulation of the common UK policy.

8.9 Organisationally, UKRep has no line management function in relation to the Director and his Deputy who remain Northern Ireland Civil Servants and part of the devolved administration.

8.10 For current priorities see Section 1.

How do you ensure NI interests are fully represented in policy development?

8.11 The primary means of contributing a Northern Ireland input to policy development in EU institutions is through the Northern Ireland Departments influencing the common UK policy in Council and through the work of the Northern Ireland MEPs in the Parliament. The Brussels Office can complement this by:

  • informing Commission officials and MEPs about the Northern Ireland position;
  • influencing UKRep desk officers in their work in the Council on specialist subjects;
  • liaising closely with the Northern Ireland members of the Committee of the Regions and ECOSOC on policy issues where they have an advisory role;
  • bringing to the attention of Northern Ireland Departments opportunities to input to Commission consultations, expert seminars, conferences etc. and coordinating their participation.

What are your priorities for developing mutually beneficial links between Northern Ireland and other parts of Europe - what are objectives of links?

8.12 There are potential commercial and administrative benefits in strengthening links with specific targeted regions in Europe. It could facilitate trade and investment, and allow exchange of experience, for instance in implementing Structural Funds programmes. There could be advantages to the public and private sector, civil society and educational institutions. It would, though, be necessary to agree at the outset criteria for the type of region with which Northern Ireland could link with. The Brussels Office is well placed to conduct exploratory investigations with the representative offices of other regions with a view to identifying potential candidates for links. Before any formal agreement was reached, there would be a need for an objective cost/benefit analysis of the implications for both sides. The accession countries of Central and Eastern Europe should be included in the scope of linkages. There has already been some marketing of Northern Ireland public sector and consultancy services in these countries and more formal links could strengthen the commercial connection.

8.13 In addition to bilateral links, there are several multilateral organisations bringing together regions across Europe which would welcome Northern Ireland participation. The case for membership would need to be assessed on a case by case basis.

How do you measure success - outputs and impacts not just activities?

8.14 There are measurable outputs for many aspects of the Office's activities:

  • usage of facilities by Ministers, Assembly Committees, visiting Departmental officials and other Northern Ireland agencies;
  • participation in Councils by Northern Ireland Ministers;
  • promotional events in Brussels;
  • alterations to Commission proposals in response to Northern Ireland needs;
  • reduction in infraction proceedings against UK which have a Northern Ireland dimension;
  • formal links established with other European regions;
  • favourable references to Northern Ireland in Belgian and other European media (measured by electronically searching internet editions of selected newspapers);
  • 'hits' on the Office's Internet site (in November 2001 there were 2576 recorded).

9. VISITS BY MINISTERS

9.1 The Brussels Office advises on contacts and arranges a programme if required. EPCU prepares briefing for OFMDFM Ministers. Departmental Ministers would have briefing prepared by their own staff. Objectives depend on the nature of the visit, who is visited, and the matters under discussion.

10. SECONDMENTS

10.1 OFMDFM has developed a paper proposing that the Executive increases the number of civil servants who have experience of working in Brussels. The paper proposes that measures should be put in place to facilitate more secondments to the EU institutions, UKRep and the Office of the Executive in Brussels. It covers a range of personnel and finance issues related to developing secondments and using staff most effectively on their return.

10.2 The paper has been agreed by EUPG and is currently being considered by senior personnel staff across all departments with a view to achieving a joint position on a number of key personnel issues related to secondments which are raised in the paper. These include addressing the issue of how best to use staff on their return from Brussels.

10.3 Previous EU experience can be used across a broad range of departmental policies and a number of previous secondees now work directly on EU policies. This is notable in OFMDFM where the Permanent Secretary responsible for EU policy, the head of the Brussels Office, and the head of the European policy branch are all former Northern Ireland secondees in Brussels.

GEOFF BEATTIE
Assembly Section

4 February 2002

ADDITIONAL WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
Office of the First Minister
and Deputy First Minister

FRAMEWORK FOR DEVELOPING NORTHERN IRELAND'S PARTICIPATION IN THE EUROPEAN UNION

I attach a copy of a draft paper prepared by OFMDFM for the Executive. This arises from discussion with representatives of all Departments in the European Union Policy Group.

Mr Haughey and Mr Nesbitt have asked that the draft should be forwarded prior to Mr Haughey's meeting with the Committee, in order to assist in the Committee's inquiry.

The Ministers look forward to reading the Report of the Committee's present enquiry on relationships with European institutions and the valuable contribution that this will make to the debate on this area.

GEOFF BEATTIE
Assembly Section

31 January 2002

A FRAMEWORK FOR DEVELOPING NORTHERN IRELAND'S PARTICIPATION IN THE EUROPEAN UNION

CONTENTS

1. FRAMEWORK PAPER

Introduction

Context - Devolution

Context - Developing EU policy

  • Structural Funds
  • Agriculture
  • Fisheries
  • Environment
  • Education, Training and Employment
  • Competition policy
  • The Euro

Context - Developing EU institutions

  • Enlargement
  • Institutional reform
  • Future of Europe debate

Areas for Action

  • Mechanisms
  • Departmental strategies
  • OFMDFM support
  • Building Expertise
  • Networking within Northern Ireland
  • Networking within Europe

Action Points

2. ANNEX A - AIMS AND OBJECTIVES

3. ANNEX B - DEPARTMENTAL RESPONSIBILITIES WITH EU DIMENSIONS

4. ANNEX C - TERMS OF REFERENCE, EUPG

A FRAMEWORK FOR DEVELOPING NORTHERN IRELAND'S PARTICIPATION IN THE EUROPEAN UNION

Introduction

1. As previously agreed by the Executive, its overall aim in relation to the European Union (see Annex A) is to participate appropriately and effectively and benefit fully from involvement by: -

(i) establishing and pursuing agreed policy priorities for Northern Ireland in Europe;

(ii) ensuring that the UK Government takes account of our interests in the formulation of EU policy;

(iii) improving understanding of the EU among Northern Ireland departments and in the wider society;

(iv) increasing Northern Ireland's influence in European institutions; and

(v) raising Northern Ireland's positive profile in Europe.

2. In July 2000 the Executive set out its initial objectives, agreed the form and function of an Office in Brussels and created inter-departmental machinery to take forward EU policy, namely the European Union Policy Group. This second paper sets out a framework for a co-ordinated strategy for the Northern Ireland Executive. In doing this it seeks both to highlight the work which each Department needs to undertake in conducting their European business and also to identify the common areas of interest for Departments, which will be a particular focus for the work of OFMDFM in fulfilling its role of co-ordinating EU policy.

3. The paper sets out initially the implications of the changing context within which the Executive is working, namely the developing structures which have arisen from devolution, the developing policy agenda in the European Union and the institutional changes that are happening within the EU, particularly in the light of enlargement.

4. The paper then sets out how the Executive will ensure that its interests are represented within Europe in the period up to 31 March 2003, and considers how it should develop wider networking within the EU as a means of assisting the development of the policy priorities in its Programme for Government. In addition, to support this work, it will be important that the Executive works with other bodies within Northern Ireland which have a link with Europe.

5. The coming year will therefore focus on Departments building their capacity to handle EU issues. This includes ensuring the effective implementation of directives, including the reduction of the backlogs which they have inherited. In addition Departments will seek to identify areas where they need to negotiate a distinct outcome for Northern Ireland. Our special agriculture needs are already clear, but there are other areas where we need to define our objectives, for example in relation to the future of Structural Funds. In this we will need to work with the other devolved administrations, and such issues will be examined within the NSMC.

