Enhanced co-operation, August 2004

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Publication Date 02/08/2004
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Established in 1997 by the Treaty of Amsterdam, the provision for 'enhanced co-operation' - in which some Member States work together in a specific policy area using the EU institutions and procedures - has not yet been formally used, although both the Single Currency and the Schengen Agreement are areas in which not all EU members participate. The use of enhanced co-operation has, however, been proposed in relation to education, environment, defence and - most recently - taxation. The draft Constitutional Treaty significantly enhances the prospects for groups of Member States to engage in such co-operation.


'Enhanced co-operation', 'flexibility', 'closer co-operation' and 'differentiated integration' are all terms used to describe an arrangement under which a group of Member States can pursue an initiative within the EU's legal framework, but without all 25 members joining in (see: Research paper 00/88: IGC 2000: Enhanced Co-operation).

The concept was formally introduced by the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam. Any group of Member States wishing to participate in such an initiative could do so, however, only under what the BBC described as 'strict rules' (see: Closer co-operation). In addition to a requirement that half the Union's members must agree to take part before an enhanced co-operation initiative could be sanctioned, it was possible for a single Member State to veto any such move.

To make it easier for groups of Member States to work together on joint initiatives, particularly following enlargement, the Treaty of Nice included a number of Articles aimed at clarifying and simplifying the requirements for enhanced co-operation.

The minimum number of Member States now required to participate in an initiative is eight - irrespective of how many members the Union has. The scope of the concept now includes issues falling within the common foreign and security policy (but nothing with military or defence implications). The veto can now be used only in matters concerned with foreign policy.

Significantly, the enhanced co-operation option is seen as a last resort, which should only be applied if the objectives sought cannot be achieved through the Union's usual procedures (see: CEPS Policy Brief).

Following the treaties of Amsterdam and Nice, the Articles relating to enhanced co-operation are now found in:

Treaty establishing the European Community

Article 11 - Procedure for establishing enhanced cooperation

Article 11A - Subsequent participation of a Member State

Treaty on European Union

Article 27A to 27E - Enhanced cooperation in the area of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)

Article 40 - Enhanced cooperation in the area of Justice and Home Affairs (JHA)
Article 40A - Procedure for establishing enhanced cooperation (JHA)
Article 40B - Subsequent participation of a Member State (JHA)

Article 43 - General principles of enhanced cooperation
Article 43A - Principle of last resort
Article 43B - Principle of openness

Article 44 - Decision-making under enhanced cooperation
Article 44A - Cost of enhanced cooperation

Article 45 - Consistency with EU policies

The detail of implementing the enhanced co-operation procedure varies according to which of the Union's three 'pillars' a proposed action is to take place.

Despite the changes made at Nice, there is no example of enhanced co-operation having been formally initiated. Amongst the issues which were thought likely to generate interest was the environment. In December 2000, the BBC reported that Greenpeace thought that 'small groups of member states of the EU might forge ahead on GM crop policy, carbon dioxide emissions and nuclear reprocessing' (see: Enhanced cooperation).

A year later, 'education Ministers of 31 European countries and the European Commission adopted the Copenhagen Declaration on enhanced co-operation in European vocational education and training' (see European Sources Online: In Focus: Belgium pushes for 'enhanced co-operation' in the field of defence, March 2003).

Enhanced co-operation was also being discussed in March 2003, when France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg suggested that it could be used to improve co-operation in defence.

At the time, the Financial Times quoted a German official: 'We have enhanced co-operation for the euro and for Schengen [in which many of the EU's internal borders were abolished]. These are not exclusive ... Those who wanted an opt-out clause for either could exercise it without holding up integration process. Those who want to join when they are ready can do so' (see: Britain to set out its limits on EU defence). The following month, the four countries agreed 'a seven point strategy aimed at strengthening Europe's Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) and reducing the continent's military dependence on the United States' (see European Sources Online: In Focus: Mini Summit focuses on increasing defence co-operation, April 2003).

Taxation has become the latest area where it is suggested enhanced co-operation might be used. Although the Financial Times said 'it is a moot point whether harmonised corporate taxes would further “the objectives of the Union and the Community” as the treaty requires' (see: Ripe for rejection), Commissioner Frits Bolkestein has asked Finance Ministers to clarify whether enhanced co-operation could be used in relation to that issue (see Financial Times: Strange bedfellows).

