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Monday, June 30, 2008

Good to know they are on top of things

The Tories are trying to get their hands on the minutes of the Coreper meetings in which the Perm Reps discussed setting up the EU diplomatic service (as discovered by Bruno Waterfield)

They have a question down.

Mark Francois:

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will place in the Library a copy of the European Commission's report on the COREPER meetings on the European External Action Service held on 7 and 13 May 2008

Jim Murphy, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office:

holding answer 13 June 2008

It is for the European Commission to decide what it does with internal records of meetings attended by its officials.

Er... Coreper is not a committee of people who work for the Commission - it is a committee of all the Permanent Representatives of the member states. Basically our (civil servant) ambassadors to the EU. And can't we publish what our own British officials are saying in Brussels? (hint: no)

On the other hand I can see how it would be an easy mistake to make given the tendency of our Perm Secs to go native over the years.

It's like the old joke about the lost tourist in Whitehall who asks a policeman which side the Foreign Office is on:

"Supposedly ours, but you have to wonder sometimes."


Anonymous said...

It's the Commission's document, not the Government's, d'oh.

Open Europe blog team said...

And the UK Government can't publish it because...?

Anonymous said...

It's not the Government's to publish, d'oh (again): there is no ministerial responsibility for publishing documents produced by the European Commission in response to parliamentary questions. You might just as well ask the Government to place Open Europe briefing papers in the House of Commons Library.

Whether or not it suits the Government to cite "ministerial responsibility" for failing to produce a document which they no doubt have a copy of is a political question: no doubt if it suited them to do so, a copy of any report they had would be in the Library ASAP. But in parliamentary terms the FCO is on pretty firm ground.

MF would have been on better ground asking for reports produced by the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, since the Secretary of State is a member of the Council and (arguably) the secretariat works for all member states.

Anonymous said...

"Er... Coreper is not a committee of people who work for the Commission - it is a committee of all the Permanent Representatives of the member states."

Quite: but Commission officials sit in on Coreper and produce their own reports, which Coreper has no responsibility for (even though the Council secretariat might receive informal copies).

Open Europe blog team said...

Anonymous 2: Surely the member states always have a copy of the minutes, informally or not.

Anonymous 1: obviously ministers don't put copies of coreper minutes in the library regularly (a shame). But is there anything to stop them doing so? What would happen if they did?

Anonymous said...

I like the "surely" in the response above.
Not aware of the Commission ever making COREPER notes taken by its officials to anyone, let alone a Member State government.
But then the Commission is not attending COREPER to provide a Secretariat function - that would be the Council Secretariat.
So the FCO response is technically correct.
Strikes me that this might be a case of the question asked not being the right one, possibly because the questioners didn't understand the set-up in the EU? While you can blame the set-up for being complicated, you'd think that someone would be expert enough to know.
Or have I missed the point?

PS I may be a little out of date: are discussions between senior civil servants in cross-departmental meetings taking place in Whitehall now put in the House of Commons library?