6. We will also increase Ministerial involvement in the Council of Ministers and develop stronger links with the Commission. It is important too to consider the competence of our staff in dealing with the EU, and part of this will involve examining how to increase the numbers of staff seconded for a period to Brussels. We intend to develop our approach to inter-regional co-operation, and examine how we can work with business and other groups to develop their involvement in Europe. Out of this work OFMDFM will create a detailed strategy in relation to the European Union, which will be linked to the Programme for Government, setting out the key outcomes that need to be achieved.

Context - devolution

7. UK policy formulation on the EU is a reserved matter and is therefore formulated centrally. Much of the responsibility for implementation of EU policy however is devolved, and the majority of devolved policy areas have a significant EU dimension. Northern Ireland therefore has a strong interest in ensuring it is involved at an early stage in the formulation and agreement of those UK policies in relation to EU issues of particular relevance to Northern Ireland, and in early discussion of the UK response to proposed Commission actions. If it does not do so, the Executive will find that key policy directions have been determined without its input, with potential for Northern Ireland's concerns not to be addressed.

8. The relationship with Whitehall on EU policy is set out in the Memorandum of Understanding and the associated EU Concordat, which also notes the unique arrangements in relation to the North South Ministerial Council (see paragraph 16), and in bilateral memoranda between the NI departments and their Whitehall counterparts. Within the constraints of operating within the UK policy line, there is however considerable scope to formulate a strategic approach to Europe tailored to Northern Ireland's present and future needs. This requires that individual Departments, which have detailed knowledge of policy areas, continue to invest time in developing and maintaining Whitehall, Dublin and EU contacts; identify early the policy areas where Northern Ireland should seek to press its particular interest and work with OFMDFM and the Brussels Office in ensuring that appropriate negotiating objectives are identified and achieved.

Context - developing EU Policy

9. While it will be essential for NI Departments to become better linked into Whitehall and EU policy processes across a wide range of policy areas, there are a number of European Union policy areas where we have already identified that we have distinctive interests:

(i) Structural Funds

The distinctive position of Northern Ireland was recognized by the European Council, meeting in Berlin in March 1999, when it decided that for the period 2000-2006 Northern Ireland would receive support as an Objective 1 Region in Transition and further that the PEACE Programme for Northern Ireland and the Border Region would be continued over the period 2000-2004. The strategic aim of this assistance is to:-

"achieve a transition to a more peaceful, stable, prosperous, fair, and outward-looking society, sustained by a better physical environment"

This clearly links with the aims of the Executive's own Programme for Government and a key aspect of policy work is to ensure coherence in implementation, both through the Programme for Building Sustainable Prosperity and the EU Programme for PEACE and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the Border Region of Ireland (PEACE II).

In addition the Community Initiatives INTERREG III, URBAN II, EQUAL and LEADER + are available, covering respectively:

(a) cross-border, transnational and inter-regional co-operation;

(b) the economic and social regeneration of cities and urban neighbourhoods in crisis, with a view to promoting sustainable urban development;

(c) transnational co-operation to promote new approaches to combating all forms of discrimination and inequalities in connection with access to the labour market; and

(d) rural development via integrated programmes and co-operation between local action groups.

Responsibility for managing and implementing the various strands of Structural Funds support is dispersed among Departments, Intermediary Funding Bodies and Local Strategy Partnerships. The North South Ministerial Council in its Special EU Programmes sector also has an important role to play overseeing the management and delivery of the Peace II Programme and the INTERREG III programme by the SEUPB as managing authority for both programmes, and also for the North South elements of the other Community Initiatives. The Special EU Programmes Body will also report to the NSMC on promoting and monitoring the implementation of the Common Chapter on North South co-operation.

Responsibility for monitoring the implementation of the Structural Funds Programmes rests with the Monitoring Committees established for each Operational Programme and Community Initiative. Oversight and coordination of this monitoring activity is undertaken by the CSF Monitoring Committee chaired by the Minister of Finance and Personnel with the Junior Ministers in OFMDFM being the Deputy Chairs to this Committee.

Another key consideration is the EU contribution to the International Fund for Ireland.

A key focus in the coming years is the successful implementation of these funds, and also consideration of future funding once enlargement of the EU has taken place. This debate has already started with the publication of the Cohesion Report. The Report looks ahead to the enlargement of the EU and aims to generate a debate about the future of cohesion policies in this new scenario, including of course the Structural Funds. The Junior Ministers represented the Executive at an initial conference on cohesion policies in Brussels in May 2001. This debate will continue in the coming years and needs to be a focus of the EU Policy Group's work.

(ii) Agriculture

The structure of our farming sector is very much determined by the nature of our land, our soil and our weather. Seventy per cent of agricultural land carries Less Favoured Area status. The nature of the land limits the scope of our agriculture production, and results in a heavy emphasis on beef, dairy and sheep production. Against that background, EU support for the livestock sector is regarded as particularly important in helping to maintain communities and jobs in remote rural areas. The implementation of the Agenda 2000 reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) agreed in March 1999 represents the latest phase in an ongoing reform process and is a major focus of DARD's policy work. A Mid-Term Review of the Agenda 2000 agreement is scheduled for next year and further changes are expected to flow from this. In the longer term, additional reforms are expected as a consequence of EU enlargement, trade liberalisation under the World Trade Organisation and EU budgetary pressures.

DARD works closely with its Whitehall, Cardiff and Edinburgh counterparts at both official and Ministerial level in establishing a common UK position on the many issues that arise from the operation of the CAP. It is also maintaining dialogue with the ROI authorities on CAP issues through the North/South Ministerial Council. In addition, DARD attends the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Councils at official and Ministerial levels and participates in various Management Committee and other EU official bodies. It consequently enjoys a particularly close relationship with the UK Permanent Representation in Brussels and will continue to be actively engaged in the debate on agricultural matters.

(iii) Fisheries

While overall our fisheries industry is small it is still a significant part of the economy on the Down coast and it will be essential to ensure that our distinct interests, and the issue of Irish Sea fishing in general is addressed in the review of the CFP, to take effect in 2002.

(iv) Environment

EU Environment policy is a major determinant of regional environmental legislation, and in keeping with other regions, we face a significant challenge in transposing EU Directives into legislation - all the more difficult having inherited a backlog of essential work. The challenge is equally pressing in terms of developing our physical infrastructure to European standards, for example in areas such as water quality.

Air quality is also an important focus and is particularly challenging in the Belfast area where we experience significant problems arising from the topography and transport. Our natural heritage is also important, and it is essential that we develop our policies in terms of the protection of key sites. The DoE has placed a major priority on this work, and a concerted approach is being taken to address the backlog of commitments. It will then be essential to improve our awareness in this area, and our contacts within the EU institutions. This includes developing relations with the other devolved administrations and with Dublin to ensure a joint approach where appropriate to issues of mutual concern.

(v) Education, Training and Employment

We need to ensure that consideration at European Union level of education issues takes account of systems such as ours, and that we use the opportunities of schemes such as SOCRATES to the benefit of our young people. We also have to ensure that our Universities, whose research makes an important economic contribution, benefit to the maximum extent possible from EU research funds under the Fifth and Sixth Framework Research and Development programmes. Northern Ireland's participation in the EURES system should be maintained, as should the participation in European employment services developments.

(vi) Competition policy

EU Competition policy exists to ensure that public assistance is applied on a consistent basis across the EU and does not distort the market. Schemes of assistance must be notified to the Commission and payments made should be compliant with agreed guidelines. This is an important though complex policy area and there is a need to raise awareness in the Executive and Assembly to ensure compliance.

