The three pillarsApril 30, 2018
Since the Maastricht Treaty, the European Union has been based on three pillars with different decision-making procedures and different degrees of’communitisation’. This is why there is talk of highly integrated policies for which decisions are taken by the Community institutions (as is the case of the CAP), of weakly integrated policies for which the Member States have not transferred all their prerogatives (public health, trans-European networks, etc.) and finally of intergovernmental policies, such as the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, for which the Member States retain their sovereignty.
For each of these policies, the decision-making methods are different: the European Parliament is consulted for the CFSP but has the power to adopt the European budget; unanimity of votes is required in the Council of the European Union for police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, but a majority is sufficient for the free movement of goods. In all cases, the European Union acts according to the principle of subsidiarity: it intervenes only when it is indisputable that joint action will be more effective than action taken by one or two countries in isolation.
The first pillar, consisting of the European Communities (European Community, ECSC, Euratom), groups together the areas in which the Community institutions have competence. The second pillar is formed by joint actions on the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). It is essentially intergovernmental cooperation in which the European Commission is involved and on which the European Parliament is consulted. The third pillar concerns police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters and also operates on an intergovernmental basis.
First pillar, the European Communities
The first pillar includes all policies which fall within the Community decision-making process involving all of the following institutions: proposal of the European Commission, decision of the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament, jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the event of a dispute.
The Community is competent to act in 17 areas: free movement of goods; agriculture; free movement of persons, services and capital; transport; competition, taxation and approximation of legislation; economic and monetary policy; common commercial policy; social policy, education, vocational training and youth; culture; public health; consumer protection; trans-European networks; industry; cohesion; research and technological development; environment; development. The Treaty of Amsterdam transfers certain actions from the third to the first pillar: border controls, immigration, asylum rights, judicial cooperation in civil matters. The Schengen Convention is thus integrated into the Treaty and brings together all the countries of the European Union (except the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark, which benefit from a derogation).
The degree of communitisation or integration measuring the level of transfer of competences from national to Community varies according to the fields.
Highly integrated policies:
the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which represents almost 44% of the Community budget; the common commercial policy; during WTO negotiations, the European Commission negotiates for and on behalf of the European Union on a mandate from the Council of the European Union; the common transport policy: technical and social harmonisation, competition, public service, etc.; monetary policy: as from 1 January 1999, the single monetary policy, managed by the European Central Bank (ECB), replaced national policies. For example, short-term interest rates are set by the ECB and no longer by the national central banks.
Lowerly integrated policies:
economic and social cohesion policy, which reduces disparities between the various regions of the European Union, is conducted in close cooperation between the Member States and the European Union. The objectives are set at European level and its implementation is the responsibility of the regional Prefects; in the fields of education, culture, training, research, health, social protection and employment, each country retains its autonomy. The European Union imposes minimum standards, the Member States are free to adopt stricter standards. It encourages the coordination of national actions, it disseminates innovation and is a forum for exchange:
in the field of education, the European Union encourages schools and universities to set up programmes to enable young people to undertake part of their studies in another country, but it does not intervene in the content of national education programmes;
the Amsterdam Treaty introduces a new chapter on employment, which consists of coordinating the employment policies of the Member States with a view to making them more effective; but national employment plans are drawn up by each Member State.
Second pillar, Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)
The Maastricht Treaty established the CFSP in 1992 as the second pillar of the European Union. It pursues the objectives of maintaining peace and strengthening international security by establishing systematic cooperation among States that operate on an intergovernmental basis. It sets up joint actions: transport of humanitarian aid in Bosnia-Herzegovina, administration of the city of Mostar, Stability Pact for Central Europe. Decisions are taken by the Ministers for Foreign Affairs, meeting unanimously in the Council of the European Union, on accompanying measures by a qualified majority. In addition to joint actions, the Treaty of Amsterdam provides for joint strategies decided in Council by a qualified majority (with the possibility of veto or abstention by a Member State considering its vital interests threatened).
Third pillar, police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters
The third pillar, created by the Maastricht Treaty and amended by the Amsterdam Treaty, establishes intergovernmental cooperation between the Member States of the European Union in the fields of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, in particular the fight against international fraud (drug trafficking, terrorism, etc.). The Amsterdam Treaty introduces the concept of enhanced cooperation. Applying methods specific to each pillar, enhanced cooperation allows Member States that so wish to adopt more advanced measures. A Member State may, however, oppose the cooperation of others for important national reasons. At the Extraordinary Summit in Tampere on 15 October 1999, the European Council asked the European Commission to prepare a scoreboard listing what the Member States and the European Union needed to achieve in the next five years to make progress in the judicial and police fields.