EU Glossary

A

Acceding country

This is a candidate country that has met the accession criteria, also known as Copenhagen criteria, and has completed negotiations for joining the European Union.

Accession

The process by which countries accede to the EU.

Acquis

The phrase acquis communautaire refers to the whole range of principles, policies, laws, practices, obligations and objectives that have been agreed within the EU. It includes the Treaties, EU legislation, judgments of the European Court of Justice and joint actions taken in the fields of the Common Foreign and Security Policy and Justice and Home Affairs. This is a French term meaning, essentially, "the EU as it is" - in other words, the rights and obligations that EU countries share. Candidate countries have to accept the "acquis" before they can join the EU, and make EU law part of their own national legislation.

Applicant country

This refers to a country that has applied to join the European Union. Once its application has been officially accepted, it becomes a candidate country.

B

Budget

All the Union's revenue and expenditure is entered in the Community budget on the basis of annual forecasts. The budget is governed by several principles, including: unity:

  • - all the revenue and expenditure is brought together in a single document;
  • - annuality: budget operations relate to a given budget year;
  • - equilibrium: expenditure must not exceed revenue.

Budgetary procedure

The Lisbon Treaty established a budgetary procedure which is similar to the ordinary legislative procedure with a single reading plus conciliation to decide the EU’s annual budget. Deadlines and an obligation on the Commission to present a new proposal in the event of an irreconcilable disagreement between the Council and the European Parliament at the end of the procedure were also introduced.

C

Candidate Countries

These are countries that have applied to become members of the European Union and whose application has been officially accepted. Before a candidate country can join the EU it must meet the 'Copenhagen criteria'.

Civil society

This is the collective name for all kinds of organizations and associations that are not part of government but that represent professions, interest groups or sections of society. It includes (for example) trade unions, employers' associations, environmental lobbies and groups representing women, farmers, people with disabilities and so on.

Citizens’ initiative

A new instrument of participatory democracy introduced by the Lisbon Treaty which grants citizens the right to call on the Commission to put forward a legislative proposal in a particular area.

Co-decision procedure

The co-decision procedure became known as the ‘ordinary legislative procedure’ with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, thus implying that what used to be the exception in decision-making has become the norm for most policy areas.

Please refer to our Guide to Decision Making for more information.

Codification of legislation

The codification of legislation is the procedure for repealing acts to be codified and replacing them with a single act. As opposed to recasting, codification does not involve substantive changing to those acts. The procedure aims to make legislation clearer and more easily accessible without changing its substance. The new act is published in the Official Journal (L series).

Cohesion Policy

The EU Cohesion Policy aims to address regional disparities across European regions through its financial instruments - the European Social Fund, the European Regional Development Fund and the Cohesion Fund. It provides a channel for the European Union to direct money towards its poorest regions.

Comitology

When a measure is agreed in ordinary legislative procedure, certain technical or implementation aspects can be left to be determined, after the measure’s approval, by the Commission. The Commission is assisted by committees composed of Member State representatives. This consultative process is known as comitology. For more about comitology, please refer to our guide.

Commission

See European Commission.

Commissioners

The European Commission is led by a group of 27 Commissioners – at the moment one per Member State. They are appointed for a five year term. This group formally constitutes ‘the Commission’ and is referred to as the ‘college of Commissioners’. Normally Commissioners are politicians or high-ranking officials from Member States. Candidates are put forward by their respective Member State in consultation with the incoming president of the Commission and must be approved by the European Parliament. Each of the 27 Commissioners is supported by his or her ‘cabinet’. José Manuel Barroso is the President of the current college of Commissioners (2010-2014).

Council position at first reading

This is the official position adopted by the Council of Ministers in its first reading of a proposal under the ordinary legislative procedure

Community law

Strictly speaking, Community law consists of the founding Treaties (primary legislation) and the provisions of instruments enacted by the Community institutions by virtue of them (secondary legislation - regulations, directives, etc.). In a broader sense, Community law encompasses all the rules of the Community legal order, including general principles of law, the case law of the Court of Justice, law flowing from the Community's external relations and supplementary law contained in conventions and similar agreements concluded between the Member States to give effect to Treaty provisions. All these rules of law form part of what is known as the Community acquis.

Community legal instruments

The term Community legal instruments refers to the instruments available to the Community institutions to carry out their tasks under the Treaty establishing the European Community with due respect for the subsidiarity principle. They are:

  • Regulations: these are binding in their entirety and directly applicable in all Member States;
  • Directives: these bind the Member States as to the results to be achieved; they have to be transposed into the national legal framework and thus leave a margin for manoeuvre as to the form and means of implementation;
  • Decisions: these are fully binding on those to whom they are addressed;
  • Recommendations and opinions: these are non-binding, declaratory instruments.

Community method

Before the Lisbon Treaty entered into force and the pillar structure of the European Union still existed, the Community method was the expression used for the institutional operating mode set up in the first pillar of the European Union. It proceeds from an integration logic with due respect for the subsidiarity principle, and has the following salient features:

  • Commission monopoly of the right of initiative;
  • widespread use of qualified majority voting in the Council;
  • an active role for the European Parliament;
  • uniform interpretation of Community law by the Court of Justice.