(vii) The Euro

The full establishment of the currency with the introduction of the euro notes and coins is now proceeding. It will have economic and financial consequences in the economies of the Member States both in and out of the Eurozone. For Northern Ireland, with a land border with the Eurozone, this development will have economic implications which may be more significant than in the rest of the UK, and will ensure we have a particular interest in the political debate as the UK considers whether it should join.

Context - developing EU institutions

10. In addition to the above policy developments, the EU is in a phase of significant institutional development which will have implications for Northern Ireland:-

(i) Enlargement

Enlargement, mainly towards eastern Europe, will lead to the entry of new Member States, all of which have considerably lower GDPs than the current membership. As a relatively poor region of a comparatively rich Member State this will have implications for the financial support that we are likely to receive in future. We will therefore need to participate in the debate on the financing and deployment of the Structural Funds to secure the best outcome for Northern Ireland. Similarly, fundamental changes in the Common Agricultural Policy are inevitable, not only as a result of the financial implications of enlargement, but also because of the changing context of environmental and health concerns, and the liberalization of world trade. Northern Ireland will have specific interests in this changed situation and the devolved administration will work to ensure that a viable rural economy is maintained.

(ii) Institutional reform

The enlargement process has increased the focus on the need for significant reform of the European Union institutions. This comes at a time when we are establishing our own, unique institutions in Northern Ireland, with their North/South and East/West linkages, and when we have for the first time established an office of the Executive in Brussels. We need to consider how the changing institutions will affect our position as a region within Europe and what opportunities it creates for strengthening our role.

(iii) Future of Europe debate

There is in addition the developing 'Future of Europe' debate, which describes a new initiative of public consultation on the future shape of the EU, not least to ensure that the European Union is as democratically accountable as possible. Member States are being invited to contribute and launch their own national consultations on such issues as whether to set out competences at various levels - local, regional, national and EU, and in general how to improve the democratic legitimacy and transparency of the EU, thereby making it more meaningful to its citizens. It is important that Northern Ireland participates, and that there is informed debate within Northern Ireland with interested organizations and individuals. OFMDFM will wish to sponsor this debate within Northern Ireland.

Areas for Action

11. In the light of the changing context - the impact of devolution, the developing policy agenda in the EU and institutional change - as well as establishment of our Programme for Government Priorities, it is necessary for the Northern Ireland Executive to develop a strategic approach towards the European Union, so that we can draw maximum benefit from involvement and ensure that where appropriate our own Programme is linked to EU policy.

Mechanisms

12. In this developing context, the Northern Ireland Executive shares much in common with the Scottish Executive and the National Assembly for Wales. We will wish to work together with the other devolved administrations and Whitehall, including the NIO, notably through institutions such as the Joint Ministerial Committee (Europe), which is chaired by the Foreign Secretary and which considers EU policy issues relevant to the entire UK. In addition, the Executive will be represented at Ministerial meetings in Whitehall such as MINECOR which considers EU issues. A priority in the coming year is for the OFMDFM Junior Ministers to meet regularly with Welsh and Scottish counterparts to exchange experience on EU strategy. Contact with Dublin on certain issues may also be appropriate, and the mechanism to be developed by the working group considering how to implement paragraph 17 of Strand 2 of the Belfast Agreement (see para 16 below) is relevant here.

13. OFMDFM staff in Belfast (the European Policy Co-ordination Unit) have the primary role in liaising with the European Secretariat in the Cabinet Office and with the FCO, and in ensuring that Departments are advised of major policy developments. This co-ordination work is overseen by the Junior Ministers in OFMDFM, who also chair the EU Policy Group of senior officials from all Departments. This Group will be used not only to develop the overall strategy towards the EU and ensure that staff are appropriately prepared for this work, but also as a means of raising awareness of key issues.

14. Responsibility for ensuring that Northern Ireland interests are promoted in Whitehall falls to individual Departments, which should continue to maintain and develop regular contact with their Whitehall counterparts to ensure close and timely involvement in discussion of upcoming EU matters. In areas such as agriculture there are regular Ministerial and official meetings of the relevant Departments of the three devolved administrations and relevant Whitehall Departments, which cover policies with a strong EU focus. It is important that these networks are developed and maintained.

15. A key focus in the coming months is to ensure that all Whitehall links essential for our EU work have been checked out, and, where appropriate, strengthened and that each Department ensures that they have designated staff who will keep up to date with all relevant developments.

16. Paragraph 17 of Strand 2 of the Belfast Agreement states that the North/South Ministerial Council is

"to consider the European dimension of relevant matters, including implementation of EU policies and programmes and proposals under consideration in the EU framework. Arrangements are to be made to ensure that the views of the Council are taken into account and represented appropriately at relevant EU meetings"

The NSMC, meeting in institutional format on 17 December 2001, agreed to establish a working group to consider how this work can be taken forward. The NSMC has already created a Special European Union Programmes Sector, and the Special European Union Programmes Body - one of the 6 Implementation Bodies - reports to this sector. Previous NSMC plenaries have considered issues relating to EU summits.

17. All this work will allow us to develop our awareness of new areas of opportunity. There will however need to be a high degree of prioritization, so that as a region we can achieve distinct outcomes.

Departmental strategies

18. In dealing with the wide sweep of policy and the resulting vast range of regulation emanating from the EU, much of it highly technical in nature, it is clear that not all policy areas can be covered to the same level of detail. There will be policy areas where Northern Ireland Ministers may wish to take a view that it is appropriate to adopt the national line. There will however be others where we will be seeking recognition of our difference. It is therefore essential that departments continue to analyse EU policy initiatives and to develop a focus on those areas where NI interests are most likely to be affected.

19. A key early priority for Departments must be the timely implementation of EU Directives. A special focus at the moment is on Single Market directives where the UK's position in the league table has dropped recently. In this area Northern Ireland is lagging behind Whitehall and Scotland, and we are under pressure to make progress quickly. This work is being monitored by OFMDFM, and Mr Nesbitt and Mr Haughey have been given lead responsibility for monitoring progress across Departments. OFMDFM is also coordinating discussions within NI departments and between NI departments and Whitehall on how we can improve our record on timely implementation.

20. Within their own policy areas, it will be appropriate for Departments to draw up short strategy papers, setting out the NI interests in key EU issues and the measures in place to achieve this. These strategies, which may be short and simple, will assist in ensuring that EU policies are effectively taken into account in preparing the Programme for Government and in business planning within Departments. In those Departments with heavy responsibility for directives they will need to cover how they will ensure timely transposition.

21. Details of current departmental priorities in Europe will be found in the attached Annex B with an indication of the level of priority. As part of the Departmental EU strategies it will be important to ensure that any additional areas are identified and that for all relevant areas a Departmental official is designated as having policy responsibility.

OFMDFM support for EU policy work

22. Devolution means that in addition to improved access to Whitehall we have a stronger basis for direct participation in the European institutions. This participation will allow us to ensure that the Northern Ireland interest is appropriately presented in the Commission and the Council.

23. In this work the Executive will work closely with the Northern Ireland Members of the European Parliament, as well as our representatives in the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee. Through their role in the European Parliament, our MEPs are particularly important in the EU policy-making process and it will be essential that the Executive works in close collaboration with them. Mr Nesbitt and Mr Haughey will seek to meet MEPs regularly to discuss how the Executive can work with them to further NI interests.

24. The Office of the NI Executive in Brussels, working in close conjunction with the European Policy Co-ordination Unit in Belfast, will seek to provide support by:-

(i) working with UKREP, the offices of the NI MEPs and others to ensure that we develop early intelligence of developments in the EU and plan accordingly;

(ii) distributing information on developments in the Commission, Council, Parliament and other EU institutions, including ensuring that all departments are aware of the Commission's and Presidency's work programmes;

(iii) advising and assisting Departments to establish links with the Commission, so that Northern Ireland is aware at an early stage of developing thinking within the EU;

(iv) working with Departments to develop opportunities for NI Executive Ministers to participate in EU meetings, including where appropriate in the Council of Ministers.

