The idea of a ‘multi-speed Europe’ finds its concrete expression in a range of European Union (EU) policy fields from the single currency to EU criminal law. As the product of specific treaty authorizations, these examples of ‘enhanced cooperation’ have become a familiar means by which European integration has deepened while allowing individual states to avoid being bound by measures adopted in a new field of cooperation. With the Amsterdam Treaty, a new capacity was created to deploy enhanced cooperation on a more ad hoc policy issue basis, particularly where legislative negotiations had failed to resolve disagreements between Member States.
Yet the new capacity remained unused until after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, which amended the provisions on enhanced cooperation (now Article 20 TEU and Articles 326-334 TFEU). The new provisions were deployed for the first time to permit a group of states to adopt a regulation on the law applicable to divorce and legal separation. However, it was the second authorization of enhanced cooperation in the area of the EU unitary patent which was more controversial and which gave rise to legal actions by Spain and Italy seeking an annulment of the authorizing decision. Both states had objected to the proposal to restrict the languages used for submission of patent applications to English, French and German. In the absence of the unanimity required for the establishment of the language regime (Article 118 TFEU), legislative negotiations had reached a stalemate and so the decision was taken by the Member States – with the exception of Spain and Italy – to authorize enhanced cooperation. The two countries then brought legal proceedings seeking the annulment of the authorizing decision.
This post considers the implications of this litigation for the use of enhanced cooperation with a particular eye towards the legal action which has been launched by the United Kingdom challenging the use of enhanced cooperation for the adoption of the controversial Financial Transactions Tax (FTT). Continue reading