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Extension of voting by qualified majority and the ordinary legislative procedure

INTRODUCTION

The Treaty of Lisbon aims at modernising and improving the decision-making process of the European Union (EU). In a Union enlarged to 27 Member States, unanimity has become more difficult to reach and there are increased risks of blocking The Treaty of Lisbon therefore extends voting by qualified majority to a large number of policy areas. Its objective is to contribute to building Europe by facilitating decision-making at institutional level.

The Treaty of Lisbon extended voting by qualified majority to several provisions of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU).

  • directly, stating the cases where the European Council or the Council is to act by qualified majority;
  • indirectly, by extending the ordinary legislative procedure to new areas.

With the same objective of improving the decision-making process, the Treaty of Lisbon also makes changes as regards the actual definition of qualified majority.

INSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS

Following the institutional reforms of the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Council now acts by qualified majority when:

  • electing the President of the European Council (Article 15 of the TEU);
  • adopting the Decision establishing Council configurations (Article 16 of the TEU);
  • appointing the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (Article 18 of the TEU);
  • adopting the Decision on the Presidency of the Council (Article 236 of the TFEU);
  • appointing the President, Vice-President and members of the Executive Board of the European Central Bank (Article 283 of the TFEU).

The Council now also rules by qualified majority in decisions relating to:

  • amendments to the Statute of the Court of Justice of the EU and the creation of the specialised courts (Article 257 and 281 of the TFEU);
  • authorisation of withdrawal agreements concluded between a Member State and the EU (Article 50 of the TEU);
  • the definition of rules and principles relating to the implementing powers of the Commission (Article 291 of the TFEU).

AREA OF FREEDOM, SECURITY AND JUSTICE

The Treaty of Lisbon considerably reinforces the area of freedom, security and justice established by the EU. Measures taken in this area were generally adopted by unanimity by the Council. The ordinary legislative procedure now applies to many such measures. The objective is to improve attachment to fundamental social rights and reinforce the legitimacy of the EU’s action in this area through the intervention of the European Parliament and the extension of voting by qualified majority. The ordinary legislative procedure now applies to measures concerning:

  • policies on border checks and immigration (Articles 77, 78 and 79 of the TFEU);
  • judicial cooperation in civil matters (Article 81 of the TFEU);
  • police cooperation (Articles 87 and 88 of the TFEU);
  • judicial cooperation in criminal matters (Articles 82, 83, 84 and 85 of the TFEU); voting by qualified majority has been extended to Articles 82 and 83 by means of two so-called ‘emergency brake’ clauses: a Member State may appeal to the European Council if it considers that there is a threat to the fundamental principles of its judicial systems. The legislative procedure is then suspended until the European Council requests that the Commission make a new proposal or decides to reinstate the procedure taking account of the observations made.

COMMON FOREIGN AND SECURITY POLICY (CFSP)

Voting by unanimity remains the rule of principle for decisions taken in the area of CFSP. Article 31 of the TEU nevertheless sets out four exceptions to this rule – the Council shall adopt by a qualified majority:

  • decisions defining Union actions or positions on the basis of a European Council Decision;
  • decisions defining Union actions or positions proposed by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy;
  • decisions implementing Decisions which define Union actions or positions in the area of the CFSP;
  • the appointment of a special representative proposed by the High Representative.

A specific passerelle clause has also been introduced to enable the Council to act by qualified majority regarding other types of decision. The European Council must first adopt, by unanimity, a decision authorising this widening of the scope of the qualified majority.

Furthermore, the Treaty of Lisbon creates two new instruments the procedure for which is laid down by the Council by qualified majority:

  • the CFSP start-up fund (Article 41 of the TEU);
  • the European Defence Agency (Article 45 of the TEU).

Permanent structured cooperation between Member States with strong military capabilities may also be organised. The Council shall then adopt by qualified majority a decision laying down the procedure for such cooperation (Article 46 of the TEU).

OTHER POLICY AREAS

Most European policies are concerned by the extension of voting by qualified majority. Hence, the ordinary legislative procedure now applies to the following areas:

  • the free movement of workers (Article 48 du TFEU); an ‘emergency brake’ clause has been created to extend qualified majority voting to this area. The principle is the same as for the two emergency brake clauses in the area of freedom, security and justice – the legislative procedure may be suspended if a Member State considers that its social security system is threatened;
  • transport (Article 91 of the TFEU);
  • approximation of legislation (Article 118 of the TFEU);
  • monetary policy (Articles 129 and 133 of the TFEU);
  • education, vocational training, youth and sport (Article 165 of the TFEU);
  • culture (Article 167 of the TFEU);
  • research (Articles 182 and 189 of the TFEU);
  • energy (Article 194 of the TFEU);
  • tourism (Article 195 of the TFEU);
  • civil protection (Article 196 of the TFEU);
  • administrative cooperation (Article 197 of the TFEU);
  • common trade policy (Article 207 of the TFEU);
  • financial cooperation with third countries (Article 213 of the TFEU);
  • humanitarian aid (Article 214 of the TFEU).

This summary is for information only. It is not designed to interpret or replace the reference document, which remains the only binding legal text.

Last updated: 19.02.2010
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