It contrasted with the intergovernmental method of operation used in the second and third pillars, which proceeds from an intergovernmental logic of cooperation and has the following salient features:

  • the Commission's right of initiative is shared with the Member States or confined to specific areas of activity;
  • the Council generally acts unanimously;
  • the European Parliament has a purely consultative role;
  • the Court of Justice plays only a minor role.

Competencies

This term is Euro-jargon for 'powers and responsibilities' and is often used in political discussions about what powers and responsibilities should be given to EU institutions and what should be left to national, regional and local authorities.

Competent authority

This usually means the government department or other body responsible for dealing with a particular issue. It is 'competent' in the sense of having the legal power and responsibility to deal with a particular issue.

Conciliation Committee

Under the ordinary legislative procedure a Conciliation Committee may be set up comprising of the members of the Council or their representatives and an equal number of representatives of Parliament. Any disagreement between the two institutions on the outcome of the ordinary legislative procedure is referred to the Committee. The aim is to reach agreement on a text acceptable to both sides. The Commission also assists the Conciliation Committee, encouraging the European Parliament and the Council to reach a joint text. The draft of any joint text must then be adopted within six weeks by qualified majority in the Council and by an absolute majority of the members of Parliament. Should one of the two institutions reject the proposal, it is deemed not to have been adopted.

Consent Procedure

The consent procedure (previously referred to as the assent procedure) requires the Council to obtain the Parliament’s consent before decisions are made. The European Parliament may accept or reject a proposal but it cannot amend it.

Consolidation

Consolidation of legislation aims to integrate basic instruments of EU legislation, their amendments and corrections in single, non-official, easy-to-read documents. The consolidated legal text is not adopted by the EU institutions and not published in the Official Journal, but can be accessed through the Eur-Lex website.

Constitutional Treaty

The draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe aimed to replace all the existing Treaties with a single text and was the result of work done by the Convention on the Future of Europe and an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC). The Constitutional Treaty was adopted by the Heads of State and Government at the Brussels European Council on 17 and 18 June 2004 and was signed in Rome on 29 October 2004. It needed to be ratified by each Member State, before it could take effect. Following referenda rejecting the Constitutional Treaty in France and the Netherlands the text was renegotiated and became known as the Lisbon Treaty.

Consultation procedure

The consultation procedure enables the European Parliament to give its opinion on a proposal from the Commission. In the cases laid down by the Treaty, the Council must consult the European Parliament before voting on the Commission proposal and take its views into account. However, it is not bound by the Parliament's position but only by the obligation to consult it. The Parliament must be consulted again if the Council deviates too far from the initial proposal. The powers of the Parliament are fairly limited under this procedure, in so far as it can only hope that the Commission takes its amendments into account in an amended proposal.

Convention on the Future of Europe

The European Convention (also known as the Convention on the future of Europe) was set up in December 2001. It had 105 members, representing the presidents or prime ministers of the EU member states and candidate countries, their national parliaments, the European Parliament and the European Commission. Its Chairman was former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. The Convention's job was to draw up a new Treaty that would set out clear rules for running the European Union after enlargement. The result was the draft Constitutional Treaty, which ultimately evolved into the Lisbon Treaty.

Copenhagen Criteria

The 1993 Copenhagen European Council agreed that membership of the EU "requires that the candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities (the so-called political criteria, which are a precondition to starting accession negotiations), the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union. Membership also presupposes the candidate's ability to take on the obligations of membership".

COREPER

Before decisions are taken in the different formations of the Council of Ministers (Environment, General Affairs etc), the dossier is prepared by the Permanent Representatives Committee (COREPER). It consists of the Member States' Ambassadors to the European Union ("Permanent Representatives") and is responsible, at a stage involving preliminary negotiations, for assisting the Council of the European Union in dealing with the items on its agenda (proposals and drafts of instruments put forward by the Commission). It occupies a pivotal position in the Community decision-making system, in which it is at one and the same time a forum for dialogue (among the Permanent Representatives and between them and their respective national capitals) and a body which exercises political control (by laying down guidelines for, and supervising, the work of the expert groups). The smooth running of the Council is dependent on the standard of the work done in COREPER. COREPER is split into two formations: COREPER I, consisting of the Deputy Permanent Representatives which consider, inter alia, agriculture, fisheries, and the environment; and COREPER II, consisting of the Permanent Representatives themselves, which covers external and financial affairs. COREPER monitors and coordinates the work of some 250 committees and working parties of Member State officials who prepare dossiers at a technical level.

Council of the European Union

The Council of the European Union (the "Council of Ministers" or the "Council") is the Union's main decision-making institution. It is composed of the ministers of the Member States and thus constitutes the EU institution in which the governments of the Member States are represented. The Council, together with the European Parliament, acts in a legislative and budgetary capacity. The Council meets in ten different configurations, for example the Environment Council, bringing together the Member States' Ministers responsible for the areas concerned. Each Member State in turn presides over the Council for six months. Decisions are prepared by the Committee of Permanent Representatives of the Member States (COREPER), assisted by working parties of national government officials. Under the ordinary legislative procedure, the Council and the European Parliament have equal weight in deciding how a final piece of legislation will look. Depending on the subject, the Council takes decisions by simple majority, qualified majority or unanimously. In most cases, however, it acts by a qualified majority (agriculture, single market, environment, transport, employment, health, etc.).

