You are here:

House of Commons Library

"Ever Closer Union" in the EU Treaties and Court of Justice case law

Published Monday, November 16, 2015

"Ever closer union" is an EU aim and is enshrined in the EU Treaties. David Cameron wanted to exempt the UK from it, and this has been achieved in the new settlement for the UK in the EU. This note looks at the background to “ever closer union”, its survival through several Treaty changes and its use by the EU Court of Justice.

Jump to full report >>

Treaty references

“Ever closer union” in the Treaties is “among the peoples of Europe”, not among the Member States.

Treaty of Rome

The 1957 Treaty Establishing the European Community contained the objective of “ever closer union” in the following words in the Preamble. In English this is: “Determined to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe …..”.

Article 2 of the Treaty also promoted the ‘spirit’ of closer union in its description of the aims of the Community, ending with “closer relations between the States belonging to it”.

Solemn Declaration on European Union

In the Solemn Declaration on European Union of June 1983, the then ten heads of state and government (including the UK) agreed: … on the basis of an awareness of a common destiny and the wish to affirm the European identity, confirm their commitment to progress towards an ever closer union among the peoples and Member States of the European Community.

The Solemn Declaration added “closer union among Member States, as well as the peoples of Europe”.

Single European Act

Under the 1986 Single European Act, Member States were: “MOVED by the will to … transform relations as a whole among their States into a European Union”.

Maastricht Treaty

The objective of “ever closer union” was retained in the Preamble to the 1992 Treaty on European Union (Maastricht Treaty):

RESOLVED to continue the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity.

Amsterdam and Nice

The 1997 Amsterdam Treaty added a new qualification to “ever closer union”: “in which decisions are taken as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizen”. The Nice Treaty did not change this.

Lisbon Treaty

Since Lisbon (2009) the EU Treaties have contained three references to “ever closer union”:
The Preamble to the Treaty on European Union:

RESOLVED to continue the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity.

Article 1 TEU with similar wording to earlier Treaties:

This Treaty marks a new stage in the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizen.

The Preamble to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU - the renamed TEC):

DETERMINED to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe ….

At the EU Court of Justice

A Curia word search of EU case law in the Court of Justice, General Court and Civil Service Tribunal (and their antecedent institutions) in which the objective of “ever closer union” is cited gave 57 occasions at the time of writing, and not all of these were final judgments.

This is a very small number of cases overall. From 28 November 1954 until 13 November 2015 there were 29,969 cases (including opinions) at the EU courts. 57 represents only 0.19% of the total number of cases at the time of writing.

Of those 57 cases, 34 concerned institutional transparency and access to official documents, 19 cases concerned other matters (e.g. accession to the European Convention on Human Rights, free movement, equal treatment, access to benefits, Schengen, judicial cooperation, access to education).

In 4 cases, “ever closer union” occurred in a footnote in the ruling, referring to a landmark case concerning judicial cooperation (Pupino).

Changing “ever closer union”

The Prime Minister has made removing “ever closer union” from the EU’s aims - or from the UK’s aims in the EU – a main theme of his proposed reform. He wrote in the Telegraph, 15 March 2014:

And dealing properly with the concept of “ever closer union”, enshrined in the treaty, to which every EU country now has to sign up. It may appeal to some countries. But it is not right for Britain, and we must ensure we are no longer subject to it.

He informed the Commons on 29 June 2015 of the June European Council and the UK’s reform proposals, saying

We will put the Common Market back at the heart of our membership, get off the treadmill to ever-closer union, address the issue of migration to Britain from the rest of the EU and protect Britain’s place in the single market for the long term.

It is not clear whether this will involve Treaty change in the longer term.

Further information

Publication details

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7230

Author: Vaughne Miller

Topics: EU law and treaties, EU political integration, Europe, International law

Share this page

Stay up to date

  • Subscribe to RSS feed Subscribe to Email alerts Commons Briefing papers

House of Commons Library

The House of Commons Library provides research, analysis and information services for MPs and their staff.