The Brussels Office will also assist with targeted visit programmes for officials and Ministers to the Commission and Council, to ensure that senior staff and Ministers gain an overview of EU policy issues.

Building expertise

25. OFMDFM will assist departments to develop knowledge of EU issues by encouraging and arranging where appropriate training courses and seminars. The issue of the transposition of Directives has already been identified as a key training need and courses have recently been run on transposition. Additional courses are planned.

26. OFMDFM will be working with other Departments to develop a secondment policy to enable NI public servants to gain greater experience in the European institutions. Relevant secondments will be to the Commission, UKREP or the Office of the Executive in Brussels, and could vary from 6 months to 3 years. Even shorter work projects may also be considered by Departments. Secondment to carefully considered posts will provide an opportunity, especially among younger staff, to learn about the EU institutions early in their career with the aim of enabling them to use these skills in subsequent postings in Northern Ireland.

Networking within Northern Ireland

27. As noted in the objectives, an important activity is encouraging the capacity of sectors outside Government to operate within the EU. This will involve working in partnership with organizations and individuals outside government who are seeking to develop European linkages, to share expertise and to work together towards achieving common aims.

28. To this end, discussions have been taking place with the MEPs and NI representatives on the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee on the best approach for Northern Ireland to the EU. As noted above, regular meetings will take place with these individuals to consider emerging issues.

29. In addition a Forum is being established of NI bodies which have a significant EU element to their work, to take stock of the EU-related activity underway in Northern Ireland and to consider the most practical way of ensuring co-operation and cohesion. Such bodies will include groups from the community and voluntary sector such as Eurolink, education and youth groups such as the European Studies project and the European Bureau of the Youth Council, University bodies such as the European Institute at Queens, the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe, and representatives of business and trade unions. Early meetings will seek to establish the appropriate format for such an organization and possible terms of reference.

Networking within Europe

30. The EU not only has to be seen as a policy-making authority, but as a source of policy expertise, and as a basis for wider European inter-regional linkages. Our involvement in the EU therefore also has the potential to enable NI Departments and the wider public sector to learn from best practice on the development of policy, through contacts with appropriate policy networks, attendance at seminars and study visits. This work has to be effectively targeted, ensuring that the relatively small policy resources at our disposal are used to best effect.

31. The Programme for Government sets out the key priorities for the Executive and for those public bodies which seek to contribute to its implementation. A number of these priorities are being assisted by European initiatives such as Urban II, Equal, Interreg III and Leader+. Other initiatives such as LIFE are also highly relevant. In addition there is a wide range of initiatives which have the potential to assist in business, social, rural development and related initiatives. It is important that the opportunities of learning from EU policy approaches becomes part of the policy process in Northern Ireland and the future development of the Programme for Government.

32. This is a two-way process. There are areas of advice and support which Northern Ireland can offer other regions of Europe, particularly those experiencing community division. Human rights, equality, social inclusion feature largely in the current programmes and values of the European Union. All offer the opportunity for NI to contribute from the experience of its recent history of building structures and strategies for conflict resolution, for example urban regeneration measures across boundaries, and cross-border co-operation. The networks and legislative basis of our devolution structures are also likely to be of continuing interest for some time. Likewise Northern Ireland has gained significant experience in implementing Structural Fund and EU programmes, developing unique mechanisms under PEACE I and II and now developing Local Strategic Partnerships. These issues will almost certainly become of particular relevance as enlargement of the EU progresses.

33. An important, related aspect of this approach is the opportunity that such activities provide to increase the positive profile of Northern Ireland in Europe. It may focus on presenting the more positive aspect of life in Northern Ireland and its cultural heritage, as well as the economic benefits of trade and investment links. The latter is assisted by the decision of the IDB to co-locate consultants in the Brussels Office to work on trade and investment issues.

34. Consideration is also being given to a strategy for establishing inter-regional linkages. The overall objective would be a structure for mutually beneficial cooperation between regional administrations, but which might also facilitate the engagement at other levels of universities, local government, business and voluntary organizations.

35. An important issue related to this is the opportunity which Measure 4.1 of PEACE II provides. This Measure is aimed at creating an outward and forward-looking region and reflects the need for Northern Ireland to establish to a greater degree European and other international links. These can provide opportunities for a constructive dialogue on a range of economic, social, environmental and cultural matters, to identify new ideas and exchange information on best practice. Funding under this Measure will enable a wide range of bodies to learn how to participate in and benefit from European networks.

ACTION POINTS

  • OFMDFM Junior Ministers to meet regularly with Welsh and Scottish counterparts to exchange experience on EU strategy (see para 12).
  • Ensure that all Whitehall links essential for our EU work have been checked out, where appropriate strengthened and that each Department ensures that they have designated staff who will keep up to date with all relevant developments (see para 15).
  • Departments in their policy areas to draw up short strategy papers, setting out the NI interests in key EU issues and the measures in place to achieve them. These strategies, which may be short and simple, will assist in ensuring that EU policies are effectively taken into account in preparing the Programme for Government and in business planning within Departments. In those Departments with heavy responsibility for transposition they will need to cover how they will ensure the timely transposition of Directives (see para 20).
  • Mr Nesbitt and Mr Haughey to seek to meet MEPs regularly to discuss how the Executive can work with MEPs to further NI interests (see para 23).
  • The working group established by the NSMC to consider how the NSMC should take forward the European dimension (para 16).
  • The Office of the NI Executive in Brussels, working in conjunction with the European Policy Co-ordination Unit in Belfast, to seek to provide support by:
  • working with UKREP, the offices of the NI MEPs and others to ensure we develop early intelligence of developments in the EU and plan accordingly;
  • distributing information on developments in the Commission, Council, Parliament and other EU institutions, including ensuring that all departments are aware of the Commission's and Presidency's work programmes;
  • encouraging Departments to establish better links with the Commission services, so that Northern Ireland is aware at an early stage of developing thinking within the EU;
  • working with Departments to develop opportunities for NI Executive Ministers to participate in EU meetings, including where appropriate in the Council of Ministers.
  • Targeted visit programmes for officials and Ministers to the Commission and Council (see para 24).
  • OFMDFM to assist departments to develop knowledge of EU issues by encouraging training courses and seminars (see para 25).
  • Develop a secondment policy (see para 26).
  • Establish a Forum on Europe (see para 29).
  • Develop a strategy for establishing inter-regional linkages whose overall objective would be a structure for mutually beneficial cooperation between regional administrations, but which might also facilitate the engagement at other levels of universities, local government, business and voluntary organisations (see para 34).
  • OFMDFM to develop a detailed overall strategy in relation to the European Union, drawing together the different elements set out in this paper.

ANNEX A

NI Executive's EU strategy: Framework of Aims and Objectives

These strategic objectives can be summarized in the framework of aims and objectives set out below. Key actions are also indicated.

Aim: to participate appropriately and effectively in Europe and benefit fully from involvement by:

  • establishing and pursuing agreed policy priorities for NI in Europe;
  • ensuring UK Government takes account of our interests in the formulation of EU policy;
  • improving understanding of the EU among NI departments and in the wider society;
  • increasing NI's influence in European institutions; and
  • raising NI's positive profile in Europe.

Objectives

Objective 1: establishing and pursuing agreed priority areas

(i) develop NI's participation in and profile on key current EU issues by:

  • contributing to Future of Europe and Governance debates;
  • exchanges of information/expertise with EU regions with community divisions;
  • provision of targeted advice and assistance to enlargement countries, including under such measures as the 'twinning' initiative.