Please refer to our Guide to the Council of the European Union for more detailed information

D

Decision

Binding in its entirety upon those to whom it is addressed. It has been used in the environmental field in connection with international conventions and with certain procedural matters.

DG

The services of the Commission are divided into Directorate-Generals (DGs), which are further split into Directorates and Units. The administrative head of a DG is known as the 'Director-General' (a term sometimes also abbreviated to 'DG').

Directive

Binding as to the results to be achieved, but leaves to the Member States the choice of form and methods. It is therefore the most appropriate instrument for more general purposes particularly where some flexibility is required to accommodate existing national procedures and, for this reason, is the instrument most commonly used for environmental matters.

Double Majority Voting System

The Lisbon Treaty introduces a double majority voting system for the Council requiring the assent of 55 per cent of Member States and 65 per cent of the EU population. A blocking minority must include at least four Member States. Double majority voting will only be applied after November 2014, with a transition period from 2014 to 2017 during which a Member State is able to ask for the old weighted voting system to be used. A special clause will also make it easier to build a blocking minority during the transition period.

E

EC

This abbreviation refers either to the 'European Community' or the European Commission.

EEC

This is the abbreviation for the European Economic Community - one of three European Communities set up in 1957 to bring about economic integration in Europe. There were originally six member countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. In 1993, when the Treaty of Maastricht came into force, the EEC was re-named the European Community (EC). With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009, the European Community was replaced by the European Union which succeeds it and takes over all its rights and obligations.

Enhanced co-operation

This is an arrangement whereby a group of EU countries (there must be at least eight of them) can work together in a particular field even if the other EU countries are unable or unwilling to join in at this stage. The outsiders must, however, be free to join in later if they wish.

Enlargement

In the 1950s, the EU began with just six Member States. It now has 28. Growth in EU membership is known as 'enlargement', and it has happened in several waves:
1950 Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands
1973 Denmark, Ireland, United Kingdom
1981 Greece
1986 Portugal, Spain
1995 Austria, Finland, Sweden
2004 Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia
2007 Bulgaria and Romania
2013 Croatia.

Eurobarometer

This is a Commission service, set up in 1973, which measures and analyses trends in public opinion in all the Member States and in the Candidate Countries. Knowing what the general public thinks is important in helping the European Commission draft its legislative proposals, take decisions and evaluate its work. Eurobarometer uses both opinion polls and focus groups. Its surveys lead to the publication of around 100 reports every year. For further information go to the Eurobarometer website.

Europe 2020 Strategy

The Europe 2020 Strategy is the successor to the EU’s Lisbon Strategy and aims to turn the EU into a smart (based on knowledge and innovation), sustainable (promoting resource efficient, greener and more competitive growth); and inclusive (high employment, delivering economic, social and territorial cohesion) economy. The Strategy sets five ‘headline targets’ at EU level (to increase employment, invest in research and development, meet the 20-20-20 climate and energy targets, improve educational performance, and combat poverty) which are to be translated into appropriate national goals and promoted through seven ‘flagship initiatives’. Key initiatives include a ‘Resource efficient Europe’ which aims to support the shift towards an economy that is efficient in the way it uses all resources and an ‘Industrial policy for the globalisation era’ which seeks to develop an industrial policy supporting the transition to greater energy and resource efficiency.

Europe Day, 9 May

On 9 May 1950, Robert Schuman (then French Foreign Minister) made his famous speech proposing European integration as the way to secure peace and build prosperity in post-war Europe. His proposal, known as the "Schuman declaration”, laid the foundations for what is now the European Union, so 9 May is celebrated annually as the EU's birthday.

European Commission

The European Commission is the EU's executive body, its main roles are:

  • to initiate European Union policy;
  • to represent the general interest of the European Union;
  • to act as the guardian of the EU treaties to ensure that European legislation is applied correctly in Member States;
  • to be the executive body of the Union responsible for implementing and managing policy – including managing the Union's annual budget; and
  • to negotiate international trade and cooperation agreements.

It is made up of 27 Commissioners (one from each Member State). Its current President is Jose Manuel Barroso, former Prime Minister of Portugal. The Commission is central to the EU's decision-making process and its conduct of business.

For additional information, please refer to our Commission guide.

European Community

The name for what was originally called the 'European Economic Community' (EEC). With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009, the European Community was replaced by the European Union which succeeds it and takes over all its rights and obligations.

European Communities

In the 1950s, six European countries decided to pool their economic resources and set up a system of joint decision-making on economic issues. To do so, they formed three organisations:

  • the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC),
  • the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom),
  • the European Economic Community (EEC).

These three communities - collectively known as the 'European communities' - formed the basis of what is today the European Union. The EEC soon became by far the most important of the three and was eventually renamed simply 'the European Community' (EC). With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009, the European Community was replaced by the European Union.

European Council

A summit of Heads of State and Government has met regularly since the 1970s. It now normally meets four times a year, twice under each six-monthly Presidency, generally in March, June, October and December. Originally an informal gathering, the European Council was given formal recognition in the Single European Act of 1986. It has the task of providing the EU with the necessary impetus for its development and defining the necessary general political guidelines for its work. These meetings are sometimes referred to as European Summits. The European Council will normally agree Conclusions, signalling its commitment to a particular course of action. The Lisbon Treaty provided for the election of the first permanent President of the European Council. The President is elected by the European Council by qualified majority vote for a two and a half year term (renewable once). Herman Van Rompuy (Belgium) is the current President of the Council.

