Enhanced cooperation

Table of Contents:

Enhanced cooperation

Outline of the Community (European Union) legislation about Enhanced cooperation


These categories group together and put in context the legislative and non-legislative initiatives which deal with the same topic.

Institutional affairs > Building europe through the treaties > The Lisbon Treaty: a comprehensive guide

Enhanced cooperation

Enhanced cooperation is organised by Member States under the framework of European policies. It enables participating States to organise greater cooperation than that initially provided for by the Treaties under the policy concerned. Enhanced cooperation is carried out under the auspices of the European Union, through the European institutions and procedures.

Enhanced cooperation aims to accelerate the building of Europe for the most ambitious Member States. However, the door is left open to other Member States wishing to join them at a later date.

Enhanced cooperation may be organised under the framework of any European policy, except those for which the EU has exclusive competence.


Enhanced cooperation must contribute to enhancing the process of integration within the Union and must not undermine the single market or the Union’s economic and social cohesion. The Treaty of Lisbon sets the minimum threshold for establishing enhanced cooperation at nine Member States.

Enhanced cooperation is open to all Member States when it is established. It shall also be open to them at any time, provided the Member State in question complies with the decisions taken within that framework. The Commission and the Member States shall ensure that as many Member States as possible are encouraged to take part.

The acts adopted within the framework of enhanced cooperation shall not form part of the Union acquis. They shall be applied by the participating Member States only.

The Council and the Commission shall ensure the consistency of activities undertaken within the framework of enhanced cooperation with the other policies and activities of the Union.

The Treaty of Lisbon enables passerelle clauses to be applied to enhanced cooperation, except in the case of decisions on defence matters or decisions having have military implications. The passerelle clauses enable switching from voting by unanimity to voting by qualified majority or from the special legislative procedure to the ordinary legislative procedure.


This procedure concerns all enhanced cooperation except when established under the framework of the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Member States intending to establish enhanced cooperation shall address a request to the Commission, which shall then submit a proposal to the Council. After obtaining the agreement of the Parliament, the Council may authorise the establishment of enhanced cooperation.

A Member State wishing to join enhanced cooperation already in progress may submit a request to the Commission and the Council. The Commission shall decide in the first instance whether or not to authorise the Member State joining the enhanced cooperation. In the case of the Commission issuing a refusal, the Member State may appeal to the Council to deliver a decision on its request.


Contrary to the general procedure, enhanced cooperation in the field of the CFSP is not the subject of a Commission proposal or approval by the European Parliament. The establishment of such cooperation is essentially decided within the Council. The Council authorises, or does not authorise, requests for enhanced cooperation from interested Member States. It acts unanimously. Moreover, the Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy must give their opinion. The European Parliament is simply informed of the request.


The Treaty of Lisbon has created three types of cooperation specific to the field of defence.

Member States wishing to do so may establish permanent structured cooperation. They commit therefore to participating in European military equipment programmes and providing combat units for EU missions. The procedure in this field is more flexible. There is no minimum threshold for the number of Member States required and the Council authorises the permanent structured cooperation by qualified majority.

Member States may also participate in certain missions relating to the common security and defence policy. These missions are detailed in Article 43 of the Treaty on European Union. For example, they concern humanitarian or peace-keeping missions. Such cooperation between Member States must be the subject of a decision given by the Council acting unanimously.

Lastly, the new European Defence Agency offers a framework for cooperation to Member States wishing to increase their military capacity. This agency is open to all Member States wishing to participate in it.


The Treaty of Lisbon facilitates the use of enhanced cooperation in the field of judicial cooperation in criminal matters. The engagement procedure is therefore more flexible in cases where a Member State has used the brake clause to oppose the adoption of a legislative act in this field. In this case, enhanced cooperation is automatically established on the basis of the draft legislation concerned if there are at least nine participating Member States. This clause, called the ‘accelerator’ clause, therefore offsets the ‘brake’ clause.

Furthermore, two other accelerator clauses have been established for the creation of a European Public Prosecutor’s Office and for police cooperation. In both cases, at least nine Member States may establish enhanced cooperation. Authorisation for this type of cooperation does not require a Commission proposal or a Council vote.


Article Subject
Treaty on European Union 20 Definition of enhanced cooperation
44 Cooperation under the framework of a European mission on defence matters
45 Cooperation under the framework of the European Defence Agency
46 Permanent structured cooperation in the field of defence
Treaty on the Functioning of the EU 326 to 328 General principles of enhanced cooperation
329 Engagement procedures for enhanced cooperation
330 Voting rules within enhanced cooperation
331 Participation of a Member State in enhanced cooperation in progress
332 Costs relating to implementing enhanced cooperation
333 Passerelle clauses under the framework of enhanced cooperation
334 Role of the Commission and of the Council in implementing enhanced cooperation
82 and 83 Enhanced cooperation in criminal matters
86 Enhanced cooperation in the creation of a European Public Prosecutor’s Office
87 Enhanced cooperation in police matters

This summary is for information only. It is not intended to interpret or replace the reference document, which remains the only binding legal text.

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