(ii) continue major departmental operational priorities: Structural Funds (ensuring effective use of EU funding), agriculture, employment, environment, transport;

(iii) develop specific target areas, from existing departmental priorities and from identification of new areas, which are reviewed annually and agreed at EUPG;

(iv) ensure timely compliance with EU directives.

Objective 2: ensuring UK Government takes account of NI interests in the formulation of EU policy

(i) build strong working relationships with lead Whitehall departments;

(ii) contribute to Whitehall debate at Ministerial and official levels.

Objective 3: improving understanding of the EU in Northern Ireland

(i) improve information flow across departments through EU Policy Group, OFMDFM co-ordination strategies, Brussels Office contacts with departments;

(ii) increase staff experience of Brussels, including by use of secondments;

(iii) encourage the capacity of sectors outside Government to operate within the EU;

(iv) arrange inward visits to Belfast, from eg. EU Commissioners, European Parliament Committees, and Committee of the Regions, ECOSOC.

Objective 4: increasing NI's influence in European institutions

(i) establish and maintain direct high level contact by Ministers and senior officials with the European Commission;

(ii) establish regular liaison with NI MEPs, and NI representatives on the Committee of the Regions and ECOSOC;

(iii) secure regular Ministerial attendance at Councils;

(iv) secure participation by officials where appropriate in UK delegations negotiating EU policies.

Objective 5: raising NI's positive profile in Europe

(i) develop Northern Ireland's role in exchanges and debates under Objective 1 (i);

(ii) hold profile-raising events under the auspices of the Executive Office in Brussels;

(iii) arrange visits to EU member states and institutions by Ministers and other delegations;

(iv) identify target regions for co-operation and establish relations with them on a number of levels;

(v) develop "marketing" campaigns by IDB, the Tourist Boards, British Council;

(vi) increase staff experience of working in Brussels' institutions.

ANNEX B

DEPARTMENTAL RESPONSIBILITIES WITH EU DIMENSIONS

Whereas the aim of the EU strategy paper is to provide an overall framework for the Northern Ireland Executive in the medium to long term, the purpose of this list is to set out specific topics which are of immediate interest and will relate directly to the work of the Brussels Office. The issues have been allocated a high or medium priority rating and the Office will shadow the high priority issues.

(This Annex does not include EU Structural Funds, which remain the responsibility of the Department of Finance and Personnel, working with the Interdepartmental EU Steering Group. Virtually every department is involved to some extent, along with the Special EU Programmes Body and other Implementing Bodies in the operationalisation of the Building Sustainable Prosperity and PEACE II Programmes. This annex does not attempt to list sub-programmes and measures for which individual Departments have lead responsibility.)


DEL

EQUAL Programme

M

European Employment Strategy

 

National Employment Action Plan

M

Employment Guidelines

H

Quality of work

H

Social Policy Agenda

H

Employment and Industrial Relations legislation

H

Knowledge Economy

M

Lifelong Learning

M

Socrates

M

Research

H

Recognition of qualifications

H

EURES

M

Employment Services Policy

M


DOE

Planning

Environmental Impact Assessment Directive

H

Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive

H

Framework for Cooperation to Promote Sustainable Urban Development

M

Environment

Sustainable development

H

Climate change

H

Biodiversity

M

Waste management (including Landfill Directive)

H

Water quality

H

Drinking water Directive

H

Industrial and Transboundary Air Quality (including IPPC and acidification)

H

Ambient air quality

H

Biotechnology

H

Environmental noise

M

Chemicals

M

Solvents directive

H

Hazardous substances

H

Access to environmental information

M

Habitats directives

M

Protection of species directives

M

Directive on Environmental Liability

M

Producer Responsibility Directives (Waste Packaging, End of Life Vehicles, etc.)

H

Road Transport

Road safety policy

H

Vehicle standards policy

H

Driver licensing

H

Driver testing

H

Road haulage licensing

H

Bus licensing

H


DRD

Water

Urban waste water directive

H

Transport

 

Trans European High Speed Rail Directive

M

Conventional Interoperability Directive

M

Railway safety directive

H

Regulation on public service requirements and award of contracts in public transport

H

Roads

Trans European Networks

M

Regional planning

Regional Development Strategy

M


DSD

Non-governmental organisations

M

Social Policy (National Action Plan on Social Inclusion)

H

Social welfare benefits (including trans-frontier and migrant workers)

H

Sustainable communities

H

Action on fraud and irregularities

H

Urban regeneration, including URBAN programme

H

Voluntary and community sector

M


DCAL

Belfast bid for Capital of Culture 2008

H

European year of disabled citizen in 2003 - accessibility

M

E-learning and Lifelong learning programmes under

 

Education and Culture

H

Enterprise/information society programmes and media/communication

M

Fisheries measures which impact on inland fisheries

M


DFP

Public procurement

H

Electronic purchasing by the public sector

H


DETI

Economic and Monetary Union - Euro Preparations Forum

M

Directives on health and safety in the workplace

H

Insolvency Regulation
State Aids - including contract aid for merchant shipbuilding

M
M

e-Europe 2002 Action Plan -linked to e-Government and Strategy 2010

H

Telecoms regulatory package

M

Go-digital initiative

M

5th and 6th Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development

H

Internal Energy Market

H

Renewable energy

H

Green economy

M

Consumer protection

M


DARD

Common Agricultural Policy

H

Common Fisheries Policy

H

Animal health

H

Rural development

H

LEADER +

H

Fish Health

H

Plant Health

H

Animal Welfare

H

Agri-Environment

H

Animal Waste Disposal

H

Food Labelling

M

Animal Feed

M

Fraud Prevention (livestock subsidies)

H

WTO

H

Agricultural Pesticides

M

Organic Farming

 


DE

Funded schemes for teacher/school exchanges

M

European Studies Project

M


DHSSPS

European Public Health Strategy

H

Food safety

M

Tobacco control

M

Health care - Cross-Border service provision

M


OFMDFM

Future of Europe and Governance debates

H

E-government

M

Charter of Rights

M

Anti-discrimination law and equal treatment

H

European Year of the Disabled Citizen 2003

M

NI input into National Action Plan on Social Inclusion

H

ANNEX C

EU POLICY GROUP: Terms of Reference

To identify the most effective strategy for Northern Ireland in the EU and co-ordinate its implementation across departments by:

  • Exchanging information on EU aspects of departments' responsibilities.
  • Keeping departments abreast of EU policy developments, and providing early identification of the likely impacts on Northern Ireland.
  • Initiating policy developments in respect of Northern Ireland's overall approach to the EU and co-ordinating joint working where relevant across departments.
  • Maximising the advantages to Northern Ireland from EU membership.
  • Identifying opportunities for contributing as fully as possible to the development of the EU.
  • Ensuring effective promotion and wider representation of Northern Ireland's interests in EU policy formulation in London and Brussels.
  • Providing a check and early warning on compliance with EC Directives.

OFFICE OF THE FIRST MINISTER AND DEPUTY FIRST MINISTER
EU - UK Chairs' Meeting:
extract information

Committee of the Regions: nomination process in Scotland

The Devolution White Paper, which preceded devolution in Scotland, stated that the Scottish Executive would be responsible for making recommendations to the Scottish Parliament in respect of nominations to the Committee of the Regions and ECOSOC. A similar commitment does not appear in relevant NI documentation.

As previously explained, the nomination process to the Committee of the Regions had to be considerably compressed last year because of the short time available between the appointment of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and the FCO deadline for the receipt of nominations.