European Court of Auditors

The European Court of Auditors, based in Luxembourg, is composed of 27 members appointed for six years by unanimous decision of the Council of the European Union after consulting the European Parliament. It checks European Union revenue and expenditure for legality and regularity and ensures that financial management is sound. It was set up in 1977 and raised to full institution status by the 1992 Treaty on European Union. Under the Treaty of Amsterdam, the Court of Auditors also has the power to report any irregularities to the European Parliament and the Council, and its audit responsibilities have been extended to Community funds managed by outside bodies and by the European Investment Bank. The Treaty of Nice specifies in detail the composition of the Court of Auditors, which must include a national from each Member State.

European Court of Justice (ECJ)

The European Court of Justice is composed of the same number of judges as there are Member States. Its role is to make sure that EU legislation is interpreted and applied in the same way in all EU countries, and oversee its implementation in EU Member States and institutions. It therefore rules on questions relating to interpretation of the Treaties, and secondary legislation in direct actions and in cases referred to it by national courts. ECJ judgments form part of national law. There is also a General Court to deal with certain specified issues.

European Economic and Social Committee

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) was set up as an advisory body by the Treaty establishing the EEC (1957) to represent the interests of the various economic and social groups. It consists of 344 members falling into three categories: employers, workers and representatives of particular types of activity (such as farmers, craftsmen, small businesses and industry, the professions, consumer representatives, scientists and teachers, cooperatives, families, environmental movements). Members are appointed by unanimous Council decision for four years and this term may be renewed. The EESC is consulted before instruments concerning the internal market, education, consumer protection, environment, regional development and social affairs are adopted. It may also issue opinions on its own initiative. Since the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam (May 1999), the EESC has to be consulted on an even wider range of issues (the new employment policy, the new social affairs legislation, public health and equal opportunities) and it may also be consulted by the European Parliament

European External Action Service

The Treaty of Lisbon set up a European External Action Service (EEAS) to assist the High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security. The Service will be made up of officials from relevant departments of the General Secretariat of the Council, the Commission, and staff seconded from national diplomatic services.

European Parliament (EP)

The European Parliament is the democratic arm of the EU as its members are directly elected by the people of the Member States. Through the Members of Parliament (MEPs) the EU’s citizens can be involved in the making of Community policies and laws affecting their daily life. Each revision of the Treaties has seen an increase in the power of the European Parliament in relation to the other institutions. Today the European Parliament is firmly established as a co-legislator and is involved in finalising Directives, Regulations and other policy. The European Parliament currently has 736 Members (MEPs) who are directly elected by the citizens of Member States every five years, in the only international elections in the world. The last election was in June 2009. The next election in 2014 will be held under the Lisbon Treaty which caps the number of MEPs at 751. The Parliament meets in plenary sessions in Strasbourg and Brussels. The powers of the Parliament depend on the decision-making procedure being used. Most importantly, it:

  • can ask the Commission to present legislative proposals for laws to the Council and Parliament;
  • plays an important role in creating new laws, especially through the ordinary legislative procedure where it has equal power to the Council. It also examines the Commission’s annual programme of work.
  • has power of dismissal over the Commission by an absolute majority;
  • approves Commissioner appointments; and
  • amends and can reject entirely the EU’s annual budget.

See our European Parliament guide for more information.

European Research Area (ERA)

The European Research Area brings together all of the Community's resources to better coordinate research and innovation activities at the level of both the Member States and the European Union. This concept was launched by the Commission in 2000 with the idea of developing truly attractive opportunities for researchers. Previously, research at European level had faced numerous difficulties: fragmentation of activities, isolation of national research systems, disparity of regulatory and administrative frameworks, and low levels of investment in knowledge. Through the resources made available, the ERA should make it possible to share data, compare results, carry out multi-disciplinary studies, transfer and protect new scientific knowledge and gain access to centres of excellence and state-of-the-art equipment.

European Union

The Maastricht Treaty introduced new forms of co-operation between the Member State governments - for example on defence, and in the area of justice and home affairs. By adding this inter-governmental co-operation to the existing ‘Community’ system, the Maastricht Treaty created a new structure with three ‘pillars’: the European Communities (ECSC, EEC and Euratom), Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), and police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters (JHA) – these three pillars constitute the European Union (EU). The entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009 marked the end of the formal pillar structure and created a single institutional framework founded on two main treaties of the same legal value – the Treaty on the European Union (TEU) and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

Eurosceptic

This term is often used to mean a person who is opposed to European integration or who is 'sceptical' of the EU and its aims.

F

Federalism

Broadly speaking, this means any system of government where several states form a unity and yet remain independent in their internal affairs. People who are in favour of this system are often called "federalists". A number of countries around the world - e.g. Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Switzerland and the United States - have federal models of government, in which some matters (such as foreign policy) are decided at the federal level while others are decided by the individual states. However, the model differs from one country to another. The European Union is not based on any of these models: it is not a federation but a unique form of union in which the Member States remain independent and sovereign nations while pooling their sovereignty in many areas of common interest. This gives them a collective strength and influence on the world stage that none of them could achieve on their own. Part of the debate about the future of Europe is the question of whether the EU should or should not become more 'federal'.

