Pillar structure
The pillars
0 On DEsite
1 General
2 Pillar structure
  • The pillars
  • The first pillar
  • The second pillar
  • The third pillar
  • 3 Bodies
    4 Decision-making
    5 Lobby groups
    6 Case histories
    7 Information and publications

    The European Union can actually be considered as an umbrella of various treaties. As Art. 1 EU puts it, the European Union is founded on the European Communities, supplemented by policy areas and the forms of cooperation that were established by the EU Treaty. The European Communities consist of the EC (European Community), and the EAEC (European Atomic Energy Community). The additional policy areas are: a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and a policy on Police and Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters.

    All this is usually clarified by means of a pillar structure, i.e., the European Union is a structure supported by three pillars. In the first pillar are the European Communities; in the second, the Common Foreign and Security Policy; and in the third, the Police and Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters. The European Union coordinates all of these.

    The European Union forms a single institutional framework with the European Parliament, the Council, the Commission, the Court of Justice, and the Court of Auditors. Depending on their concrete policy area, these institutions have different competencies and work according to different procedures. Decision-making methods vary, for instance, according to the pillar in which a decision is taken.

    Whereas the first pillar has a supranational character, the second and third pillars mainly have an intergovernmental character. Roughly speaking, this difference means that, in the first pillar, a country can be held to a decision against its will, whereas this will rarely be the case in the second and third pillars.

    The pillar structure was not changed either by the Amsterdam Treaty, which was concluded after the 1997 Maastricht Treaty, or by the Treaty of Nice signed in February 2001. The Amsterdam Treaty did, however, add a number of supranational elements to foreign policy cooperation and judicial cooperation, such as the principle of abstention and a first initiative to come to majority decision making.