EU status in FAO

The EU became a full FAO Member in 1991

On 26 November 1991, the EU became the 161st member (as Member Organisation) of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the oldest of the UN specialised agencies. This accession was the first one in EU history with a status comparable to that of a Member Nation in a UN body. Indeed, this accession represented an institutional breakthrough as it was the first time that the EU became a Member as such of a UN body, and the first (and unique up to now) time FAO welcomed a Member Organisation.

The EU accession was made necessary due to the transfer of competences from the Member States to the EU in a range of matters under the scope of FAO (such as agriculture, fisheries, trade, health and consumer protection). In addition to this, FAO's commitment to solving development issues in the world through its operational and field programmes, particularly in the context of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), was reflecting the strategic objective of EU's development policy.

The EU accession required legal adjustments with FAO and organisational arrangements with the EU Member States

The status of Membership of the European Union required changes in the Basic texts of the Organisation (Constitution of FAO), which were approved by the FAO Conference of 1991.

In addition, the EU membership introduced the concept of the "alternative exercise of Membership rights" between the EU and its Member States, which applies not only to voting rights but also to speaking rights. This means that whenever the EU exercises its right to vote, its Member States shall not exercise theirs, and conversely. On this specific point, FAO Constitution required the submission of a general statement specifying the matters in respect of which competence has been transferred to the EU by its Member States.

In order to make effective this alternative exercise of rights and of competences between the EU and the Member States, an arrangement between the EU Council of Ministers and the European Commission was concluded in 1991. Pursuant to this arrangement, the European Union and the Member States have to prepare all meetings of the FAO Governing Bodies (Council and Conference), as well as their Subsidiary Bodies, in a coordinated manner, so as to agree on joint positions and on statements on all substantive items of the agenda.

The EU accession requires a precise division of competences between the EU and the EU Members States

Before each FAO meetings, in application of the relevant rules established in that organisation's Basic Texts, a declaration of competence has to be notified to FAO (following its prior approval by the EU and the Member States), which will indicate, for each agenda item, the division of competences between the EU and the Member States, as well as the respective voting rights. Basically, the EU speaks, negotiates and votes on issues of EU competence, whereas the presidency speaks, negotiates and votes on issues of Member States competence. There can be no cumulative exercise of rights of the EU and the Member States. In practice, the following scenarios may arise:

  • EU competence: when EU competence is exclusive or predominant, the EU will have the right to vote and hence, will speak on behalf of the European Union and its 27 Member States
  • Member States competence: when Member States competence is exclusive or predominant, the Member State will have the right to vote, and hence, the Council Presidency will speak on behalf of the European Union
  • EU-Member States shared competence: when competence is shared, it is either the EU or either the Member State who has the preponderance, and hence will vote and speak on behalf of the European Union.

In order to make effective the "alternative exercise of rights", a sophisticated process of coordination and distribution of competences between the EU and the Member States takes place before all FAO’s main Governing Bodies and Technical Committees.

Under this process, EU coordination meetings take place in Brussels in the Coodination Working Party (FAO), during which for all FAO meetings and all agenda items, a common position must be reached by the EU and the Member States. In practice, this translates into statements being negotiated, finalised and agreed to by all parties. This allows for the EU to speak with one voice. This system, in place for 15 years now, is working to everybody's general satisfaction. Informal EU coordination meetings also take place in Rome, amongst the 27 EU Permanent Representatives to FAO, at least on a monthly basis, and before meetings if needed.

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