Financial Perspective

The word 'perspective' here really means 'plan'. The EU has to plan its work well in advance and ensure that it has enough money to pay for what it wants to do. Its main institutions (the Parliament, the Council and the Commission) have to agree in advance on the priorities for the next few years and come up with a spending plan which is called a 'Financial Perspective'. This Financial Perspective states the maximum amount the EU can spend, and what it can spend it on.

Fortress Europe

This expression is often used to mean an attitude that wants to defend Europe from outside influences, especially cultural influences. The term 'Fortress Europe' often appears in discussions about asylum and immigration regulations.

Founding fathers

In the years following the Second World War, people like Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman dreamed of uniting the peoples of Europe in lasting peace and friendship. Over the following fifty years, as the EU was built, their dream became reality. That is why they are called the "founding fathers" of the European Union.

G

General Court

The General Court (previously known as the Court of First Instance) was set up in 1989 to strengthen the protection of individuals' interests by introducing a second tier of judicial authority, allowing the Court of Justice of the European Communities to concentrate on its basic task of ensuring the uniform interpretation and application of Community law. The Court is currently made up of one judge per Member State appointed by common accord of the Governments of the Member States to hold office for a renewable term of six years. A President is elected from among the judges. To ease the workload of the Court of Justice, the Treaty of Nice aimed to improve the distribution of responsibilities between the Court and the General Court, making the General Court the ordinary court for all direct actions (appeals against a decision, failure to act, damages, etc.), with the exception of those assigned to a judicial panel and those reserved for the Court of Justice. The Treaty also provides for the creation, based on a right of initiative shared between the Court of Justice and the Commission, of judicial panels to examine at first instance certain types of actions in specific matters to relieve the burden on the General Court. Finally, the Nice Treaty conferred on the General Court the right to deliver preliminary rulings in certain specific areas.

Governance

Encompasses the rules, processes and practices that affect the way in which powers are exercised at European level. It particularly refers to issues such as accountability, clarity, transparency, coherence, efficiency and effectiveness. The debate also includes questions about the role of regional, local and non-governmental actors in the policy-making process. The reform of European modes of governance is essentially about improving democracy in Europe. There is an ongoing programme of action to promote good governance in Europe, building on the 2001 White Paper on the theme. These initiatives encompass better regulation, simplification of actions and the promotion of Impact Assessment for policy proposals. More information on good governance, now more commonly referred to as ‘better regulation’ can be found at: ec.europa.eu/governance/better_regulation

H

High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

The Lisbon Treaty merged the roles of the Council High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, the President of the Foreign Affairs Council and the Commissioner for external action into a single role - the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The High Representative is appointed for a five year term (to coincide with the Commission’s term of office) and also serves as a Vice-President of the Commission. The High Representative will be in charge of the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the Commission’s representations in third countries and international organisations. As a member of the Commission, the High Representative, together with the President of the Commission and the other members of the Commission, are subject to a vote of consent by the European Parliament. Lady Catherine Ashton (UK) is the first person appointed to this post.

I

Intergovernmental Conference (IGC)

This refers to a conference at which the EU Member States' governments come together to amend the European Union treaties.

Intergovernmental

This literally means 'between governments'. Before the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, some matters - such as security and defence issues - were decided purely by intergovernmental agreement (i.e. agreement between the governments of the EU countries), and not by the 'Community method'. These intergovernmental decisions were taken by ministers meeting in the Council of the European Union, or at the highest level by the prime ministers and/or presidents of the EU countries meeting as the European Council.

L

Legislation

The Treaty sets out several types of Community ‘legislation’:

  • Directives - binding as to the results to be achieved, but leaves to the Member States the choice of form and methods. It is therefore the most appropriate instrument for more general purposes particularly where some flexibility is required to accommodate existing national procedures and, for this reason, is the instrument most commonly used for environmental matters.
  • Regulations - directly applicable law in the Member States and is mostly used for rather precise purposes such as financial matters and the day-to-day management of the Common Agricultural Policy. It is increasingly also being used for environmental matters.
  • Decisions - binding in its entirety upon those to whom it is addressed. It has been used in the environmental field in connection with international conventions and with certain procedural matters.

There are also Recommendations and Opinions, although these have no binding force and should not properly be regarded as legislative instruments.

Lisbon Strategy

Launched by the EU’s Member States in March 2000 at the European Council in Lisbon, the ‘Lisbon Strategy’ aimed to make the EU the most competitive, knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010, and introduced a number of new mechanisms for policy development aimed at achieving this. The following year, reflecting the Treaty commitment to sustainable development, an environmental dimension was added to the Lisbon Strategy by EU leaders at their meeting in Gothenburg in June 2001. Following a review, the Strategy was relaunched in March 2005. The aim of what had previously been referred to as ‘the Lisbon Strategy for economic, social and environmental renewal’ became simply ‘Working together for growth and jobs’. The Europe 2020 Strategy is the successor to the Lisbon Strategy.

Lisbon Treaty

On 13 December 2007, EU leaders signed the Treaty of Lisbon, thus bringing to an end several years of confusion following the IGC and failure of the Constitutional Treaty. The Lisbon Treaty entered into force on 1 December 2009. It brought amendments to the existing EU and EC Treaties. Importantly it extended the competency of the European Parliament in key areas of related to the EU’s budget, international negotiations and several policy areas such as agriculture and fisheries. The Treaty is aimed at making the Commission more streamlined and has amended voting procedures and Presidency rotations in the Council. Finally, it aims to provide greater clarity for third countries when dealing with the EU by creating two new posts of President of the European Council and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

M

Member State

A country which is a member of the European Union. At present there are 28 Member States.

