Benelux Union A testing ground amidst three neighbouring countries for cooperation within the European Union

The Benelux Union is an intergovernmental cooperation agreement that was established in 1944. The acronym 'Benelux' incorporates the names of the three participating countries (Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg). This tripartite union, which can be seen as the forerunner to European integration, now focuses on three key areas: economy, sustainable development and justice. 

An eventful shared history

The three countries, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, share a long history. For over half a century, the king of the Netherlands also bore the title of Grand Duke of Luxembourg. In 1921, after World War I, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg entered into a customs and monetary agreement with Belgium, forming the Belgo-Luxembourg Economic Union (BLEU).

In 1944, during World War II, the governments of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg - still in exile in London - signed a customs union agreement. This customs union entered into force on 1st January 1948. It waived import duties on trade exchange within the union and set a foreign trade tariff.

Established by the treaty of 3 February 1958 for an initial period of fifty years, the Benelux Economic Union sought to broaden and deepen economic cooperation among the three countries. The principle objectives included, in particular:

  1. the free movement of persons, goods, capital and services;
  2. the coordination of economic, financial and social policies;
  3. the common trade policy.

The Benelux Treaty was implemented in 1960.

What about today?

50 years later, in view of the expiry of the Treaty of 1958 in 2010, a new treaty amending the treaty of 1958 was signed on 17 June 2008 for an undetermined period. Under this treaty, the Benelux cooperation now known as the 'Benelux Union' focuses on three main areas:

  • the domestic market and the economic union,
  • sustainable development,
  • justice and interior affairs.

Benelux has often served as a model for reinforcing European ties. Indeed, some areas of cooperation have been so successful that their application has been extended to the European level. This applies in particular to the free movement of persons (Schengen Agreements), the internal market (Economic Union) or police cooperation.

Signing of the Treaty in 2008
© 2008 SIP / Luc Deflorenne

Operation

The Benelux operates through several institutions:

  • the Committee of Ministers ('Comité des ministres') is the highest decision-making body which determines the orientation and priorities of the Union;
  • the Benelux Council ('Conseil Benelux'), composed of high officials from the competent national ministries, is responsible for the preparation of files for ministers;
  • The Benelux Secretariat-General ('Secrétariat général Benelux') initiates, supports and ensures cooperation in the fields of the economy, sustainability and security;
  • The Benelux Interparliamentary Consultative Council ('Conseil interparlementaire consultatif de Benelux') consists of 49 deputies from the three countries, who inform and advise their respective governments on Benelux issues;
  • the Benelux Court of Justice ('Cour de Justice Benelux') promotes uniformity in the application of Benelux legislation (intellectual property, penalty payment, recovery of tax claims, protection of birds, equality in tax treatment). 

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