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The Union's decision-making procedures


The qualified majority


Introduction
A new qualified majority system
The "bridge" clauses
The extension of the qualified majority vote
Summary table

INTRODUCTION

The extension of the qualified majority vote is a central element in the institutional reform of the European Union (EU) in the framework of enlargement. Envisaged by the founding treaties and extended to new rules with each reform of the treaties, the extension of the qualified majority vote is of crucial importance in an enlarged Union, since unanimity will be increasingly difficult to obtain.

The Convention, in its conclusions, proposes a completely new system of qualified majority voting which repeals the existing system (allocation of votes to Member States and definition of a qualified majority threshold) and intends to replace it by a double majority system: majority of the Member States and of the population of the Union.

Besides, the draft constitutional treaty proposes to extend the qualified majority vote to approximately 20 additional provisions. Finally, a new switchover clause will make it possible to make the transition to the qualified majority vote in certain areas, after a final unanimous vote at the European Council .

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A NEW QUALIFIED MAJORITY SYSTEM

Article I-24 of the draft constitution defines the new qualified majority system as follows: the qualified majority is achieved when a decision is approved by the majority of Member States, representing at least three-fifths of the population of the Union. In cases in which the European Council or the Council of Ministers do not act on the basis of a proposal of the Commission or on the initiative of the Minister of Foreign Affairs , the qualified majority is achieved if the two-thirds of the Member States represent three-fifths of the population of the Union.

Hence the Convention's proposals abandon the weighting of votes at the Council and replace it by a simple and flexible system which, during subsequent enlargements, will dispense with lengthy negotiations on the allocation of votes to the Member States and the definition of the qualified majority threshold. This new system takes into account the dual nature of the Union which is at once a Union of States and of peoples. Besides, equality between the Member States is respected, since each State has a vote, while taking account of their different demographic weight.

The Convention proposes postponing the application of this new system until 1 November 2009, the date of commencement of the new Commission which will be set up after the European elections of 2009. Between 2004 and 2009 the current system enshrined in the Nice Treaty and laid down in the Accession Treaty with the ten new Member States will be applied. The Convention suggests enshrining these rules in the "Protocol on the representation of citizens in the European Parliament and the weighting of votes at the European Council and the Council of Ministers" which will be annexed to the Constitution.

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THE "BRIDGE" CLAUSES

The Convention proposes a general "bridge" to extend the qualified majority vote to the cases which, pursuant to the draft constitutional treaty, remain subject to a unanimous vote. Where the Constitution provides in Part III for the Council of Ministers to act unanimously in a given area, the European Council can adopt, on its own initiative and after a period of consultation of at least six months, by unanimity a European decision allowing the Council of Ministers to act by qualified majority in that area. The European Council must inform the national parliaments at least four months before a decision is taken.

To the same end, a decision of the European Council taken after a period of consultation of at least six months, may, when the Constitution allows the adoption of laws or framework laws in accordance with a special legislative procedure, provide that the ordinary legislative procedure be applied, which also implies the adoption of a qualified majority act. In the case in question, Parliament is consulted and the national parliaments are informed.

This clause will make it possible to switch from the qualified majority vote and the ordinary legislative procedure after a final unanimous vote at the European Council, without having to revise the constitution and have it ratified by all Member States. Hence this "bridge" opens the way to the future extension of the qualified majority vote.

The draft constitutional treaty also proposes other specific "bridges" in certain Union policies: Article I-39 allows the European Council to decide to switch to the qualified majority for certain rules governing common foreign and security policy .

In the framework of reinforced cooperation, the Council, voting unanimously with the votes only of the Member States concerned, may decide to act by qualified majority. The Member States which are involved in reinforced cooperation are thus free to extend application of the qualified majority vote inter se.

Finally, Articles III-104 (social policy), III-130 (environmental policy) and III-170 (judicial cooperation in civil matters) contain provisions which allow the Council of Ministers to opt for the qualified majority.

