Stormont ministers could be handed a greater say on UK policy in Europe after an agreement was struck between the London Government and the devolved administrations.
The arrangement will enable Executive ministers to join UK delegations at certain European Council meetings, and even take the lead on issues that particularly affect Northern Ireland.
UK minister for Europe David Lidington said the formalising of recent working practices would mean all parts of the UK had a full say on European policy.
“I am delighted that yesterday ministers from the UK and devolved administrations have agreed to reinforce our practice on attendance and representation of the UK and devolved interests at the European level,” he said.
“This will reflect the advances made by this Government in ensuring the views of all parts of the UK are reflected in the development of our EU policy where we all have a mutual interest.
“We look forward to working together as part of an effective UK team working at the European level for the interests of everyone in the UK.”
Mr Lidington said the changes would be formally agreed at the next session of the UK`s Joint Ministerial Committee Plenary.
He said it “marked an important step in building on the good working practices we’ve developed in recent years”.
The agreement formalises the working understanding that has existed between the Government and the regions for a number of years in an official EU concordat.
In effect it allows the devolved administrations to represent the UK on certain issues in Europe.
UK ministers have pledged to look favourably upon requests from devolved administrations to attend European council meetings on issues that specifically affect their region.
The Government claims the arrangement is one of the most inclusive adopted by any member state of the EU.