O

Official languages

There are 24 official languages in the European Union: Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish and Swedish. EU legislation is published in all the official languages, and you may use any of these languages to correspond with the EU institutions. In addition, of course, there are many other languages spoken in Europe. The European Commission runs programmes to promote language learning and linguistic diversity.

Open method of coordination

The Open Method of Co-ordination (OMC) is a non-legal policy instrument aimed at co-ordinating the policies of the Member States between themselves and with the EU. It has been used in those policy domains where direct Community competence is limited, such as national economic policy; employment and training policies; the Lisbon process; health; social inclusion and pensions. It therefore contrasts with the ‘Community method’ ie the development of legislation through negotiations between the EU institutions. The principal features of OMC include (voluntary) EU guidelines; reporting by Member States on their performance; benchmarking, identification of good practice and peer review by Member States; and ‘naming, shaming and faming’ by the Commission. The precise mix differs between policy domains.

Ordinary legislative procedure

Under the ordinary legislative procedure (previously known as co-decision) the European Parliament and the Council have equal weight in deciding how a final piece of legislation will look. The European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions may issue opinions in appropriate cases. Under the Lisbon Treaty, national parliaments are also invited to send reasoned opinions on the compliance of draft legislative texts with the subsidiarity principle.

The European Parliament and Council take it in turns to issue their formal position on the Commission’s proposal. If the proposal is straight-forward and there are no major areas of disagreement, the act (Directive, Regulation or Decision) can be adopted after one reading. If – as is normally the case – there are certain points of contention, the European Parliament and Council hold second readings on the proposal. If at the end of these two readings the European Parliament and Council still disagree, a ‘Conciliation Committee’ is convened to negotiate a compromise text. This is a meeting involving representatives from both institutions and the Commission. It is held behind closed doors and discusses those matters which the European Parliament and Council have been unable to agree. If, after this meeting, the two parties are able to reach an agreement, the outcome is a ‘joint text’. The joint text must then pass back to individual meetings of the European Parliament and Council for formal adoption by the Council and the Parliament. Even at this stage, however, it can still be rejected – in which case the whole process is scrapped and it is left to the Commission to bring forward a new proposal. At any stage in the process the Commission can table an amended proposal. For further details on the ordinary legislative procedure, see the Commission’s step-by-step guide.

Own resources

Originally, the Community budget, like that of other international organisations, depended on the Member States' financial contributions. However, under a decision adopted on 21 April 1970, the Member States' contributions were replaced by own resources, which are currently arranged in Council Decision 2007/436/ EC/Euratom. The system of EU own resources is divided into three categories – traditional own resources (e.g. customs duties and sugar levies); VAT taxes; and resource based on GNI (used to balance the revenue and expenditure of the EU budget). The combined total of all own resources may not exceed 1.23% of the gross national income (GNI) of the EU.

P

Parliamentary committees

Various committees exist within the European Parliament to prepare the proceedings of the full House (Plenary). The core legislative work of Parliament is done in these committees. The members of each committee are elected at the beginning of and half-way through each parliamentary term, according to their political affiliation and their expertise. The European Parliament's Rules of Procedure specify that the Members of Parliament set the number of committees and determine their powers. The sixth legislature decided to raise the number of specialised permanent committees from seventeen to twenty dealing with different areas of activity (internal market, agriculture, employment, industry, culture, constitutional and legal affairs, etc.). Parliament can also set up sub-committees, temporary committees and committees of inquiry if it considers it necessary.

The role of the permanent committees is to debate proposals for new legislation put forward by the European Commission and to draw up own-initiative reports. For any proposal for legislation or other initiatives, a rapporteur is nominated according to an agreement between the political groups which make up Parliament. His or her report is discussed, amended and voted on within the parliamentary committee and then transmitted to the plenary assembly, which meets once a month in Strasbourg, and which debates and votes on the basis of this report. As preparation for Parliament's vote of approval of the European Commission, the parliamentary committees also hold individual hearings with the Commissioners-designate in their specialised areas.

Pillars of the EU

Before the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty the European Union took decisions in three separate 'domains' (policy areas), also known as the three 'pillars' of the EU. The first pillar was the 'Community domain', covering most of the common policies, where decisions were taken by the 'Community method' involving the Commission, Parliament and the Council. The second pillar was the common foreign and security policy, where decisions were taken by the Council alone. The third pillar concerned 'police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters', where - once again - the Council took the decisions. Within the first pillar, the Council normally took decisions by 'qualified majority vote'. In the other pillars, the Council decision had to be unanimous: it could therefore be blocked by the veto of any one country. If the Council so decided, it could use the 'Community bridge' to transfer certain matters from the third to the first pillar. The entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009 marked the end of the formal pillar structure and created a single institutional framework founded on two main treaties of the same legal value - Treaty on the European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

Precautionary Principle

The UN Conference on Environment and Development (1992) adopted the precautionary principle in order to protect the environment. The precautionary approach means that where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage to the environment, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation. The precautionary principle permits a lower level of proof of harm to be used in policy-making whenever the consequences of waiting for higher levels of proof may be very costly and/or irreversible.