Consultation with Assembly on Twinning/linkages

Consideration is being given to the criteria for establishing links with other EU regions. As yet there is no firm timetable for presentation of proposals to First Minister and Deputy First Minister, though it is anticipated that there will be progress in the course of this year. It is likely that the process will involve a number of stages at which it would be appropriate to consult more widely. The Committee of the Centre will be consulted at those stages and before final decisions are taken.

Liege conference

The report on the Liege conference is attached.

Governance White Paper and Charter of Competence

A paper on the EU Governance White Paper is currently being considered by Ministers. The Charter of Competences is likely to be one of the issues considered in more depth in the course of the Future of Europe debate. We are at the beginning of developing the response to this debate and to the Convention charged with carrying it forward at a European level. We will be seeking the views of the Committee of the Centre at various points over the course of this development process.

SECOND CONFERENCE OF THE PRESIDENTS OF REGIONS
WITH LEGISLATIVE POWERS, LIEGE 15/16 NOVEMBER 2001

1. The Wallonia Regional Government hosted the second Conference of the Presidents of Regions with Legislative Powers in Liège, Belgium, on 15/16 November. The First Ministers of the three UK devolved administrations had been invited some months ago. The Welsh First Minister was scheduled to attend, but pulled out at the last minute because of Assembly business. Jack McConnell MSP, as Scottish Minister for Europe had intended to come, but was preoccupied by the contest for the position of First Minister. Political uncertainties in Northern Ireland had delayed a decision by OFMDFM Ministers. The Director of the Brussels Office attended as an observer, with the agreement of the organisers.

Background

2. There are three organisations which attempt to represent the interests of European Regions;

  • Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE) is an organ of the Council of Europe (which has over 50 members extending into the ex-Soviet Union and predates the European Union). The Congress has separate chambers for regional and local authorities. Within the regional chamber, it has a subcommittee of regions with legislative powers which organised the Liège conference and its predecessor in Barcelona on 23/24 November 2000.
  • Assembly of European Regions (ARE) - an assembly of 400 representatives of 282 regions in 23 West, Central and East European countries. Though represented at the Liège conference, the ARE participants played little role and the Assembly is now relatively inactive.
  • Committee of the Regions (CoR) - this is an official advisory body of the European Union, created by the Treaty of Maastricht. It has met since 1994 and has 222 members including two from Northern Ireland. The CoR President spoke at Liège, but many participants were critical of the status of the CoR and its achievements to date.

3. Separately from these broadly-based representative bodies, a narrower pressure group, the Flanders Seven (i.e. Flanders, Wallonia, Catalonia, Salzburg, Bavaria, Nordrhein-Westphalia and Scotland) has been active recently in promoting a greater role for regions with devolved legislatures. It adopted a declaration on the Future of Europe and the role of regions in May 2001. This was open to other regions to subscribe to and Wales, Piemonte and Tuscany have subsequently signed up to its principles. The Flanders Seven took the lead in organising the first day of the Liège Conference, which dealt exclusively with regionalism in the EU.

Organisation of Liège Conference

4. Liège had all the characteristics of a tightly organised and controlled European Conference. The only major dissenting voice was EU Commissioner Barnier who noted that the Commission could not distinguish between strong regions (i.e. those with legislative and constitutional powers) and weak regions (i.e. those which were simply administrative subdivisions of a unitary state). He argued against attempting to impose a template for the internal organisation of Member States; he wanted a "unified, but not uniform, Europe".

5. Even within the Flanders Seven Group, an inner circle of Wallonia, Flanders and Catalonia seemed to dominate the agenda. The most significant speeches were delivered by their respective leaders (Van Cauwenberghe, Dewael and Pujol). At the conference banquet on the evening of the first day, Belgian Prime Minister Verhofstadt added his voice to this line.

6. Participants who had attended Barcelona remarked that the most important difference this year was the involvement of German Länder. The Ministers-President of Rheinland-Pfalz and Baden-Wurtenburg both attended and made forceful speeches. The Germans and the Austrians have a long experience of working settled federal constitutions, in contrast to their Belgian and Spanish counterparts.

7. Also notable was the participation of Italian regions. Recent constitutional changes have devolved greater authority, including legislative powers, to all the Italian regions (previously this degree of autonomy had been confined to a few regions with their own specific identity, eg Sicily and Trentino-Alto Adige). Similarly, a number of Spanish regions attended in addition to those with the widest degree of autonomy (Catalonia, Basque Country, Galicia). The Spanish constitution allows regions to vote themselves devolved powers outside the core competences of the State. The extent to which this power has been utilised varies considerably, but the organisers of the conference regard all the Spanish regions as meeting their criteria by virtue of their potential for legislative devolution. This leaves France as the only member of the EU Big Five which has not devolved legislative power.

Future of Europe

8. Discussion at the conference was dominated by the call for full involvement of the regions in the Future of Europe debate. This was seen as the avenue by which the regions would win a greater role in the EU Institutions post 2004. There is now a short-term objective of enhancing the role of the regions at next year's Future of Europe Convention, details of which will be agreed at the Laeken Council in December.

9. The formal arrangements for a regional voice at the Convention (observer status for CoR) were criticised at Liège as inadequate. Some regions will be represented indirectly, through participation in their Member State's Government (eg Belgium) or parliamentary (eg Germany) delegations. It was suggested that those voices could be raised on behalf of the regional movement generally.

10. Apart from the Convention, regional representatives at Liège also demanded a fuller role in their Member States' preparatory planning for the 2004 IGC.

Committee of the Regions

11. CoR was viewed as an inadequate institutional expression of regionalism within the EU. It was not a major institution, merely an advisory body. The involvement of representatives of local authorities and regions without legislative powers diluted the voice of the stronger regions.

European Court of Justice

12. One way of strengthening the hand of the CoR which was promoted at Liège, was to give it the power to initiate action before the European Court of Justice. This would give the Committee the potential to seek redress against the Council, the European Parliament, the Commission or any Member State. More radically, it has also been proposed that regions with constitutional powers should have a right of redress to the ECJ. Coupled with a Charter on Competences this would enable them to take action against a Member State which had infringed the rights of its region. This would mean that the ECJ became Europe's ultimate constitutional court on what are currently regarded as internal issues of federalism and devolution.

Final Declaration

13. The conference agreed two final resolutions. The resolution of 16 November concerned the prospects of federalism in the Greater Europe. More relevant to the regions of the current EU was the resolution of 15 November. This:

  • endorsed the May 2001 declaration of the Flanders Seven;
  • called for the involvement of regions with legislative power in the Future of Europe debate, leading to a place for them within EU decision-making forums and direct active participation in the decision-making process;
  • proposed a delimitation of competences between the EU Member States and regions;
  • called for the mandate of the 2003 convention to be extended to include consideration of the role of regions with legislative power in the legislative, executive and judicial functions of the EU including a right of direct appeal to the ECJ when their powers are violated, "while respecting each national constitution";
  • proposed a reinforced role for the Committee of the Regions within the decision-making process, while expressing reservations about the Committee's adequacy;
  • demanded direct representation of the regions with legislative power in the 2003 Convention, national delegations to include regional representatives, and participation by the CoR as a full member.

New Structure

14. The conference also made important decisions on future joint activities by regions with legislative powers. With the endorsement by the conference of the Flanders Seven declaration, the lifespan of the latter group can be considered at an end. The conference agreed to establish a new structure which would have responsibility for organising future annual conferences (Tuscany in 2003; Salzburg in 2004), along with occasional ad hoc conferences. It was obvious that this structure would play a wider role as a vanguard of the regionalist movement. Flanders, Wallonia and Catalonia can be expected to take a leading role in it. Its members would act as contact points for other regions in their Member States. Full use will be made of new technology to strengthen these links.

