UK ministers shamed in EU truancy league table

Click to follow
Indy Politics

The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, is no great fan of the place, and recent visits to Brussels by another cabinet minister can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Now a truancy table has revealed the scale of absenteeism among the European Union's decision-makers.

The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, is no great fan of the place, and recent visits to Brussels by another cabinet minister can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Now a truancy table has revealed the scale of absenteeism among the European Union's decision-makers.

Figures compiled for a French parliamentarian show the United Kingdom with the sixth-worst attendance record at EU ministerial meetings in 2003, putting it in the bottom half of the 15 EU member states.

The worst truants were the Belgians even though their capital, Brussels, hosts most of the meetings. The Italians came top with a 100 per cent attendance record.

The statistics, published by Jacques Floch in a report for the National Assembly in Paris, form part of an inquiry into waning French influence in the EU. France, described in the report as the "bad pupil of Europe", had a worse ministerial turnout than the UK.

British ministers skipped 11 of 79 meetings (13.9 per cent) in the Council of Ministers, the EU's most powerful decision-making body. Diplomats can sit in place of ministers but are not allowed to vote.

Mr Brown missed five out of 13 (38.4 per cent) EU finance ministers meetings, the worst record of any nation's minister in 2003. Next came the ministers responsible for transport, telecommunications or energy who missed two out of seven (28.5 per cent) of their less frequent councils. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, was absent from three of the 23 (13 per cent) meetings of EU foreign ministers, although some may have been for the General Affairs Council which takes a general overview of legislative activities.

One of the seven (14.28 per cent) meetings of industrial competitiveness ministers took place without a minister from the UK, usually represented by Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

The statistics record only whether government departments send a minister - including junior ministers - to Brussels or Luxembourg, which hosts the Council of Ministers three months a year, for meetings.

The Home Office had a 100 per cent attendance record in the report. David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has attended just a handful of meetings in the past couple of years.

A British official defended the record, saying: "Not all meetings are equal and some have lighter agendas or subject matters that do not affect [the UK]. At any meeting where there is a key national interest at stake there will be a British minister there arguing for [the UK]."

Although one of the European Parliament's two sites is in Strasbourg, France's MEPs had, at 80 per cent, the second worst attendance record in the union. The UK's record was 84 per cent.

Comments