The European Union passes laws and takes decisions on many matters that are important to Northern Ireland and its citizens. In a Union of Member States, United Kingdom relations with the European Union are the responsibility of the Westminster Government, but implementation of EU policies in Northern Ireland normally falls to the regional administration.

Memorandum of Understanding

The October 2013 'Memorandum of Understanding and its Concordat on Co-ordination of European Union Policy Issues' sets out the mechanisms between the UK Government and Devolved Administrations for the handling of EU business. 

As a rule of thumb, over two thirds of administrative and legislative actions in Northern Ireland originate from, or are influenced by decisions made in Brussels. These cover areas such as agriculture and rural development, fisheries, business and trade, employment and training, energy, regional development, the environment and transport.  

In this context, many of the actions taken by Ireland are also important to the citizens of Northern Ireland. So it is in our interest to participate proactively to ensure that European decision-making reflects Northern Ireland’s priorities and concerns.

The role of regional government in the European Union is promoted by the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.

What are subsidiarity and proportionality?

Subsidiarity is the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level.

Subsidiarity is a fundamental principle of European Union law according to which the European Union may only act and make laws where Member States agree that the actions of individual countries is insufficient. The principle was established in the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht and is contained within the Lisbon Treaty.

Proportionality is a fundamental principle of European law which states that the European Union may only act to the extent that is needed to achieve its objectives and not further.  This principle has underpinned the European Union since its inception in 1957.  It is clearly stated in the third paragraph of Article 5 of the Treaty establishing the European Community: ‘Any action by the Community shall not go beyond what is necessary to achieve the objectives of this Treaty.’

The Barroso Task Force

President José Manuel Barroso announced a European Commission Task Force for Northern Ireland when he met the First Minister designate Ian Paisley and deputy First Minister designate Martin McGuinness in Parliament Buildings on 1 May 2007.

Led by the Commissioner for Regional Policy, Danuta Hübner, this was the first time there has been a specific task force for a single region in the European Union.

In the months which followed, the Task Force - a group of representatives from the European Commission working with officials from our own administration took forward a stock take exercise, exploring how to support the Executive's efforts to modernise the regional economy, creating more jobs and growth.

n response to the Task Force Report, the First Minister and deputy First Minister formally presented the Executive's Action Plan outlining its European priorities to President Barroso in Brussels on 31 March 2009.

The Executive continued to produce strategic European Priorities on an annual basis and share these with the European Commission.  A formal report by the Commission praised the work of the NI Task Force in helping to build and strengthen European engagement across the region. A copy of the report is available to dowload below:


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