The “Passerelle” Clauses: Paper over the Cracks or a Bridge to Treaty Reform?

On 28 February, the European Parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) will meet to present a study on the “passerelle” clauses and discuss the draft report on the implementation of “passerelle” clauses in the EU Treaties. This meeting comes as the geopolitical situation compels the EU to consider how its decision-making instruments if it wants to act more swiftly and play a stronger and more coherent role in the international arena. 

The “passerelle” clauses, enshrined in Article 48(7) of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU), can allow either: the Council of the European Union to shift from unanimity to Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) in all the areas included in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and Title V of the TEU (i.e., EU’s external action) with the exception of decisions with military implications; or the European Council to shift from a special legislative procedure (SLP) to the ordinary legislative procedure (OLP). 

Ever since the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force in 2009, the “passerelle” clauses have never been used. Their activation requires unanimity of the European Council and not a single objection from national parliaments. Moreover, they neither extend nor modify the Union’s competences. For this reason, the European Parliament, backed by the European Commission, has called for a European Convention with the ambition to amend the EU Treaties and overcome vetoes that often hinder progress and swift action. Moreover, the Conference on the Future of Europe has called for institutional reforms to overcome unanimity and improve decision-making at the EU level. 

Key texts 

European Parliament: AFCO Committee’s Working document on the Implementation of the “passerelle” clauses in the EU Treaties 

Conference on the Future of Europe: Report on the Final Outcome 

Upcoming events 

28 February 2023: European Parliament’s AFCO Committee meeting 

10 July 2023: Indicative plenary sitting date 

The European Movement International’s Position 

The recommendations from the Conference on the Future of Europe put the spotlight on much-needed changes in EU decision-making procedures. As we argued in our policy input for the Conference on the Future of Europe deliberations, resulting treaty changes must ensure the improvement of the democratic functioning of the EU. Any reforms that will come out of the Conference must be built on broad consensus among the EU institutions and with the greatest possible buy-in from European citizens. 

Such changes in how the EU takes decisions are long-overdue, not least in the area of defence cooperation. As we propose in our policy position on the “Future of European Security and Defence Cooperation”, all actions in the areas of foreign affairs and security and defence and in those policy areas to which competences have been conferred by the Treaties to the EU should be co-decided by the European Parliament and the Council based on QMV, effectively overcoming the veto powers of single Member States.  

But treaty change requires unanimity, which will be hard to overcome. In the absence of treaty change, the “passerelle” clauses allows the use of the QMV in some instances of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). Also, Article 31 of the TEU provides the option for constructive abstention while Article 44 TEU introduces a mechanism that allows a group of Member States (minimum two) to be entrusted by the Council with the ‘implementation of a task’ in cases where they wish to do so and have the capability to carry it out. This mechanism seems particularly fit for Common Security and Defence (CSDP) missions and operations for instance, allowing for more timely and rapid crisis response. 



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