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Results of Amsterdam European Council - June 1997

The heads of state and government of the EU's Member States met in Amsterdam on 16 and 17 June 1997 with the aim of completing negotiations on the next stage of European integration. The discussions eventually led to agreement on a draft treaty that will have an impact on many...
The heads of state and government of the EU's Member States met in Amsterdam on 16 and 17 June 1997 with the aim of completing negotiations on the next stage of European integration. The discussions eventually led to agreement on a draft treaty that will have an impact on many areas of life for European citizens and companies. This treaty has now to be ratified by each Member State.

As far as research is concerned, the European Council agreed that, in future, the adoption of the Community's RTD Framework Programmes in the Council will be on the basis of qualified majority, and not unanimity as has been the case until now. This change was called for by Viscount Davignon in his recent five-year assessment of Community research. It should ensure that the Framework Programmes reflect Community research priorities better and are less a collection of national and sectoral interests.

Since it may take as long as two years to ratify the new treaty in each Member State, the Fifth Framework Programme should have been adopted and be up and running by the time it enters into force. Therefore, in the Council, unanimity will still be the legal basis for adopting the Decision on the Programme. However, Viscount Davignon has suggested that the Council, anticipating the ratification of the treaty, could, in its deliberations on the Fifth Framework Programme, act as if the rule of qualified majority voting was already in place. Whether the Council will adopt this course will become clearer in autumn 1997.

More generally, the Amsterdam Treaty will bring changes in four main areas. Firstly, the leaders agreed to establish progressively an "area of freedom, security and justice", in which European citizens will be able to move freely without border controls, and in which policies such as immigration, asylum and crime-fighting will increasingly become communitarized. Secondly, a number of changes have been introduced with the aim of bringing the EU closer to its citizens. In this area, the draft treaty includes measures on employment, social policy, consumer protection and public health. The treaty includes for the first time the commitment that environmental considerations will be integrated into all EU policies. The EU will also take steps to increase transparency in its decision-making procedures. Thirdly, the new treaty aims to make the EU's external policy more coherent and effective.

The fourth area in which changes have been made concerns the EU's institutions. Changes to the EU's procedures, and in particular the decision-making process, are essential before the applicant countries from Central and Eastern Europe can become Member States. Although some changes were agreed in Amsterdam, agreement was not reached on a number of major issues, and further changes will be needed before any new members can be admitted. Among changes which were agreed, the European Parliament will have codecision power in a much wider range of policies, while the number of decision-making procedures has been reduced considerably to just three. This change will help to make the Community's law-making procedures more transparent and easier to understand.

Finally, the European Council acknowledged that in a Union of 15 or more countries, not all Member States would wish to, or be able to, integrate to the same degree. Therefore, majority groups of Member States who wish to establish closer cooperation will now have the possibility of doing so within the EU framework, in certain circumstances.

Source: Council of the European Union

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