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Passerelle clauses

To make European Union (EU) decision-making more flexible, under certain specific conditions, Article 48 (7) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) introduces the possibility of two types of general passerelle clauses (or bridge clauses) to allow a change to be made to the legislative procedure initially provided for.

The use of a passerelle clause means there is no need to formally amend the EU treaties and thus no requirement for this to be ratified by the EU Member States.

General passerelle clauses

  • The first type of general passerelle clause is where the decision-making is changed from unanimity to qualified majority voting in the Council of the European Union. It applies in the case of legislative proposals where the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) or Title V of the TEU (which concerns the EU’s external action and common foreign and security policy) specify that the Council should act by unanimity. It should be noted that decisions with military implications and in the defence field are excluded.
  • The second instance of a general passerelle clause is where legislative acts are required by the TFEU to be adopted under the special legislative procedure, with the Council as the sole legislator, and the European Parliament is either consulted or asked for its consent. Here the passerelle clause would result in a switch from the special legislative procedure to the ordinary legislative procedure (formerly known as co-decision).

The EU’s areas of jurisdiction are not changed in either of these cases. Upon receiving notification from the European Council that the use of a general passerelle clause is being proposed, national parliaments have 6 months to register their veto. In addition, a majority of the Parliament’s component members must give their consent to the use of the passerelle clause. Only then may the European Council approve by unanimity either type of passerelle clause.

Specific passerelle clauses

The EU treaties also provide for passerelle clauses which apply to six specific policy areas. These six special passerelle clauses apply in the fields of:

  • 1.

    common foreign and security policy (Article 31(3) TEU);

  • 2.

    family law with cross-border implications (Article 81(3)TFEU);

  • 3.

    social policy (Article 153(2) TFEU);

  • 4.

    environmental policy (Article 192(2) TFEU);

  • 5.

    the multiannual financial framework (Article 312(2) TFEU); and

  • 6.

    enhanced cooperation (Article 333 TFEU).

The conditions for adopting legislation in these areas require a less elaborate procedure if the institutions decide to apply a passerelle clause. In the first four cases, it is the Council that decides about the passerelle clauses, while in the last two it is the European Council.