Report on Statutory Committee Activity on European Issues May 2011 - August 2012
Committee: Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister
Date: Wednesday, 21 November 2012
Reference: NIA 81/11-15
Mandate Report Number: 2012/13 Second Report
Together with the Minutes of Proceedings of the Committee relating to the Report, Minutes of Evidence, and Written Submissions
The Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister is a Statutory Committee established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of the Belfast Agreement, Section 29 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and under Assembly Standing Order 48. The Committee has a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister and has a role in the initiation of legislation.
The Committee has power to:
- Consider and advise on Departmental Budgets and Annual Plans in the context of the overall budget allocation;
- Approve relevant secondary legislation and take the Committee stage of relevant primary legislation;
- Call for persons and papers;
- Initiate inquiries and make reports; and
- Consider and advise on matters brought to the Committee by the First Minister and deputy First Minister.
1. On the 26 January 2010, the Northern Ireland Assembly approved the Report of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister on its Inquiry into the Consideration of European Issues and called for enhanced engagement and improved interaction with the European institutions to raise the profile of Europe in Northern Ireland.
2. In its European Inquiry Report, the Committee brought forward a total of 12 Actions for the Assembly's statutory committees and 17 Recommendations for the Speaker, the Assembly Commission and the First Minister and deputy First Minister. Below is a link to the Committee's Report.
3. Action 2 of the Committee's Report stated:
The Assembly's statutory committees will be responsible for the scrutiny of all European issues of relevance to the committee. In the autumn of each year statutory committees will be requested to provide a report of activity on European issues to the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister. The Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister will formulate all contributions into one report to the Assembly which will be submitted to the Business Committee for Plenary debate.
4. This report provides an overview of statutory committees' engagement with European issues and consideration of European policy and legislation from May 2011 to August 2012. It is the second report of this type; the first one was printed on 23 February 2012 and can be viewed at the link below.
5. The Committee agreed to write to all statutory committees at its meeting of 4 July 2012 to request information on their engagement on European issues. A copy of statutory committee responses are at Appendix 1.
Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister
6. The Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister has implemented a number of Actions in its European Issues Report. The Committee continued its engagement with the Northern Ireland representatives in Europe and with key stakeholders.
7. In June 2011, the Committee established a European Advisory Panel to help inform Committees' and the Assembly's consideration of European issues. The Panel is made of up of Northern Ireland's MEPs, representatives on the European Economic Social Committee, representatives on the Committee of the Regions, officials from the EU Commission Office in Belfast, from the Executive's Office in Brussels and local government. The Chairpersons of statutory committees are also invited depending on subject.
8. The Advisory Panel met three times during the period of this report
- In November 2011 the Panel focused on the Commission's CAP proposals 2014-2020, which the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development is considering.
- In March 2012 the Panel considered regional transport and cohesion proposals and in particular the possibility of PEACE IV funding.
- In June 2012 the Panel focussed on the opportunities available in relation to research and development through Horizon 2020.
The Panel meetings were well attended by stakeholders and by relevant Committee Chairpersons and Deputy Chairpersons. It has been a useful engagement tool as the Assembly seeks to take these issues forward.
9. The Committee undertook a visit to Edinburgh/Brussels at the end October 2011 to gain an understanding of how countries holding the rotating presidency of the EU develop the agenda for their six month presidency and the possibilities of influencing this agenda, or benefitting from it. Members were also seeking to develop contacts and gain access to information networks. Additionally, the Committee wanted to gain an insight into the key current EU issues, particularly around structural and cohesion funds, by meeting those with expert knowledge of the issues, both for Members own information and also to allow them to bring this information back to the Assembly. Members found the visit very beneficial and will seek to build on the contacts and networks established.
10. In January 2012, the Chairperson attended a meeting of the EC-UK Forum in Edinburgh. The EC-UK forum is a bi-annual meeting of the Chairpersons of the UK Committees with responsibility for European issues. At the meeting there were a number of issues discussed, including the Eurozone crisis, the European Commission's Work Programme and subsidiarity. Parliament Buildings will host the next meeting of the EC-UK Forum in October, when the Irish Minister for EU Affairs will brief the Chairpersons on the Irish Presidency of the EU in 2013.
11. The Committee played a key role in the Review of the Office of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels. The Committee has also scrutinised the Department's and the Executive's work in Europe, including the work of Barosso Taskforce and considered and responded to the Executive's draft European Priorities for 2012. This contributed to the Northern Ireland Executive producing a European Priorities document focussing on 4 areas – Competitiveness and Employment; Innovation and Technology; Climate Change and Energy; and Social Cohesion. The Executive has appointed 4 new desk officers in Brussels to take forward these areas. In July 2012, the Committee sought an update from the Head of the Executive's Office in Brussels on the progress of the 4 desk officers and the work of the Barroso Taskforce. The work of the Barroso Taskforce remains an area of interest for the Committee and it will continue its scrutiny in this area to ensure the Executive make the most of the opportunity provided.
