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EUROPA > Summaries of legislation > The policies of the Union

UNITING EUROPE STEP BY STEP - THE TREATIES >

The policies of the Union


Internal policies and action


Introduction
Amendments affecting all policies
Amendments relating to areas of shared competence
Policies in other specific areas
Amendments relating to areas of coordinating, complementary or supporting action Summary table

INTRODUCTION

Part III of the Constitution groups together the provisions governing the Union's policies. Title III of this part is devoted specifically to internal policies and action, whereas the two subsequent titles deal with Union external action .

The Convention and the Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC) focused particularly on the reform of certain policies, including justice and home affairs (JHA), economic and monetary policy and common foreign and security policy (CFSP). By contrast, other policies have not been amended significantly, with a few specific exceptions, and the essential provisions contained in the EC and EU Treaties are taken over.

Independently of these few specific amendments, Union internal policies and action have been directly affected by the general institutional changes found in Part I of the Constitutional Treaty (categories of competence, classification of legal acts, legislative procedure, qualified majority, and integration and consistency clauses).

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AMENDMENTS AFFECTING ALL POLICIES

The Constitution contains horizontal innovations indirectly affecting all Union policies.

The description of the traditional common policies (agriculture, transport, internal market, etc.) has not been amended and the existing articles are merely reproduced as such, although they are grouped together and classified in a coherent manner with respect to the new categories of competences described in Article I-12.
Policies in areas which are subject to shared competences are listed first: internal market, economic and monetary policy, and policies relating to other specific areas (employment, social policy, economic, social and territorial cohesion, agriculture, fishing, environment, consumer protection, transport, trans-European networks, research and development, energy and space) and to the area of freedom, security and justice.
Areas of supporting, coordinating or complementary action are listed next. These include public health, industry, culture, tourism, education, vocational training, youth and sport, civil protection and administrative cooperation.

The Constitution brings together under one Title, at the beginning of Part III, the generally applicable integration and consistency clauses which must guide the definition and implementation of all policies. Article III-115 lays down a new clause that provides that "the Union shall ensure consistency between the different policies and activities, taking all of the Union's objectives into account". This new provision is supplemented by specific clauses, which already featured in the Treaty establishing the European Community (EC Treaty), on gender equality, environmental and consumer protection and the proper functioning of the services of general economic interest. Furthermore, three new specific clauses have been added to the list, covering:

The Constitution also reaffirms the importance of services of general economic interest, on the basis of Article 16 of the EC Treaty. It creates a new legal basis for adopting legislation establishing principles and conditions, in particular economic and financial conditions, which enable these services to fulfil their missions. Article III-122 also states that such legislation is without prejudice to the competence of Member States to provide, commission and fund such services, in compliance with the Constitution.

The Constitution establishes a breakdown of the legal bases by defining for each one the type of act to be adopted by the institutions with a view to implementing it. As a result, the provisions applicable to each individual policy no longer refer to the possibility of adopting "acts" or "measures", but instead define precisely the type of act to be used and, consequently, the procedure to be followed.
Thus, where Union action takes the form of laws or framework laws, these will in most cases be adopted jointly by the European Parliament and the Council. However, about thirty legal bases provide for the Council of Ministers to adopt laws or framework laws on its own. In very exceptional cases it is the European Parliament which does so.

The enshrining of the codecision procedure as the ordinary legislative procedure and the general application of the Commission's monopoly on initiating legislation have a major simplifying effect on the provisions in the current Treaty which provide for codecision: references to the proposal from the Commission and the codecision procedure are incorporated in the reference to European laws or framework laws.
This simplification is enhanced by the fact that the Constitution applies codecision to about twenty legal bases which do not currently provide for its application.

Article I-23 provides that, as a general rule, decisions of the Council are to be taken by qualified majority . This means that the reference to the Council deciding by qualified majority is deleted with regard to all the legal bases concerned.
In addition, about twenty legal bases currently subject to unanimity are now adopted by qualified majority, and around twenty new legal bases for qualified majority voting have been created.

Simplified revision procedure concerning internal policies and action

Article IV-445 contains a general innovation allowing Title III of Part III of the Constitution to be amended without increasing the Union's powers, through a decision of the European Council; this avoids the need to convene an IGC. This provision opens up the possibility of a simpler process of changes to the Union's internal policies and action, although the Council continues to decide by unanimity and its decision must be ratified by all Member States.

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AMENDMENTS RELATING TO AREAS OF SHARED COMPETENCE

Internal market

The chapter on the internal market contains seven sections (establishment of the internal market, free movement of persons and services, free movement of goods, capital and payments, rules on competition, fiscal provisions and common provisions). Although almost all the provisions of this chapter already feature in the EC Treaty, it should be noted that these Articles have been reorganised in a single chapter.

