National parliaments must have their say on the tobacco products directive

Take action – every national parliament should be involved. As we get closer to the ‘end-game’ for the tobacco products […]

Take action – every national parliament should be involved. As we get closer to the ‘end-game’ for the tobacco products directive, it is important that national parliaments re-engage.  Each legislative proposal is scrutinised by member state national parliaments, which can submit ‘reasoned opinions’ and influence the positions taken by their own governments. You can see the input of national parliaments on the Tobacco Products Directive so far on the EU Inter-Parliamentary Exchange (IPEX).  The proposals on e-cigs are now completely different and five times the length of the Commission proposal sent to them in December 2012 for scrutiny, and national parliaments should expect to see themn again – and definitely before the Council votes on it.  I’ve extracted a list of contact information for national parliaments from the IPEX link above and listed at the end of this post.  If you are outside the UK especially, please do make your views known to your own national parliament.

UK parliament developments

What is happening in the UK?  The UK parliament is quite demanding in ensuring it retains a ‘scrutiny reserve’.  I wrote to the relevant committee in November to make the case for more scrutiny and UK parliamentary oversight (detailed letter) now that effectively an entirely new proposal has been formulated in a closed process.   I probably didn’t need to bother – the Committee is already quite troubled by this (they produced a very good report on scrutiny on 28 Nov – see Conclusions and the section on secret (‘Limité’) documents and proceedings).  Following its 11 December 2013 meeting the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee emphasised that it wants continued scrutiny of these proposals.

We note that negotiations are only likely to be concluded if the Council and European Parliament are able to reach a compromise on Article 18, on the regulation of non-tobacco Nicotine-Containing Products (NCPs), such as e-cigarettes, and on the scope for more stringent domestic tobacco control measures under Article 24, and comment that the Minister does not state in terms whether the UK would be willing to abandon the recommendation made by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to regulate non-tobacco Nicotine-Containing Products as medicines; nor does she set out the minimum safeguards the Government would seek to ensure appropriate and proportionate regulation of these products.  We trust that she will be in a position to do so in the forthcoming debate.

We also make clear that we expect Parliament to be informed of any substantial amendments to the Commission’s original proposal which emerge from the trilogue negotiations by means of a Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum accompanied by a new depositable text, with sufficient time for Parliament to consider and if necessary, debate it before it is formally agreed by the Council. (emphasis in blue added)

The final sentence of this means that the UK government cannot agree a position in the Council until this committee has properly considered the proposals and the government has explained its position (at least without a breach of parliamentary procedure). Every other parliament should expect the same.  The Committee also considered the issue on 4 December and there has been an exchange of letters between the Committee and Department of Health.  The UK parliament has been persistently frustrated with the UK government – not least when the previous Minister for Public Health, Anna Soubry MP, agreed a ‘General Approach’ on the TPD without discussing it with the Commons European Scrutiny Committee and in breach of agreed protocols – leading to an eye-watering committee appearance. Note that she didn’t even realise e-cigs were in the directive at the time.

The bigger picture

Why Brussels needs scrutiny. Why is the Tobacco Products Directive in general such a mess and why in particular are the ideas for regulating nicotine containing products like e-cigarettes so bad – and so stupidly supportive to the cigarette-based business model of Big Tobacco (see fake PR memo)? This has arisen largely because of the way decisions are made, and I have set some reasons why this process is particularly poor. But there is also a deep diffusion and dilution of responsibility in the way decisions are made in the EU institutions – everyone has a say, no-one is accountable and anyone can blame everyone else. Many are quick to evoke the lame excuse about achieving “the art of the politically possible” as if this is some sort of worldly wisdom to explain away poor policy-making, but in this case all they need to do is have a new legislative process.  This isn’t exclusively the fault of the Commission – but more the way that elected representatives (MEPs) and member states (the Council) pursue their interests through negotiation and deal-making – the result is a deal, and what the deal actually does is a secondary concern, if it is a concern at all.
The role of national parliaments. In his speech on the future of the European Union, the UK Prime Minister David Cameron put it pretty well…

My fourth principle is democratic accountability: we need to have a bigger and more significant role for national parliaments. There is not, in my view, a single European demos. It is national parliaments, which are, and will remain, the true source of real democratic legitimacy and accountability in the EU.

