Since the first of November, there is a new system to determine if a vote in European Council and the Council of the EU will pass or fail under the Qualified Majority Voting rules. In this post we briefly look at some of the academic reactions.
Under the new approach of so-called ‘double majority’, a qualified majority is reached if:
- 55% of Member States (so currently 16 out of 28) representing at least 65% of the total EU population vote in favour when the Council acts on a proposal by the Commission or the High Representative,
- 72% of Member States (21 out of 28) representing at least 65% of the total EU population vote in favour in other cases.
Double majority voting also applies in Comitology Committees, on any vote by qualified majority taking place, irrespective of when the act was submitted to the Committee. Previously, Committees delivered their opinion by qualified majority according to the examination procedure and the regulatory procedure with scrutiny.
QMV has been around since the beginning of European integration with the EEC in 1957, signed off by plenipotentiaries like Paul-Henri Spaak, Antonio Segni, and Konrad Adenauer. Over time, more and more EU policy areas have moved from unanimity to QMV, to facilitate easier decision-making, particularly as the number of Member States increased.
The newest form of the QMV system was defined in the Treaty of Lisbon, which was ratified five years ago, and is meant to be a simpler and more transparent system. The ‘old’ system, which will be available on request by Member States until well into 2017, is a triple majority system that is more complex and prone to logjams. In brief, the thresholds in the old system are 74% of member states’ weighted votes, and a majority of Member States. Additionally, Member States could request tallying the percentage of the population to be part of the criteria, in which case there was a minimum of 62% of the population of the EU. This latter clause however, was never evoked.
The triple majority voting weight threshold raised at least two problems, according to Frank Häge at the LSE. “At the level of individual member states, the allocation of a particular voting weight is not linked to any objective or neutral criterion, which raises equality and fairness issues. At the collective level, the high majority threshold makes it hard to reach decisions, potentially leading to gridlock and inefficient decision-making processes,” Häge says.
But the new system isn’t without its detractors. German think tank Centrum für Europäische Politik called the new system less democratic, and less efficient, compared to the previous. It increases the relative disadvantage of countries with a higher population, most notably Germany.
Scholars have noted interesting phenomenons that result from QMV. In “Majority Decisions: Principles and Practices“, Stephanie Novak notes that QMV creates a reluctance of ministers to be caught in an already-defeated minority position, and they are therefore more likely to compromise during the negotiation process, and to simply join the majority when the vote goes through. According to Novak, some 80% of laws that could be passed under QMV instead get passed completely without opposition.
In “Bridging qualified majority and unanimity decisionmaking in the EU“, George Tsebelis examines Lisbon Treaty article 31 (2), which seeks to pave certain decisions related to the Common Foreign Policy and Security area that could be taken through QMV, but that are instead taken in such a manner that they become unanimity decisions instead.
For these areas, Tsebelis points out, article 31(2) specifies: “If a member of the Council declares that, for vital and stated reasons of national policy, it intends to oppose the adoption of a decision to be taken by qualified majority, a vote shall not be taken. The High Representative will, in close consultation with the Member State involved, search for a solution acceptable to it. If he does not succeed, the Council may, acting by a qualified majority, request that the matter be referred to the European Council for a decision by unanimity.” By finding a consensus before the vote and then presenting a unanimous outcome, the Council is in effect building a bridge between QMV and unanimity voting.