A qualified majority (QM) is the number of votes required in the Council for a decision to be adopted when issues are being debated on the basis of Article 16 of the Treaty on European Union and Article 238 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Under the ordinary legislative procedure, the Council acts by qualified majority, in codecision with the European Parliament.
The Treaty of Nice introduced a qualified majority system based on a new weighting of votes and a “demographic verification” clause. The number of votes allocated to each Member State was re-weighted, in particular for those States with larger populations, so that the legitimacy of the Council's decisions can be safeguarded in terms of their demographic representativeness. After 1 January 2007 and following enlargement of the Union, the qualified majority increased to 255 votes out of a total of 345, representing a majority of the Member States. Moreover, a Member State may request verification that the QM represents at least 62% of the total population of the Union. If this is not the case, the decision is not adopted.
With the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon a new system known as “double majority” was introduced. It will enter into force on 1 November 2014. The Nice system shall remain applicable during the transition period up to 31 October 2014. In accordance with the Treaty, the new qualified majority corresponds to at least 55% of the members of the Council, comprising at least 15 of them and representing at least 65% of the European population. A blocking minority may be formed comprising at least four members of the Council.
As the various institutional reforms have taken effect, qualified majority voting has replaced unanimous voting. The Treaty of Lisbon continues in the same vein by extending the qualified majority to issues which were up until now governed by unanimity, such as external border control, asylum, and the negotiation of international agreements on trade matters.