Mr Bolkestein's reasoning was explained earlier in the year: 'it will be unfair if some Member States are allowed to stand in the way of the elimination of tax obstacles to cross-border business when this is crucial to the development of the EU Internal Market, economic growth and job creation' (see: Frits Bolkestein: Progress on Financial Services Action Plan and Taxation).

Whether his call to the Council - coupled with the desire of some Member States to introduce greater 'harmonisation' to corporate taxation - will lead to enhanced co-operation being used for the first time remains to be seen.

Although not labelled as such, there are two areas where co-operation already takes place between some, but not all, Member States, within the Union's legal framework: the Single Currency and the Schengen Agreement. These are cited as examples of how the enhanced co-operation system could work in practice.

The draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe devotes Chapter III to 'enhanced cooperation'. Articles III-322 to III-329 set out the Union's current thinking on the issue. Article III-322 states that 'Any enhanced cooperation proposed shall comply with the Union's Constitution and law', while Article III-323 confirms that 'Any enhanced cooperation proposed shall respect the competences, rights and obligations of those Member States which do not participate in it' and that 'Those Member States shall not impede its implementation by the participating Member States.'

Any proposal for enhanced cooperation would have to be authorised 'by a European decision of the Council of Ministers, acting on a proposal from the Commission and after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament' (Article III-325).

With regard to expenditure, Article III-327 reads: 'Expenditure resulting from implementation of enhanced cooperation, other than administrative costs entailed for the Institutions, shall be borne by the participating Member States, unless all members of the Council of Ministers, acting unanimously after consulting the European Parliament, decide otherwise.'

It is, however, Article III-328 which arguably provides the greatest boost to efforts to promote enhanced cooperation: 'Where a provision of the Constitution which may be applied in the context of enhanced cooperation stipulates that the Council of Ministers shall act unanimously, the Council of Ministers, acting unanimously ... may, on its own initiative, decide to act by qualified majority.' European Voice commented: 'The constitution's most significant consequence is that it encourages the development of different layers of integration within the EU. The final text ... makes it easier for groups of member states to go further down the road of integration in justice and home affairs, social matters, taxation and foreign policy than the initial draft drawn up by the Convention on the EU's future' (see: Constitution paves way for 'core-Europe'). European Voice specifically highlighted corporate taxation as an issue on which 'groups of states which are willing to do so will be able to take decisions by qualified majority vote (QMV), even if the unanimity rule [usually] applies to those policy areas'.

If the Constitution is ratified, Mr Bolkestein may well see his wish granted. Contentious issues such as tax, social security and judicial co-operation, where the United Kingdom, for example, has traditionally been against greater integration, could become areas where a 'two-speed Europe' becomes reality (see Financial Times: Franco-German push for multi-speed EU).

Further information within European Sources Online

European Sources Online: In Focus

30.04.03: Mini Summit focuses on increasing defence co-operation, April 2003
27.03.03: Belgium pushes for 'enhanced co-operation' in the field of defence, March 2003

European Sources Online: Financial Times

20.07.04: Strange bedfellows
20.05.04: Pioneer group plan to avoid UK veto
19.05.04: Franco-German push for multi-speed EU
14.05.04: Ripe for rejection
13.05.04: Germany and France to call for EU corporate tax revamp
14.10.03: A voting system to move Europe forward
03.09.03: Britain to set out its limits on EU defence

European Sources Online: European Voice

24.06.04: Constitution paves way for 'core-Europe'
10.06.04: Harmonized tax zone may deter corporate investors, expert warns
13.05.04: France and Germany in plot to harmonize taxation

Further information can be seen in these external links:
(long-term access cannot be guaranteed)

EU Institutions

European Commission

DG Press and Communication

SCADPlus: The Treaty of Nice: a comprehensive guide

The decision-making process. Enhanced cooperation
  16.03.04: Frits Bolkestein: Progress on Financial Services Action Plan and Taxation [SPEECH/04/136]

Other organisations

BBC News Online

30.04.01: Closer co-operation
08.12.00: Enhanced cooperation

Centre for European Policy Studies

Policy Brief 33: Optimising the mechanism for 'enhanced cooperation' within the EU: Recommendations for the Constitutional Treaty

Notre Europe

Research and European Issues 22: A new mechanism of enhanced co-operation for the enlarged European Union

UK Parliament

Research paper 00/88: IGC 2000: Enhanced Co-operation

Eric Davies
Compiled: 2 August 2004

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