‘Linkage’ denotes the practice, familiar in the European Union institutions and in many international bodies, of making agreement on one issue conditional upon the satisfactory resolution of another – there sometimes being no material connection between the two. The scope for link­age in the Community system was greatest when decisions were predominantly taken by unanimity within the Council of Ministers and the Council exercised undiluted legislative power. Where that pattern still applies, as on many institutional questions, successful linkage may occur. For example, in 1992, the French government made its acceptance of additional seats for Germany and other member states in the European Parliament, as well as the prospect of a deal on the location of new EU bodies, conditional upon Strasbourg being designated as the Parliament’s official seat (see seats of EU institutions). In spring 2011, the French and German government governments attempted to make any reduction on the interest rate charged to Ireland under its eurozone bail-out (of November 2010) dependent on Dublin agreeing to accept a greater degree of corporate tax harmonisation.

With the rise of qualified majority voting (QMV) and co-decision between the Council and the Parliament, the potential for any member to tie its agreement to one proposal to concessions offered to it on another proposal has significantly diminished. However, even under QMV, linkage occasionally still features in the continuous, wide-ranging process of negotiation between member states in the Council. In June 2008, for example, the British government abandoned a blocking minority on the revised working-time directive and accepted the agency workers directive, where it would otherwise have been out-voted, in return for concessions on both proposals that allowed it, by collective agreement between the social partners, to continue to pursue more liberal labour market policies than other member states. However, the Parliament was not a party to this agreement and refused to accept the concessions made to the UK. As a result, the revised working-time directive was not adopted and the linkage strategy failed.

September 2012

Copyright: Anthony Teasdale, 2012

Citation: The Penguin Companion to European Union (2012), additional website entry

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