Enhanced cooperation

Source: Europa Nu.

EU Member states may wish to cooperate more closely on specific areas than is currently the case in the European Union. If the intent to cooperate is on a policy area that lies within or is closely tied to EU competency the EU is closely involved in such initiatives. By means of the enhanced cooperation procedure the EU tries to prevent any such initiatives from a group of member states from clashing with EU policy.

The common view is that enhanced cooperation may lead to a 'two-speed Europe' when a group of Member States aligns their policy beyond what the EU requires them to.

Member states rarely opt to use the instrument of enhanced cooperation.



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Enhanced cooperation in details


Member states that seek to cooperate more closely in a specific area have to gain approval for such cooperation. Every request needs to comply with the following conditions:

  • A proposal for enhanced cooperation cannot contradict the European treaties or current European legislation (the acquis communautaire). Special attention is paid to any situation where enhanced cooperation between a group of member states within the EU could lead to a disturbance of the internal market
  • Member states cannot establish enhanced cooperation on policy areas where the European Union holds exclusive competency
  • Enhanced cooperation is only possible if a minimum of nine member states take part in the advanced cooperation
  • Enhanced cooperation is only allowed if similar proposals on EU level are not being negotiated or expected to be launched in the near future. In practice, enhanced cooperation is also used by smaller groups of member states to follow-up on a proposal that is sensitive within EU context as some member states have major objections to that proposal

Besides these conditions both the European Commission as well as the member states pursuing enhanced cooperation have to work to involve as many member states as possible.


Step 1: proposal for cooperation

The member states who want the enhanced cooperation have to submit an extensive proposal to the European Commission.

Step 2: judgement Commission

The European Commission takes a decision on the request for enhanced cooperation. There are two possible outcomes:

  • 1. 
    The Commission approves the request and submits a request for a proposal for enhanced cooperatio to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament
  • 2. 
    The Commission does not submit the request to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament and explains to the member states that expressed interest in the enhanced cooperation why it did not support the request

Step 3: receiving permission

The Council of Ministers takes a decision on the request, deciding – in principle - by unanimity.

Should the Council approve the request, the European Parliament also has to approve the request for enhanced cooperation. It does so by simple majority voting.

Step 4: decision-making about the proposal itself

After the member states have received the approval for enhanced cooperation, further decision-making about the proposal itself ensues. The request submitted to the Commission did not require the proposal to be presented in full detail.

All member states can discuss the proposal in the Council. Only the member states who are partaking in the enhanced cooperation are allowed a vote on the proposal.

Decision-making is done by qualified majority voting. Usually (almost) all participating member states will vote in favour, as the countries already cooperated when they first submitted the proposal for enhanced cooperation.

No obligation to participate

Member states are not obliged to eventually participate in the current initiatives for enhanced cooperation as it is not part of the acquis communautaire. Member states that join the EU are also not obliged to join the initiatives on the basis of enhanced cooperation.

There is no common set of rules in place in the Treaties for countries to withdraw from the enhanced cooperation.

Member states that seek to participate later

Countries that wish to join the enhanced cooperation at a later stage have to notify the Commission and the Council. The Commission then checks if the requesting member state is able to comply with all measures taken in the framework of the enhanced cooperation. The member states in the Council who are already part of the enhanced cooperation will then decide whether the requesting member state can participate.

Judicial and police cooperation

On specific topics within the area of judicial and police cooperation where decisions are taken on the basis of unanimity the possibility of enhanced cooperation

is explicitly mentioned in the European treaties. This option has been included for cases when member states would not be able to reach agreement on new legislation.

Foreign and security policy

Any request for a proposal for enhanced cooperation in field of the common foreign and security policy is to be submitted to the Council and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Together with the Commission they will make a decision on the request for enhanced cooperation. Following approval the member states involved decide by unanimity on the proposal. The European Parliament is then informed.


Enhanced cooperation in practice

Enhanced cooperation is seldom used. The member states need not make use of this procedure in areas in which the EU does not have any competencies, possibly choosing other options available to them. Moreover, when dealing with areas in which the EU has competence great effort is made to draft legislation within the framework of European Union decision-making processes.

Other forms of enhanced cooperation

Not all EU member states have the euro as their currency. This may be the case as the country does not yet fulfil the criteria to introduce the euro. Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Sweden have not introduced the euro, even though they would qualify. This exception is a one-off decision, and will not apply for other current EU member states or new member states. This means that the euro policy does not apply for all member states. It is a unique and special form of enhanced cooperation.

With regards to monetary and fiscal policy countries in the Eurozone and some other member states cooperate outside the EU structures. The fiscal compact, set up to closely monitor member states’ budgets, employs as range of mechanisms and tools, many of which are closely connected to the EU and EU institutions. The reason why these measures have been set up not using enhanced cooperation is due to that fatc the fiscal compact is not an EU competency.

In the area of defence and security policy member states are encouraged to closely work together within the European Defence Agency (which focuses on the purchase and development of materials). They do so in a ‘permanently structured cooperation’ that enables member states to further integrate their military capacity, and deployment in humanitarian and military missions.

Desirability of enhanced cooperation

The discussion whether enhanced cooperation should be allowed at all, and if so, on what conditions, has been going on for a long time.

On the one hand, some fear member states might cooperate only on the areas which suit them best, and that they might put less effort in making arrangements within the EU framework as they might have to make more concessions. In the long run, this could lead to a "Europe a la carte" in which every member state cooperate in only part of EU legislation, and where the common ground has become more narrow.

On the other hand, enhanced cooperation offers member states the possibility to work together in a more structured fashion on specific policy issues where the EU as a whole is not yet ready to decide on legislation. Advocates of deeper integration hope that in such cases enhanced cooperation then becomes a first step towards EU wide legislation.


Legal framework

Enhanced cooperation finds is based on the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TfEU).

  • principle: TEU title IV
  • conditions (in detail): sixth part TfEU title III art. 326, 327, 328
  • permission (in detail): sixth part TfEU title III art. 329
  • adjusted voting system (in detail): sixth part TfEU title III art. 330
  • enhanced cooperation judicial and police cooperation: third part TfEU title V chapter 4 art. 82, 83, 86, third part TfEU title V chapter 87
  • enhanced cooperation on the area of defence: TEU title V chapter 2 section 2 art. 44, 45, 46


Further information