12. In its Report on the draft Programme for Government (PfG) the Committee agreed that the PfG should make greater reference to Europe and the opportunities it offered - in particular it should reference the Executive's commitment to increasing the uptake of European funding by 20% over the period to 2015. The Committee also agreed that it would like to see a commitment in the PfG to greater engagement in Europe and with the European institutions and that the European Priorities document would provide the milestones/outcomes for the commitment. The Committee was pleased to see that the Department included a commitment to increase the uptake of competitive funds by 20% across all departments.
13. In March to June 2012, the Committee considered the Race Relations Order (Amendment) Regulations 2012 which would remove the right of employers employing seafarers to pay them different rates based on the seafarers' nationality/home port. The Committee raised two main concerns with the Department in relation to the Order. Firstly, the lack of an accurate estimate of the cost of implementing the Order (or broadening its scope) and lack of information about its possible effect on the fishing fleet; secondly, the scope of the Order, in that it would still leave some foreign seafarers without protection. Due to the imminence of EU infraction proceedings, the Committee agreed that it was content with the Order and the Department has agreed to come back to the Committee in the new session with further information in relation to the issues raised.
Other Statutory Committees
14. The work and engagement of the statutory committees on European issues is set out in their responses at Appendix 1. Some of the issues covered by committees are set out briefly below.
The Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development:
- The Committee has undertaken considerable work in relation to the reform of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). The Committee took evidence from a number of key stakeholders, which enabled the Committee to take a position on CAP reform, which it forwarded to a number of committees in the UK and Ireland.
- The Committee has also considered a number of other European issues, such as the Common Fisheries Policy, the Single Farm Payment and considered EU legislation on a regular basis.
- The Committee received a briefing from Jim Nicholson MEP on the most likely issues to affect the industry in the near future.
The Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure
- The Committee has received updates from DCAL on its work in relation to European issues and its role in the Barroso Taskforce Working Group.
- The Committee also considered the Executive's draft European Priorities.
- The Committee received a briefing from Jane Morrice, member of the European Economic and Social Committee, on that Committee's work.
- The Committee was also briefed by the Assembly's Research and Information Service regarding the criteria and qualifications of the European Heritage Label.
- The Committee has kept a watching brief on Creative Europe 2014-2020.
The Committee for Employment and Learning
- The Committee has had a range of briefings from its Department including the management of the European Social Fund.
- The Committee had two briefings from the Office of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels on European issues.
- The Committee also considered a range of subordinate legislation giving effect to EU directives, including the Agency Workers Directive, where the Committee took a keen interest.
- The Committee also considered a Research paper on the European Commission's Work Programme.
The Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment
- The Committee received written briefings from DETI on a number of EU issues, including the EU Regional Aid Post 2013 and the Implementation of the EU Third Energy Package.
- The Committee also considered a research paper on the European Regional Development Fund and Energy Efficiency.
- In November 2011, the Committee hosted a stakeholder event to engage with representatives from the office of the UK SME EU Envoy.
The Committee for the Environment
- The Committee's main work on European issues relates to environmental legislation originating from EU Directives and it has been engaging early to ensure that the impact, particularly on the business and farming sectors, is minimised.
- The Committee receives quarterly infraction schedule updates from the Department. The Committee has also considered the Strangford Lough Special Area of Conservation, the Wild Birds Directive and the Nitrates Action Programme Regulations.
- The Committee continued the scrutiny of its Department's uptake of EU funding and has asked for regular updates on the work of the Department and the ONIEB to improve uptake.
The Committee for Finance and Personnel
- The Committee has considered a number of policies and pieces of legislation influenced by European Directives in areas such as public procurement and building regulations.
- The Committee also received a number of briefings from the Department and SEUPB on European Structural Funds issues.
The Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety
- The Committee took evidence from Cooperation and Working together (CAWT), which is funded from the EU INTERREG IV programme.
- The Committee considered a number of Statutory Rules implementing EU Directives.
The Committee for Justice
- The Committee considered a number of EU proposals for legislation and sought further information on the impact of the proposals for Northern Ireland.
- The Committee took a particular interest in proposals from DoJ on the legislative and other changes required as a consequence of the UK Government's decision to opt-in to the EU Directive on Human Trafficking.
The Committee for Regional Development
- The Committee has a programme of influencing the EU Parliament in respect of the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) and the Trans-European Network for transport (TEN-T).
- The Committee has visited Brussels twice as part of this work, meeting rapporteurs taking evidence on these programmes as well as Commission officials and the UK and Irish Permanent Representatives.
The Committee for Social Development
- The Committee considered a number of items of legislation implementing EU Directives, including proposed amendments to the Street Trading Act 2001 to ensure compliance with the EC Directive on Services in the Internal Market.
- The Committee also engaged on a number of consultations in relation to EU issues.
15. At its meeting on 21 November 2012 the Committee for the Office of the First Minister anddeputy First Minister agreed and ordered the report to be printed.
Download the full report here