Qualified Majority Voting in the Institutions of the EU

European Integration and the Functioning of EU-Institutions

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar), 2015

13 Seiten, Note: 1,0




List of abbreviations



Qualified majority voting
Current mode of operation

Overview of the treaties touching the qualified majority voting

Evaluating the system of qualified majority voting

Changes in the system of qualified majority voting



List of tables



List of abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


The essay shows the changing of qualified majority voting in the institutions of the European Union focussing on the Council of the European Union throughout its history. Therefor not only changes concerning the legal basis – which means the treaties of the European Union and its predecessors – but developments in the member states as well will be subject of this work, touching the question of reasoning qualified majority voting. In the end a conclusion is drawn reflecting the purpose and its ways of contributing to the decision making process of the European Union with regard to roles of big and small states.


After the second world war from 1939 to 1945 the question of establishing peace on a continent previously shaken by conflicts was risen. Jean Omner Marie Gabriel Monnet, member of the French Committee of National Liberation, put forward the idea of a European federation on the 5th August 1943 during one of the committee’s meetings.

“There will be no peace in Europe, if the states are reconstituted on the basis of national sovereignty... The countries of Europe are too small to guarantee their peoples the necessary prosperity and social development. The European states must constitute themselves into a federation...” (Monnet, 1943).

Almost seven years later the French minister of foreign affairs, Robert Schumann, proposed the pooling of the Franco-German coal and steel production under a common High Authority (Schumann, 1950). His words from 9th May 1950 went down in the annals of history as the Schumann declaration.

The Benelux countries, Italy, France and the western part of the divided Germany established with the Treaty of Paris in 1951 the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Although overseeing the goods which were important for the wartime economy could not settle the animosity between France and Germany, the general supervision made new belligerent conflicts barely possible. Throughout the years the effort paid off. Economic growth increased because of the cessation of customs tariffs as well as other benefits and not only enterprises but politicians learned again to work together with each other. This was the start of an European integration process which is lasting till the present day.

With the Treaties of Rome (1958) the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) were established. “From the Merger [only one single commission and council for ECSC, EEC and Euratom] and the Budgetary Treaties of the 1970s to the Single European Act [SEA] of the 1980s [introducing new decision making procedures], and the Maastricht [establishing co-decision procedure] and Amsterdam Treaties [extension of the use of the ordinary legislative procedure] of the 1990s, a number of specific changes have been made to the formal structure and powers of the major institutions.” (De Búrca, 1999).

Qualified majority voting


When it comes to voting on legislative acts in the European Union (EU) there are three bodies that need to be named: First of all, the European Commission (COM) which has the right to propose legal acts on which the Council of the European Union, hereafter the Council, and the European Parliament (EP) decide. Focussing on the Council, three different ways of voting on regulations or directives are applied according to the issue the legal act is dealing with.

1. Unanimity
2. Simple Majority
3. Qualified Majority

Unanimity is necessary when foreign, security, defence, security policies or the topic of tax harmonisation are affected. Every minister from every member state has exactly one vote. Voting with simple majority (50%+1) is seldom. In most of the cases the “[…] Council shall act by qualified majority except where the Treaties provide otherwise.” (Europäische Gemeinschaft, 2007)

Digression: The European Council

In the European Council (EC), the institution where the heads of states and governments come together, the system of qualified majority voting (QMV) applies as well when it comes for example on electing its president for a term of 2,5 years. (Europäische Gemeinschaft, 2007) If not stated otherwise the European Council shall act on the basis of a consensus. (Europäische Gemeinschaft, 2007) Meetings of this institution take place twice are year and called EU summit, where it sets political guidelines and an impetus for European integration. The EC is not entrusted with legislative responsibilities.

Current mode of operation

The mechanism that operates qualified majority voting is driven by a hybrid engine. Starting at the 1st of November 2014 QMV is based on a double majority. On the one hand side 55% percent of the member states have to vote in favour of the legislative proposal and on the other hand side 65% of the people living in the EU need to be represented by these countries being in favour. Translating the legal language into numeral figures, 15 out of 28 member states speaking for 330,974 million persons out of 509,19 million EU citizens have to pass a bill. A blocking minority is reached when at least 4 Council members voice their opposition against the proposal.

Since the new mode of operation for the QMV just entered into force recently all the member states have the right to seek for the application of the QMV after the Treaty of Nice, which was applied till the 31st of October 2014. According to this procedure every member state has 3 up to 29 votes depending on the number of citizens it is representing in the Council of the European Union. Again the majority of countries – namely 15 – holding 255 votes out of 352 in total are necessary to adopt a legislative act. In this case 93 votes need to be gathered in order to block a proposal.

Regardless of these two procedures that will be applied simultaneously until the 31st of March 2017 when the QMV of the Treaty of Nice expires, the protection of minorities is of high importance for the Council and its members: The Ioannina compromise was, is and will be applied according to the 7. Declaration on Article 9 C (4) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and Article 205(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

If in the first period from 2014 to 2017 three quarters of the necessary blocking minority, either expressed in the number of member states or in the amount of EU citizens, state that they are not in favour of adopting a legislative act by qualified majority, the Council shall work on finding a consensus about how to deal with this case.

After 2017 the procedure in general stays the same. The only change is that only 55% of the represented people or 55% of the Council members of the blocking minority are then necessary to postpone the draft legislative actions.