Social security benefits (Article III-136)

The legal basis facilitating freedom of movement via the coordination of national laws and regulations in the field of social security benefits is extended to cover not only employees but also self-employed workers. It should be noted, however, that this legal basis cannot be used to adopt provisions applicable to other categories of European citizens (pensioners, students).
The Convention had proposed qualified majority voting for the adoption of laws and framework laws based on this article. The IGC qualified this innovation by introducing an "emergency brake", a mechanism which allows a Member State which feels that a draft legislative act risks compromising fundamental aspects of its social security system to refer the matter to the European Council, thus suspending the legislative procedure for a period not exceeding four months.

Restrictions on the free movement of capital (Articles III-157 and III-158)

Article III-157 extends the final date for national restrictions relating to Estonia and Hungary, which is taken directly from the 2003 Act of Accession.
A new paragraph has been added to Article III-158 concerning the admissibility of restrictive tax measures adopted by a Member State concerning one or more third countries, in the absence of a European law or framework law. This requires the authorisation of the Commission or, if the Commission does not act within three months, the Council.

Freezing of assets (Article III-160)

A new legal basis is created, allowing the Council to adopt laws defining the administrative measures needed to limit the free movement of capital and freeze the assets of persons, groups or non-state entities, as a means of preventing and combating terrorism and related activities.

Exemption regulations regarding the rules on competition applicable to undertakings (Article III-165) and exemption regulations regarding the rules on State aid (Article III-168)

The Constitution explicitly allows the Commission to adopt such regulations, after receiving authorisation from the Council of Ministers. This would be necessary as a result of the new classification of acts, although in fact it also corresponds to current practice.

Compatibility of State aid (Article III-168)

This article contains two innovations compared with Article 87 of the EC Treaty:

Harmonisation of indirect taxation (Article III-171)

Article III-171 corresponds in substance to Article 93 of the EC Treaty, with an additional specific reference to the need to avoid distortion of competition.

Approximation of national laws and regulations for the establishment and functioning of the internal market (Articles III-172 and III-173)

The rule and the exception are reversed in comparison with the EC Treaty. Article III-172, which refers to national provisions that have as their object the establishment and functioning of the internal market and provides for a law or framework law and codecision, becomes the rule, while Article III-173, which refers to national provisions that directly affect the establishment or functioning of the internal market and provides for a framework law of the Council of Ministers adopted by unanimous vote, becomes the exception.

European intellectual property instruments and other centralised procedures (Article III-176)

A new legal basis is created, allowing the adoption of laws or framework laws establishing measures for the creation and protection of European intellectual property rights and for the setting up of centralised Union-wide authorisation, coordination and supervision arrangements. However, the language arrangements for these instruments will be established in a law of the Council of Ministers adopted unanimously.

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POLICIES IN OTHER SPECIFIC AREAS

Employment (Articles III-203 to III-209)

The provisions covering this area are not substantively amended, but it should be noted that ensuring coordination of Member States' employment policies is now recognised as a particular Union competence, as is coordination of economic policies (Articles I-12 and I-15).

Cooperation between in the social policy field (Article III-213)

In this provision - which requires the Commission to encourage cooperation between the Member States in this field - it is added that the Commission's action may take the form of initiatives particular to the open method of coordination (establishment of guidelines and indicators, organisation of exchange of best practice, periodic monitoring and evaluation). The European Parliament must also be kept informed. A declaration annexed to the Final Act emphasises the fact that such initiatives are of a complementary nature and are not aimed at harmonising national systems.

Economic, social and territorial cohesion (Articles III-220 to III-224)

It should be noted that the addition of the reference to territorial cohesion matches the definition contained in the provision on the Union's general objectives (Article I-3).
Article III-220, which defines the essential objectives of this policy, has been supplemented by a paragraph listing the types of region particularly concerned by Union action, e.g. island regions. A declaration annexed to the Final Act of the IGC stipulates that "island regions" can include island States in their entirety, subject to the necessary criteria being met.
Article III-223 states that the first provisions on the Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund to be adopted following those in force on the date on which the Constitution is signed are be established by a European law of the Council, acting unanimously after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.

Agriculture and fisheries (Article III-231)

A breakdown of the legal instruments in this field is established: laws or framework laws establish the common organisation of the agricultural markets and other provisions necessary for the achievement of the objectives of the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy, whereas Council regulations or decisions, adopted on a proposal from the Commission but without consultation of the European Parliament, determine the measures relating to the fixing of prices, levies, aid and quantitative limitations and to the fixing and allocation of fishing opportunities.

Sea and air transport (Articles III-236 to 245)

The "passerelle" provided for in the EC Treaty (a Council decision by qualified majority) for adopting measures in the field of sea and air transport - which had in fact become obsolete - has been deleted.

Article III-236 now contains a paragraph requiring the Union to take account of certain specific considerations when adopting transport legislation. The provision for a special scheme for Germany to take account of the country's division has received the same treatment as the corresponding provision on State aid.