The Treaty contains only one explicit reference to the precautionary principle, namely in the title on environmental protection. However, in practice, the scope of this principle is far wider and also covers consumer policy and human, animal and plant health. The principle was first set out in a Commission communication adopted in February 2000 on recourse to the precautionary principle. In this document, the Commission sets out the specific cases where this principle is applicable: where the scientific data are insufficient, inconclusive or uncertain; and where a preliminary scientific evaluation shows that potentially dangerous effects for the environment and human, animal or plant health can reasonably be feared. In both cases, the risks are incompatible with the high level of protection sought by the European Union. It also sets out the three rules which need to be followed for the precautionary principle to be observed: a complete scientific evaluation carried out by an independent authority in order to determine the degree of scientific uncertainty; an assessment of the potential risks and the consequences of inaction; and the participation, under conditions of maximum transparency, of all the interested parties in the study of possible measures. The Commission also point out that the measures resulting from recourse to the precautionary principle may take the form of a decision to act or not to act, depending on the level of risk considered "acceptable".

Presidency of the Council of Ministers

The Presidency of the Council of Ministers rotates every six months among the Member States according to a set schedule. The Presidency chairs most Working Groups, the Committee of Permanent Representatives or COREPER (composed of the Member States' ambassadors to the EU) and meetings of the Council of Ministers (apart from those of foreign ministers). The Presidency plays a key role in setting the Union's agenda and working towards reaching agreement among the Member States. Under the Lisbon Treaty, the Council is obliged to meet in public when it deliberates and votes on European legislation. There is some co-ordination between Presidencies through the development of 18-month programmes outlining the policy priorities of three consecutive rotating Presidencies.

President of the European Commission

The Commission is chaired by the President of the Commission whose role is to guide and advance the Commissioners’ work and the European Commission as a whole. The President can assign responsibility for specific activities to the Commissioners, and has the power to reallocate responsibilities to Members of the Commission or to ask them to resign. The President also represents the Commission to other European institutions, for instance in the European Council, the Council of Ministers, and in major debates in the European Parliament. In addition, the President is the face of the European Commission in meetings outside the EU, for instance in G8 meetings. The President of the Commission is appointed by the governments of the Member States, and must then be approved by the European Parliament. Like the Commissioners, the President of the Commission serves a five-year term. The President of the 2010-2014 Commission is the former Portuguese Prime Minister José Manuel Barroso, who was reappointed to the position in late 2009.

President of the European Council

The Lisbon Treaty provides for the nomination of the first permanent President of the European Council. The President is to be elected by the European Council by qualified majority vote for a two and a half year term (renewable once). The duties of the President as set out in the Treaty are to chair and drive forward the work of the European Council, ensure the preparation and continuity of the work of the European Council, facilitate cohesion and consensus within the European Council, and present a report to the European Parliament after each meeting of the European Council. The six-month rotating presidency of the Council of Ministers will continue but will be limited to chairing ministerial meetings, apart from those of foreign ministers. The first President of the European Council is the former Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy.

Q

Qualified majority voting (QMV)

Different voting systems apply according to the decision-making procedure being followed. For the ordinary legislative procedure (previously known as the co-decision procedure), voting in the Council is by Qualified Majority Voting (QMV). A qualified majority is 255 votes of the total 345 votes (73.9%) cast by a simple majority of Member States. A Member State may ask for confirmation that the votes in favour represent at least 62% of the total population of the EU.

QMV has become the standard procedure for environmental measures, with the requirement for unanimity retained only for provisions primarily of a fiscal nature; town and country planning; land-use (with the exception of waste management and measures of a general nature); the management of water resources; and measures significantly affecting a Member State’s choice between different energy sources and the structure of its energy supply. The number of votes per country is as follows:

  • France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom 29
  • Poland and Spain 27
  • Romania 14
  • Netherlands 13
  • Belgium, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary and Portugal 12
  • Austria, Bulgaria and Sweden 10
  • Denmark, Ireland, Lithuania, Slovakia and Finland 7
  • Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg and Slovenia 4
  • Malta 3

The Lisbon Treaty introduces a new definition of QMV from November 2014 referred to as a double majority voting system. Under this system an act must have the support of at least 55 per cent of the EU Member States (i.e. 15 Member States in a Union of 27) and at least 65 per cent of the population of the EU in order to be adopted. A blocking minority must include at least four Member States. Between November 2014 and March 2017, any Member State may request that the current weighted voting system be applied instead of the new double majority system.

R

Rapporteur

This is the MEP who leads on a dossier on behalf of the European Parliament. It is the rapporteur’s responsibility to draw up the Committee’s report, outlining whether it accepts the proposal, or most often, presenting amendments to it. Rapporteurs gather views and evidence to inform the Committee’s position. Their ability to determine the content of the report (at least initially) makes them one of the most lobbied focus points in the whole EU decision-making process. Rapporteurs remain important throughout the decision-making process. They play a vital role from the beginning, and it would ultimately be the rapporteur that represents the European Parliament, alongside others, in the event that the dossier goes into conciliation or to ‘trilogue’ (informal discussion between the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament which seek to speed up negotiations).

