Amsterdam Treaty enters into force

The Amsterdam Treaty entered into force on 1 May 1999, bringing a number of innovations in the European Union's scope for decision-making in areas including the labour market and social affairs.

After having been ratified by all Member States, the Amsterdam Treaty finally entered into force on 1 May 1999. The Treaty (EU9707135F) was formally signed in October 1997 and the final ratification instruments were deposited by France and Greece in March 1999.

The new Treaty introduces a number of social policy innovations, notably the inclusion in the Treaty proper of the social policy Agreement previously annexed to the European Community Treaty by the Maastricht Treaty, following the UK government's decision to opt out. The Agreement's provisions have been incorporated, with a number of additions, into the main body of the Treaty in a revised social chapter, thus formally reintroducing a single social policy framework for all 15 Member States. The Amsterdam Treaty also inserts in the EC Treaty a new employment chapter which sets out the Community's aim of working towards a coordinated strategy for employment, and formalises the annual process of developing Employment Guidelines and National Action Plans.

Among the various innovations in the Treaty in the social policy area are the following changes:

  • a new paragraph has been added to Article 141 (formerly Article 119) allowing the Council, using the co-decision procedure, to adopt measures to ensure the application of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in employment, including the principle of equal pay for work of equal value;
  • the co-decision procedure between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament has been extended to the new Article 129 on employment incentive measures and Article 141 on equal opportunities and treatment; and
  • qualified majority voting in Council has been extended to Article 128 on employment guidelines, Article 129 on employment incentive measures, Article 137(2) on social exclusion and Article 141(3) on equality of opportunity and treatment of men and women.

The coming into force of the Amsterdam Treaty will have an effect on the various proposals currently in the legislative pipeline, according to a European Commission Communication on Effects of the entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty on current legislative procedures. This can take four forms:

  • a renumbering of the Treaty article(s) which constitutes the legal base for the proposal. This applies to virtually all outstanding proposals;
  • a different legislative procedure. Notably, the Amsterdam Treaty replaces the cooperation procedure by the co-decision procedure in many areas and there are more areas in which the Committee of the Regions must be consulted. Thus, for example, the draft Directive amending the 1993 working time Directive to cover excluded excluded sectors and activities (EU9901144F) is now subject to co-decision rather than cooperation;
  • a change in proposal's legal base. In the social policy field, the proposals concerned include some longstanding unadopted draft Directives (for example, on equal treatment for men and women in statutory and occupational social security schemes, and on atypical work); and
  • a change in the legal framework, notably in the case of two draft Directives based on the Maastricht social policy Agreement and now within the scope of the EC Treaty - the proposals on national-level employee information and consultation (EU9812135F) and on the organisation of seafarers' working time (EU9901144F). The Commission has retained the content of the proposals and has made the EC Treaty their legal base.
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