Digression: The origin of the Ioannina compromise

When Austria, Finland and Sweden became member of the European Union in 1995 not only the amount of votes for the QMV in the Council of the European Union increased but for clearing a hurdle of a blocking minority 26 votes were needed. A few member states (i.e. Great Britain and Spain) had been of the opinion that one should stick to 23-votes-barrier prior to the event. Otherwise their national influence would decline against the backdrop of the enlargement. On the 29th of March 1994 the Council members met in Ioannina on the island of Corfu where they agreed on the suspensory force of 23 votes expressing their discontent during the legislative process. Although a blocking minority might not be successfully reached there then had to be further negotiations. (Grupp, 2012) (Breier, 2010)

Overview of the treaties touching the qualified majority voting

With the Single European Act which entered into force on the 1st of July 1987 amending the EEC Treaty a new system of voting was established: the qualified majority voting. Since the start of the European integration process decision making had been based on unanimity with the consequence that stagnation was the result every time a member state putted a veto on an outcome of negotiations.

Digression: The policy of the empty chair

On the 1st of July 1965 the French state president Charles de Gaulle started to block the EC. The background to this behaviour was the political decision to increase the pursuit of national interests on the European level. In this case the planned establishment of majority voting in terms of the Common Agricultural Policy would have lead to a declining French influence in the financing of this policy. France did not participate in the Council meetings for more than six months. (Siegl, 2013) (Borchardt, 2010) With the Luxembourg Compromise made in mid-January 1966 the crisis was solved. The outcome of the agreement pushed forward by Luxembourg’s prime minister Pierre Werner stated that there had to be negotiations until all parties reached a consensus as soon as the heads of states see their vital interests effected. (Danescu, 2014)

Although the system of qualified majority voting was integrated into the Single European Act the member states agreed on not using this tool to pass legislation, following the compromise achieved by Luxemburg’s prime minister Werner (cf. digression sup.). One could describe it as an ‘gentleman’s agreement’. “If an observer were to attend Council meetings he or she would notice next to no evidence of qualified-majority voting. It is very unusual for presidencies to ask delegations to vote. The official explanation is that presidencies will seek consensus around the table and will thus avoid isolating colleagues. This expression of noblesse oblige is, of course, very welcome but is only part of the explanation. Qualified-majority voting is like the sword of Damocles hanging above the negotiation table. It is in the mind of everyone. The Presidency, Commission, and delegations assess the state of negotiation – almost permanently and automatically – in terms of whether there is a qualified majority or a blocking minority. [...] A lack of official voting [...] does not mean at all that the qualified-majority system is absent, nor does it mean that finding consensus is the general rule.” (Leendert, 2004) (Novak, 2011) With the Treaty of Amsterdam entering into force on the 1st of May 1996, some changes concerning the legislative process were made increasing the power of the Parliament and opened up system for member states willing to deepen their integration with the tool of ‘closer cooperation’. Cf. (Edward & Lane, 2013) The Treaty of Nice, which was signed on the 26th of February 2001 and entered into force in 2003, brought new provision concerning the qualified majority voting system with it. The waging of votes changes with regard to the upcoming enlargement process. Cf. (Edward & Lane, 2013) As soon as the Treaty of Nice was ratified by the Irish, a new intergovernmental conference came together which ended in signing the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe in Rome in 2004. In the end “referendums held in France and the Netherlands […], a significant majority in each […] voted against.” (Edward & Lane, 2013). With the aim not to loose the momentum with which Europe was moving at that time, further negotiations transferred the failed attempted of establishing a Constitution for Europe into the Lisbon Treaty. It entered into force on the 1st December 2009. The new provisions defining the qualified majority voting are to be explained sup..

Evaluating the system of qualified majority voting

It is commonly known that there is a digressive proportionality in the European Parliament according to article 14 (2/1) TEU.

Referring to the decision of the German Constitutional Court, the Council of the European Union has to be considered as one institution representing the ‘Masters of the Treaties’ although all state representatives on a ministerial level come together in different configurations. (Breier, 2010) For the simple reason that the European Union is not a federal state the Council cannot be second legislative chamber. This is as well expressed in the principle of equality among the member states which leads to non proportional representation of the countries. (2009) In other words: Qualified majority voting in the Council is as well subject to the principle of digressive proportionality.

Changes in the system of qualified majority voting

In a first step a table lists the member states ranked according to the year when they joint the European Union and within following the alphabet. Further the number of votes is shown and how they changed throughout the process of enlargement of the European Union. (Table 1: Number of vote throughout the enlargement of the European Union) Afterwards the number of inhabitants represented by one vote over the years of the enlargement is shown, setting Germany, Greece, Finland, Lithuania und Croatia as example. (Table 2: Amount of population per vote throughout the enlargement of the European Union) The third and final step describes the outcome of the research made and what to see in the figures.


Ende der Leseprobe aus 13 Seiten


Qualified Majority Voting in the Institutions of the EU
European Integration and the Functioning of EU-Institutions
ISBN (eBook)
536 KB
European Union, EU, Qualified Majority Voting, Votes, Polls
Arbeit zitieren
York Wilhelm Scheile (Autor), 2015, Qualified Majority Voting in the Institutions of the EU, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/334535


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