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'Occupied field'

The EU doctrine of the 'occupied field' asserts the precedence of the Union's authority over that of national legislatures in a given policy area. The term is particularly used to denote a currently unregulated field of activity in which, by reserving its right to exercise its powers at some future time, the EU effectively frustrates the ability of national governments to legislate, lest their laws be subsequently overruled by Community law. A notorious illustration was the UK's unwillingness to make coach seat-belts compulsory despite public pressure to do so, since this would fall within single market rules if the Commission chose to initiate regulation.

OCTs

See Overseas countries and territories.

OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development)

Originally an organisation to promote European economic co-operation, known as the OEEC, in which guise it supervised the administration of the post-war Marshall Plan, the OECD reinvented itself as an international think-tank of the richest nations in 1960, after the 'Six' and the 'Seven' had respectively formed the EEC and EFTA. Based in Paris, it focuses on broad policy issues, publishing authoritative reports with a free-market orientation, to the occasional irritation of socialist opinion among its backers. Apart from the EU countries, the OECD's membership also includes the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Norway.

Official Journal (OJ)

The Official Journal of the European Communities contains the EU's legislative texts, parliamentary proceedings, Court cases, Commission proposals, Opinions, appointments, invitations to tender for contracts, and other such information. It is published continuously in all the official languages.

Ombudsman

The role of the Ombudsman - a 19th century Scandinavian invention - is to investigate complaints made by individual citizens or 'legal persons' against the authorities. The Maastricht Treaty required the European Parliament to appoint an Ombudsman with powers to investigate maladministration on the part of any EU institution except the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance. The first appointment was made in 1995 when a Finn, Jacob Soderman, was elected for a five-year term (coinciding with the term of the Parliament). The Ombudsman cannot penalise offenders; his sole right of redress is to forward a critical report to the Parliament and to the institution against which a complaint was made.

Opinion

Within the EU there are several different categories of quasi-legal 'Opinion'. The powerlessness of many EU bodies, such as the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, makes it useful to give them some appearance of influence by authorising them to give Opinions (or avis in French), which the decision-making institutions are obliged to note, but not necessarily to follow. More significant Opinions are those given by the European Parliament on draft legislation and those given by the Commission and the Parliament on applications for membership of the EU. The selection of countries to join the single currency was preceded by Opinions from a number of bodies, including the Commission and the European Monetary Institute. The Council of Ministers sometimes also delivers non-binding Opinions designed to influence member states. In the Court of Justice, judgments are usually based on the Opinion of an advocate-general.

Optimum currency area

An area covering two or more homogeneous economies, where the advantages of having a single currency outweigh the disadvantages. The most important pre-conditions are that the economies should be similarly affected by external shocks and that they should be reasonably well synchronised with each other. The UK and Germany are often said not to constitute an optimum currency zone, due to the structural differences in their economies. For instance, the UK trades and invests predominantly in dollars; the British business cycle is more in tune with the US cycle than with the German one; and Germany is less sensitive than the UK to movements in short-term interest rates and stock markets.

US experience suggests that labour mobility and automatic fiscal transfers are also preconditions of a successful currency zone, without which regions of intractable unemployment may develop. During California's recession of 1991-4 1.2 million Californians emigrated to other states and its contribution to the total federal tax revenue fell to 8% from 17% in the preceding four boom years. This type of adjustment can occur in Europe on a limited scale within the larger individual countries, but the EU as a whole lacks an integrated tax and benefits system and intercountry labour mobility is low. (See also MacDougall Report.)

Opt-out

A potentially permanent exemption from a Treaty provision, as opposed to a temporary 'derogation'. Notable examples have been the opt-outs of the UK and Denmark from the single currency stage of EMU, Denmark's opt-out on EU measures affecting defence, and the UK's opt-out (subsequently revoked) from the Social Chapter. These exemptions were contained in protocols to the 1992 Maastricht Treaty. The 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam contained opt-outs exempting the UK and Ireland from its provisions abolishing internal borders. More radically, that Treaty also introduced the principle of 'flexibility', enabling a majority of member states to develop closer links in new policy areas without involving the other member states. (See also Variable geometry.)

OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe)

The OSCE is the name given since 1994 to the collective official peace, security and human rights movement of 55 states (originally 35), as reflected in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and several subsequent conferences. Originally known as the CSCE (Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe), its purpose during the Cold War was to reduce tensions in Europe between NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries and to establish human rights principles behind the Iron Curtain - an endeavour viewed idealistically in the West, if cynically by the Soviet bloc.

The Charter of Paris for a New Europe, signed in 1990, was intended to mark a watershed. It reaffirmed the Helsinki Agreement, committed the participants to democracy and free markets and signalled the impending transformation of the CSCE into a structured institution, with a council, a committee, a secretariat, a parliamentary assembly and a Conflict Prevention Centre, all with headquarters in European cities. The EU is not strictly speaking a member of the OSCE, although the Commission president Jacques Delors signed the Charter of Paris; of the participants all but two (the USA and Canada) are European states or former Soviet republics. How effective the organisation will be in resolving conflicts, and how it will relate to the UN, NATO and the EU, is not yet clear. Early experience of its role in Bosnia, Kosovo and Russia's war in Chechnya has not given grounds for much optimism.

Ostpolitik

The West German policy of conciliation with the Soviet bloc during the Cold War, of which the chief exponent was Chancellor Willy Brandt in the early 1970s. The policy was in direct contrast to the previous 'Hallstein doctrine' of refusing diplomatic relations with any country which recognised East Germany. Ostpolitik should be seen in the wider context of détente, or the reduction of East-West tensions, principally through unilateral concessions by the Western powers. During the 1980s the policy was identified with Germany's foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, from whose name it was known as Genscherism.

Overseas countries and territories (OCTs)

The remaining possessions or dependencies of EU member states, chiefly French and British but also including Greenland (linked to Denmark) and The Netherlands Antilles (linked to The Netherlands). The OCTs broadly enjoy a similar relationship with the EU to that of the ACP countries under the Lomé Convention.

Own resources

See Budget.

 
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