Recasting of legislation

The recasting of legislation brings together, into a single new act, a legislative act with all the amendments that have been made to it since it was introduced or a legislative act and related acts. It repeals and replaces all the acts being recast. Unlike codification or consolidation, it involves changes of substance, as amendments are made during preparation of the recast text. It also gives a comprehensive overview of an area of legislation. The new legal instrument is published in the Official Journal (L series).

Regulation

Directly applicable law in the Member States and is mostly used for rather precise purposes such as financial matters and the day-to-day management of the Common Agricultural Policy. It is increasingly being used for environmental matters.

Right of initiative

The Commission has the exclusive right of initiative which empowers and requires it to make proposals on the matters contained in the Treaty, either because the Treaty expressly provides so or because the Commission considers it necessary. Despite having the quasi-monopoly over the formal right of legislative initiative, the Commission has to share the right of political initiative with the European Council, the European Parliament, and since the introduction of the citizens’ initiative under the Lisbon Treaty, with EU citizens. However, the formal right of initiative gives the Commission the power to decide whether it will respond to a request for legislative action and, if so, how it will design the proposal.

S

Stakeholder

Any person or organisation with an interest in or affected by EU legislation and policymaking is a 'stakeholder' in that process. The European Commission makes a point of consulting as wide a range of stakeholders as possible before proposing new legislation or new policy initiatives.

Structural and Cohesion Funds

The EU Structural and Cohesion Funds are the financial instruments with which the European Union implements its Cohesion Policy. Since 2007, they are aligned to a common regulatory framework and include the Cohesion Fund and two Structural Funds - the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund.

Subsidiarity

Subsidiarity is the principle whereby, in policy areas where competence is shared between the European Union and the Member States, the Union should only act when "the objectives of the intended action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States" alone. In other words, the Union should only get involved where it can add value.

Summit

Meetings of the European Council are sometimes referred to as European (or EU) 'summit' meetings, because they bring together the EU's Heads of State or Government. Some countries are represented by their Prime Minister, others by their President, some by both. It depends on their Constitution.

Sustainable Development

The Brundtland Commission (1987) defined sustainable development as ‘development which meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. It offers a vision of progress that integrates immediate and longer-term needs, local and global needs, and regards social, economic and environmental needs as inseparable and interdependent components of human progress. Sustainable development is enshrined in the EU treaty as an overarching objective of the European Union.

Sustainable Development Strategy

The EU Sustainable Development Strategy (EU SDS) was launched by Heads of State and Government at the Göteborg European Council in June 2001. According to the Council conclusions, the EU SDS ‘adds a third, environmental dimension to the Lisbon Strategy (which focuses primarily on economic growth and employment), and establishes a new approach to policy making.’ A ‘renewed’ EU SDS was adopted in June 2006 following a review of the Strategy.

T

Third country

This phrase is used when referring to a non-EU country. The meaning is clearest when we are speaking about relations between two EU Member States (or between the EU institutions and a Member State) and another country - literally a third country - that is outside the European Union.

Treaties

The Treaties are the legal texts that underpin the EU. Everything that the EU does, and is able to do, is guided by the Treaties. They set out the areas in which the Community has competence to act, its overarching principles and objectives, common policies, the role of the EU institutions and how decisions are to be made. The main Treaties are:

The Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), signed in Paris in 1951. This treaty expired on 23 July 2002.

The Treaty establishing the European Economic Community (EEC), signed in Rome in 1957.

The Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), signed in Rome in 1957.

The Single European Act (SEA), signed in Luxembourg in 1986.

The Treaty on European Union (TEU), signed in Maastricht in 1992.

The Treaty of Amsterdam, signed on 2 October 1997.

The Treaty of Nice, signed on 26 February 2001.

The Treaty of Lisbon, signed 13 December 2007, entered into force on 1 December 2009. The Lisbon Treaty consists of the Treaty on the European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

Trilogue negotiations

These are informal tripartite meetings between the Council, the European Parliament and the Commission. They are used as a tool to speed up negotiations under the ordinary legislative procedure and help reach a common position between the two decision making bodies. In general, these meetings are attended by the rapporteur (accompanied where necessary by shadow rapporteurs), the chairperson of COREPER I or the relevant Council working party assisted by the General Secretariat of the Council and representatives of the Commission (usually the expert in charge of the dossier and his or her direct superior assisted by the Commission’s Secretariat-General and Legal Service). Any agreement in trilogues is informal and has to be approved by the formal procedures applicable within each institution.

Troika

Troika - a Russian word for a sledge drawn by three horses - is used to denote a group of three senior EU representatives.

Two-speed Europe

This refers to the theoretical possibility that, in future, a particular "core" group of EU Member States may decide to move faster than others along the road of European integration. It is already possible for a group of EU countries to work together more closely than others under an arrangement known as "enhanced co-operation".

U

Unanimity

When taking decisions on some issues, the Council of the European Union has to be in unanimous agreement - i.e. all countries have to agree (abstentions do not matter). Any disagreement, even by one single country, will block the decision. This would make progress very difficult in a Union of 27 countries, so the unanimity rule now applies only in particularly sensitive areas such as asylum, taxation and the common foreign and security policy. In most fields, decisions are now taken by qualified majority voting.

W

White Paper

Commission White Papers are documents containing proposals for Community action in a specific area. In some cases they follow a Green Paper published to launch a consultation process at European level. When a White Paper has been favourably received by the Council, it can become the action programme for the Union in the area concerned. White papers are also often the fore-runners to legislative proposals.