Research and technological development (Articles III-248 to III-255)

In Article III-250 - which requires the Commission to encourage cooperation between Member States in the field of research and technological cooperation - it has been added that the Commission's action may take the form of initiatives particular to the open method of coordination (establishment of guidelines and indicators, organisation of exchange of best practice, periodic monitoring and evaluation). The European Parliament must also be kept informed.
Article III-248 enshrines the concept of a European research area. European laws may establish the measures necessary for the implementation of the European research area (Article III-251) without prejudice to the specific aspects of Member States' research policies.
However, Union action will continue to focus mainly on providing financial support for European research through the framework programme and specific programmes. The framework programme is to be adopted by an ordinary law (codecision), whereas specific programmes are established by European laws of the Council, and the European Parliament is merely consulted (Article III-251).

Space (Article III-254)

A new legal basis is created, allowing the adoption of laws or framework laws establishing measures for a European space policy, including a European space programme. Article III-254 also requires the Union to establish any appropriate relations with the European Space Agency.

Energy (Article III-256)

A new legal basis is created, allowing the adoption of laws or framework laws establishing measures relating to energy policy, without affecting Member States' choices between different energy sources and the general structure of their energy supply. It is stipulated that such laws or framework laws are without prejudice to the other provisions of the Constitution, in particular those on the internal market.
The last paragraph of the article states that measures which are primarily of a fiscal nature are to be adopted by a European law or framework law of the Council, acting unanimously, and the European Parliament is merely consulted.

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AMENDMENTS RELATING TO AREAS OF COORDINATING, COMPLEMENTARY OR SUPPORTING ACTION

Public health (Article III-278)

Although located in the chapter relating to areas of coordinating, complementary or supporting action, this article reflects the dual nature of competence in this field:

The responsibilities of the Member States in this field are also more precisely defined. Paragraph 7 of Article III-278 states that, apart from the definition of their health policy and the organisation and delivery of health services and medical care, Member States are also responsible for the management of health services and medical care and the allocation of the resources assigned to them.

Industry (Article III-279)

In the provision requiring the Commission to encourage cooperation between Member States in the field of industry, it has been added that the Commission's action may take the form of initiatives particular to the open method of coordination (establishment of guidelines and indicators, organisation of exchange of best practice, periodic monitoring and evaluation). The European Parliament must also be kept informed.

Tourism (Article III-281)

Contrary to the opinion expressed by the Convention, the IGC included tourism in the Union's coordinating, complementary and supporting competences and made provision for a new legal basis to this effect. Article III-281 lays down the objectives of this policy and establishes the means of action. At the moment, the EC Treaty merely mentions tourism (in Article 3), but does not contain any specific provisions in this field.

Education, training, youth and sport (Article III-282)

This article includes a specific new competence in respect of sport. This new competence is reflected in a legal basis allowing laws and framework laws to be adopted establishing measures for developing the European dimension in sport. As this is an area of supporting, coordinating or complementary action, the harmonisation of national laws and regulations is not allowed.
Another addition which should be emphasised is the provision that Union action should be aimed at encouraging the participation of young people in democratic life in Europe.

Civil protection (Article III-284)

A new legal basis has been created, allowing the adoption of laws or framework laws establishing measures aimed at supporting Member States' action in this field and promoting operational cooperation. As this is an area of supporting, coordinating or complementary action, the harmonisation of national laws and regulations is not allowed.

Administrative cooperation (Article III-285)

A new legal basis has been created, allowing the adoption of laws to improve Member States' administrative capacity to implement Union law. As this is an area of supporting, coordinating or complementary action, the harmonisation of national laws and regulations is not allowed. This cooperation is without prejudice to the obligations of the Member States to implement Union law or to the prerogatives and duties of the Commission (for example in the context of infringement proceedings).

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SUMMARY TABLE

Articles Subject Comments
III-122 Services of general economic interest Significant changes
III-136 Social security benefits Significant changes
III-157 and III-1588 Restrictions on free movement of capital -
III-160 Freezing of assets New provisions
III-165 and III-168 Exemption regulations regarding the rules on competition applicable to undertakings and exemption regulations regarding the rules on State aid -
III-168 Compatibility of State aid -
III-170 and III-171 Harmonisation of indirect taxation -
III-172 and III-173 Approximation of national laws and regulations for the establishment and functioning of the internal market -
III-176 European intellectual property instruments and other centralised procedures New provisions
III-203 to 209 Employment -
III-213 Open method of coordination in the social policy field (cooperation between Member States) -
III-220 to 224 Economic, social and territorial cohesion Significant changes
III-231 Agriculture and fisheries -
III-236-245 Transport -
III-248 to 255 Research and technological development Significant changes
III-254 Space New provisions
III-256 Energy New provisions
III-278 Public health Significant changes
III-279 Industry Significant changes
III-281 Tourism New provisions
III-282 Education, training, youth and sport New provisions
III-284 Civil protection New provisions
III-285 Administrative cooperation New provisions

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These factsheets are not legally binding on the European Commission. They do not claim to be exhaustive and do not represent an official interpretation of the text of the Constitution.


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