15. Van Cauwenberghe had proposed a structure for this new coordination group, with 2 to 4 regions from each Member State participating. For the UK, it was proposed that there should be two devolved administrations on the coordinating group. When the Scottish delegate complained that this would inevitably exclude one devolved administration, Van Cauwenberghe suggested that three UK DAs might be acceptable if a good case were put.

SANDY UPRICHARD
Assembly Section

26 February 2002

WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
Rev DR ian r k paisley mp, mep, mla

Thank you for your invitation to bring to the attention of the Committee my views as an MEP of the Government's approach to Europe. I welcome the inquiry and hope that it will lead to significant changes to the amateurish way in which the Executive has approached the institutions of the European Union.

The record of the Executive and the Assembly has, to date, not been very good at all. Instead of rowing in behind the work of the MEPs and complementing our approach the Executive has been at variance with the MEPs and certain members of the Assembly have been reduced to a laughing stock. I would remind you of the behaviour of the Sinn Fein/IRA MLAs who, on visiting Brussels, as part of an official Assembly delegation, not only managed to insult officials but ensured that Europe got an impression of the low level of gratitude these imbeciles have for the many millions of pounds that I and others have helped to secure for the Province.

MEPs and European officials regard the Northern Ireland Executive as a laughing stock. Their approach to the EU is amateurish and fails to realise the importance of strategic and early lobbying of EU officials on matters relevant to Ulster.

Dermot Nesbitt and Dennis Haughey, the two junior Ministers tasked with taking the representation forward, are simply out of their depth. They have no strategic approach to the Commission, the Council of Ministers or the Parliament. Worse, they do not have any objectives or European goals other than the vague notion of having the Executive represented in Brussels. I am not convinced that the two junior Ministers know the difference between Brussels and Beirut let alone know the workings of the European institutions.

Because there is no strategic approach there is no early warning on relevant issues as they arise on the European agenda. This means that the Northern Ireland government is constantly playing catch up on most European policy issues instead of influencing the agenda. This is brought home to me every Friday when I consider the European regulations that DARD are responsible for and have very little control over.

The Executive has no methodology or system in place about influencing these and other European working papers as they arise. In fact, at best, their approach could be described as haphazard. The junior Ministers boast that their office in Brussels has been in business since last summer/autumn and that the Minister for Agriculture used it to great effect. I doubt if they have influenced one single working paper during this time. There is no evidence to suggest that the office has made the slightest impression. It is right to ask the question do they even know at what appropriate stage to influence working papers and policy? Or, who they should influence? There is no methodology or system in place of networking with key officials from each of the D.Gs or the Commission itself.

There is no short term, medium or long-term goals from the Ministers in terms of European policy. Remembering that it was the three MEPs who delivered the Peace Programme money through my personal approach to Jaques Delores and the Commission I do believe that the Executive has a lot of catching up to do. The Executive is not even thinking along strategic lines in Europe. It has no vision let alone an idea of what it wants for the Province from the EU.

Worse still, the Executive European Office has not had the manners, decency or tact to make an approach to me as Northern Ireland's first MEP to discuss or plan any of these important issues. The first approach that my office received was an invitation to the opening of the European Office last autumn. My office then received a call from Sir Reg Empy's Office while he was acting up as First Minister. This call relayed a message that the invitation was premature and should be destroyed. I understand that a number of similar calls were made to other recipients. These calls must have gone down as a real diplomatic blunder with various European officials who had been invited.

My office received a second invitation in January to the official opening of the European Office. The invitation was late, giving less than one-week's notice. On the Friday before the official opening the Executive European Office then attempted, at the last minute, to scramble together a briefing for the MEPs. The arrangements were a 10.00 am briefing, a 1.00 pm lunch and 6.00 pm reception and were planned to take place three working days after the phone call had been placed. Not only was the notice of such a briefing far too short but neither I nor John Hume had sufficient notice to rearrange busy schedules to be there. Yet one would have thought that a strategic approach would have worked out these arrangements a long time in advance so as the Northern Ireland message could be maximised. It was very clear from the official who contacted my office that the arrangements were all last minute and the briefing was simply a get to know you lunch with no real purpose other than to make up for the chaotic approach to date.

I take the view that the First and Deputy First Minister and their experts in the shape of Dermot and Dennis attempted to snub the MEP representation so as they could maximise publicity for themselves and for the Executive. It is this approach that goes to the heart of the problems. The representation in Brussels ought not to be a plaything of the Executive because the Executive is divisive and wants to engage in its own politics. Northern Ireland would be better served by an office that is not the platform of the Government but is a shop window of Northern Ireland PLC and should be an office of the Assembly not just the Executive.

Already the political divisions have caused havoc with the running of the office. The first official opening had to be cancelled because David Trimble had resigned as First Minister and given that the various parties have been engaged in a number of legal challenges of each other there is never going to be a time when the Executive is not without division and controversy.

I would like to have immediately presented to me the strategy that this office will now pursue with regard to:

(a) promotion of Northern Ireland;

(b) the delivery of European money to Northern Ireland;

(c) the impact it intends to make on European legislation;

(d) I would like them to identify the various EU policy papers they are currently lobbying the Commission on; and

(e) how they are representing the opinions of the Assembly Committees as they express views on matters and policies that are relevant to EU matters.

If one ever considers why European legislation can at times be out of touch with local needs the answer lies with this lack of strategic approach and a failure to adequately represent local views. Given that there is no input from the Assembly to the European Office, that there is no input from the District Councils to the European Office and that the Office has avoided the MEPs then I fail to understand how they intend to influence legislation as it emerges if they only have the benefit of briefing from the likes of Dennis and Dermot who are, quite frankly, not on top of this brief.

The role of NICE has not been considered by the Executive European Office. NICE has completely fallen off the European radar screen. While its influence was minimal it did offer a door knocking service for some local authorities. I understand that there is no place in the Executive Office for Local authority representation. Once again the Executive Office has put no thought into a holistic representation of Northern Ireland.

Critically your Committee inquiry should consider why there is no co-ordination between the Departments and the MEPs. There are no regular briefings and there is no strategic approach in general from the Executive. I continue to make approaches directly and receive the briefing papers that the Scottish, English and Welsh MEPs receive on behalf of the Government Departments there. Quite frankly the Northern Ireland Departments and the Executive are not at the same game. In fact, in my experience it is now more difficult to get information from the Northern Ireland Departments about European matters than at any previous time due to the defensive nature of the ministerial run Departments.

A crucial issue for the Government is how it manages its Civil Service. I remain very concerned that the experience of our Civil Service in Europe is very limited. There are few if any opportunities or incentives for the Civil Service to be seconded to the EU to gain experience there and to return to a more senior post at home. This is an area where much effort must be made. Yet I doubt if Dermot or Dennis have even thought about its relevance or importance let alone done anything about it. A structure must be devised that will address secondment of Civil Servants and officials.

I have enclosed for the benefit of your Committee my CD-ROM on my activities in Europe, which give a brief sample of some of the work that an MEP has to engage in while at the Parliament. While this is not an exhaustive list of activities and issues it does serve as a useful guide. I would remind you that this publication is currently available to all schools and colleges in Northern Ireland I have yet to see what the Government is doing to disseminate similar material. One would have thought that the Government representation, which according to Dennis and Dermot has been working well since last summer, would have already been engaged in a promotional and educational drive. I wait patiently to be convinced that the Government is able to catch up with the work of the MEPs.