It is to the Bundestag that Angela Merkel has to answer. It is through the Greek Parliament that Antonis Samaras has to pass his Government’s austerity measures. It is to the British Parliament that I must account on the EU budget negotiations, or on the safeguarding of our place in the single market.

Those are the Parliaments which instil proper respect – even fear – into national leaders. We need to recognise that in the way the EU does business.

Contacting national parliaments – for EU scrutiny

You can communicate with your national parliamentary scrutiny function to ask them to get more involved, if they aren’t already. Possible messages:

  • The e-cigarettes part of the directive is by far the most important part – affecting millions of users and thousands of small businesses in Europe with huge potential to reduce smoking
  • The proposal has changed beyond recognition – it is now five times as long and completely new text
  • Many of the measures are very poor and counterproductive – lacking scientific evidence and adequate legal base [see previous posts: here, here and here]
  • The policy-making and legislative process through amendment and closed trilogue negotiation is very opaque and unsatisfactory – [see here]
  • National Parliaments have not had an opportunity scrutinise the new text, yet it is exactly like a proposal for a completely new directive
  • There has been no evidence-based justification; no impact assessment; and no consultation with the users and businesses affected or with experts

Contact information

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8 thoughts on “National parliaments must have their say on the tobacco products directive”

  1. Hi Clive,

    great job as always, but I’m a bit pissed of that you didn’t mention our luxemburgish parliament, the “chambre des députés”,, I expect an apology!!!!!! ;)

  2. Jane Ellison: Of course, we do not want to stifle innovation. All factors are under consideration, and we are listening closely to what is being said by MEPs and other member states.

    Luciana Berger: How many, if any, of the 5,000 e-cigarette products on the UK market would be affected by any forthcoming regulation?

    Jane Ellison: I have not made an assessment on that last point.

    Statements made during her appearance before the EU scrutiny committee 17th December. You honestly couldnt make it up. They are pushing a position for medicalisation, yet they openly admit they have no idea how that or any other regulation will affect the products already on the market.

    1. We know that all e-liquids with a concentration >20mg/ml will be removed from the market.How many of the flavourings will remain will be up to the Member States – given the comments over the last year it will not be many – any that the ‘experts’ consider attractive to children.

      There’s one interesting line in the new proposal “This level is considered
      satisfactory for an average smoker that wants to reduce tobacco consumption with the assistance of an electronic cigarette.”

      They are now self-appointed experts on smoking cessation/tobacco harm reduction although presenting no evidence and and using wishy-washy adjectives like ‘satisfactory’ and ‘average.They also just see ecigs as a way to reduce,not eliminate completely, tobacco consumption.It is probably the most clueless statement they’ve produced so far – and there are lots of great contenders.

  3. Quietly Campaigning

    I note with concern Linda McAvans latest tweet

    ‘Delighted that national governments have just accepted the deal we reached on #TPD on Monday.’

    Is this true in fact?, bearing in mind the opportunity for communication with scrutiny you describe above?

    1. No she’s ahead of herself . But that reflects the self important inclination of everyone in Brussels.

      They got an unofficial agreement at a meeting of officials. The UK govt can stick to this. But it shouldn’t be declaring its hand politically until further scrutiny in Westminster

  4. No sir… If all the letters and lobbying had been ignored these products would be regulated as medicines… And gifts goes right back to 2010 when vapers fought off the MHRA’a attempt to have them banned within 21 days.

    You have to remember all 28 member states, the European Commission and most MEPs wanted these regulated as medicines in the first half the year. It was always going to be a bloody fight. There’s still a long way to go before they can do any real damage.

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