IAN R K PAISLEY MP MEP MLA

14 February 2002

WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
JOHN SIMPSON [iv]
EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE

The Committee of the Centre has decided to undertake an inquiry within its remit for European Affairs, as they relate to the work of the Assembly and the Ministerial Executive.

The terms of reference chosen are to make:

'An evaluation of the effectiveness of the current approach of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Devolved Government in the engagement of Northern Ireland with the institutions of the European Union.'

This remit is, understandably and correctly, much wider than the approach to relationships with the European Commission. The Commission is only one of the institutions. Whilst the Commission plays a major role in the devising of policies and, once approved, the execution of the main policies, it must be understood in the context of the differing responsibilities of each of the main institutions.

The institutions

The European institutions, that the Committee will wish to consider within the framework for its investigation, will include the European Parliament, the European Council (of Ministers), the Commission, the Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee.

Each of these institutions has a defined role to play that has elements relevant to the devolved Government in Northern Ireland.

The relationships between the European institutions are complex and frequently misunderstood. Since the European Union is currently designed as a Community of nation states, key political decisions are taken by national Governments either, if prior agreement exists in the Treaties, by qualified majority or by unanimous agreement, where the decision making has not already either been delegated or made susceptible to qualified majority voting Essentially, the main political decision-making body is the Council of Ministers.

The Council usually acts after receiving recommendations from the Commission and, for formal legislative acts, after the European Parliament has been consulted.

Both the European Parliament and the Commission have ambitions to play a larger part in the processes of law making and through greater delegation of executive authority, respectively. This is a tension that has existed for many years and will next come into formal review at the Inter-Governmental Conference scheduled for 2004. This conference follows the earlier agreements at Maastricht and the limited (unsatisfactory) agreements at Nice. The negative vote in the Irish referendum that was to precede the adoption of the Treaty of Nice has illustrated the problems.

Much of the current publicity emerging from the Commission is a mixture of genuine efforts to make decision- making more efficient and also barely disguised ambitions by the Commission to strengthen its authority. The Committee of the Centre may wish to consult the White Paper on the Governance of the European Union recently published by the Commission but should realise that this document is not likely to be wholly acceptable as it stands to the Council of Ministers or the Parliament.

The announcement in mid-December 2001 that a widely based Convention is to be established, under the chairmanship of Giscard d'Estaing (France), to prepare proposals for the better Governance of the European Union is both a recognition of the need for a more efficient and comprehensible system and the need to reconcile competing ideas, ranging from the possibility of an agreed constitution for the European Union to a better definition of the inherently Federal nature of the present arrangements.

The Commission will argue that a revised framework should create a European Union with which people more readily identify: a peoples Europe. In principle, this is attractive. However, there is no inevitable symmetry between a 'peoples Europe' and greater delegated authority to the Commission.

The approach

The Committee wishes to consider the effectiveness of the current approach of the Assembly and Executive to the institutions.

First, an acknowledgement must be made that, despite the existence of considerable goodwill in the institutions to regional administrations and a particular evidence of goodwill towards Northern Ireland, regional administrations have at best an indirect degree of influence.

The Government of the United Kingdom is, in principle, in the same position as the German Federal Government or the central Government of Spain when it insists that there must be a co-ordinated national approach to European decision-making and that regional authorities do not have a formal identity in European decision-making. The Concordat between Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Belfast makes this clear.

Of course, the reality is that influence and information do not always go through formal institutional structures. This is acknowledged and accepted. However, the informal rules are that regional authorities need to use discretion and keep the national representatives well informed. For Northern Ireland this points up the formal links with London based departments, the need for a working understanding with UKREP in Brussels, and the need to network with other agencies in Brussels such as the Irish representation, the Scottish Office and the office for the administration in Wales.

Perhaps the Committee will be able to make a more incisive review if a structure for the scope of the enquiry is suggested.

There is a danger that the Committee might be encouraged to focus simply on administrative structures, information about European decisions, and re-acting to events.

The thrust of this submission is that the Northern Ireland authorities need to have a clearer agenda that distinguishes the different role for Government Departments, the Ministerial Executive (as a collective organisation), and the Assembly Committees, both for separate functions (e.g. agriculture, competition) and a general overview (as through this Committee).

If the agenda is clarified, then the administrative arrangements might be strengthened and focused on that agenda.

In setting the agenda, one of the features that should be carefully differentiated is the distinction between issues related to policy and administration and those issues related to the flow of European Union funds. A large number of European issues do not relate to the flow of funds.

Departments

For individual Government departments, the basic needs are:

(i) to be aware of the relevant EU policy requirements affecting their department

(ii) to have early warning of EU policy proposals, before they are adopted

(iii) to express any comments, particularly where adverse or unwelcome features emerge, in time to influence decision making both through the formal channels and the informal networks

(iv) to draw, through DFP, European Union funds in support of departmental policies and to clearly account for this in a comprehensible fashion

(v) to be willing, if selected, to participate in consultations and other fora at the Commission and Parliament

(vi) to consult with comparable departments in the other devolved administrations and with the Irish departments where mutual interests emerge

(vii) to draw on the knowledge and involvement of local MEP's, members of the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee when proposals are being considered by those institutions

(viii) to brief the members of those institutions to enable them to use that knowledge in the discussion stages

The present arrangements rely, it seems, too heavily on the first three of the above suggestions. This, in turn, is attributable to the perception that the direct and indirect links to the Commission are the core of the relationship. Whilst that is understandable and important, representatives from other countries are used heavily in the process, as decisions are in preparation, under the latter two of the suggestions. The Finnish and Spanish representatives seem well integrated with their Governments.

Local departments do not, apparently, see the value in widening the network of contacts and influence in this way. Departments do not, at present, brief members of the Economic and Social Committee (and possibly MEPs and members of the Committee of the Regions?) and rarely take any interest in the issues under debate at this level, despite the fact that this is an early opportunity to influence opinion.

One conspicuous deficiency in Departmental presentations is that the present form of the Departmental Budget statements, as prepared by DFP, and the later detail in the Appropriate Accounts is woefully deficient in clarity on the extent to which a department impacts on public services through the application of the additional European Union funds.

The Northern Ireland Executive

The Northern Ireland Executive, through the office of the First Minister, has a co-ordinating and monitoring responsibility. Alongside this responsibility is the role of the Department of Finance and Personnel in the management of European Union funds.

The agenda for the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) must reflect, in a slightly amended form, the agenda as set out above for Government departments.

In addition, the OFMDFM must be the formal channel for transmitting the conclusions of the Executive to London and to the representatives in Brussels.

In this relationship the Office of the Executive in Brussels has a key role to play. The Office has the disadvantage that it has only recently been established. However, as a late-starter, there are lessons to be learnt from the experience of the comparable unit set-up by the Scottish Executive which has been very active in the European institutions.

Again, the emphasis must be made that the remit needs to be, and should usefully be, much wider than links to the UK and Irish representative offices and to the Commission.

The OFMDFM will only be effective if the reporting and information exchange mechanism within and between Northern Ireland departments functions fully and openly.

The European Unit in the OFMDFM is, therefore, a key link in the network of contacts, influence and delegated responsibilities. (Writing from outside the Government structure, there is little information about how this role is discharged at present.)

One suggestion for the improved and more co-ordinated effort on behalf of Northern Ireland with the European institutions is that the OFMDFM should co-ordinate the work of the representatives that sit on the institutions by a regular briefing of those representatives and creating a forum for informal debate. Efforts in this direction have, in the past, proved ineffective.

Departmental Assembly Committees

Assembly Committees for the Departments presumably already have an opportunity to discuss European Union issues relevant to that Department. To date this process of scrutiny has not attracted significant attention.

Assembly Committees may wish to introduce a mechanism that ensures they