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EXTENSION OF THE QUALIFIED MAJORITY VOTE

The draft constitutional treaty proposes extending the qualified majority vote to approximately 20 provisions. In many cases, this goes in hand with application of the ordinary legislative procedure .

Internal market

Article III-21
The Convention proposes that the ordinary legislative procedure be applicable to questions concerning the freedom of movement for workers. This implies the qualified majority vote.

Article III-26
The draft Constitution provides that the ordinary legislative procedure shall be applicable to questions concerning freedom of establishment as regards taking up and pursuing activities as self-employed persons. This implies the qualified majority vote.

Article III-62
The Convention proposes that measures relating to administrative cooperation or to combating tax fraud and tax evasion in the field of indirect taxes may be adopted by qualified majority, after the Council of Ministers has taken a unanimous decision.

Economic and monetary policy

Article III-77
The draft constitutional treaty proposes applying the ordinary legislative procedure to confer specific tasks upon the European Central Bank (ECB), notably as regards the prudential supervision of credit institutions. This implies the qualified majority vote.

Article III-79
The Convention proposes that certain provisions of the statute of the European System of Central Banks (ESCB) and the ECB may be amended by law, which implies the qualified majority vote.

Cohesion policy

Article III-119
As regards cohesion policy, the Convention proposes that a law shall define the tasks, objectives and organisation of the structural funds. Application of the qualified majority vote will be postponed until 1 January 2007 i.e. the next planning period from 2007 to 2013 will still be adopted on a unanimous basis.

Transport policy

Article III-134
The draft constitutional treaty provides that a common transport policy be implemented via a European law, which implies the qualified majority vote.

Area of freedom, security and justice

Article III-164
The Convention proposes that the Council of Ministers adopt European regulations to ensure administrative cooperation between the relevant departments of the Member States and between those departments and the Commission. The Council of Ministers shall act by qualified majority.

Article III-166
The draft constitutional treaty provides that the Union shall develop a policy with regard to border checks. A framework law shall lay down the particular rules, which implies the qualified majority vote.

Article III-167
As regards a common policy on asylum and temporary protection, a law or framework law shall lay down measures for a common European asylum system, which implies the qualified majority vote.

Article III-168
The Convention proposes that a law or framework law establish measures with a view to developing a common immigration policy. This implies the qualified majority vote, with one exception: Member States will retain the right to determine volumes of admission of third country nationals coming from third countries to their territory in order to seek work.

Article III-171
The draft constitutional treaty provides that, for judicial cooperation in criminal matters , a law or framework law may establish measures to ensure mutual recognition and approximation of the laws and regulations of the Member States. This implies the qualified majority vote at the Council of Ministers.

Article III-172
The Convention proposes that a law or framework law may establish minimum rules concerning the definition of criminal offences and sanctions, which implies the qualified majority vote.

Article III-173
The Convention proposes that a law or framework law may establish measures to promote crime prevention, which implies the qualified majority vote at the Council of Ministers.

Article III-174
As regards Eurojust, the Convention proposes a law to determine its structure, workings, scope of action and tasks, which implies the use of the qualified majority vote.

Article III-176
As regards non-operational police cooperation, a law or framework law may establish the necessary measures, with the Council acting by qualified majority. However, the Convention has maintained the unanimous vote as regards measures concerning operational cooperation between the authorities referred to in this article.

Article III-177
In accordance with the Convention's proposals, a law or framework law may determine Europol's structure, operation, field of action and tasks, which implies the qualified majority vote.

Culture

Article III-181
In the field of culture, the Convention proposes that the Union may, via a law or framework law, establish incentive actions, excluding any harmonisation of the laws and regulations, which implies the qualified majority vote.

Common foreign and security policy (CFSP)

Article III-201
Generally, the principle of unanimity is maintained in the field of CFSP . However, the Convention proposes that the Council act by qualified majority when adopting decisions on Union actions or positions, decisions taken on a proposal made by the Minister of External Affairs, decisions implementing a Union action or position, and decisions concerning the appointment of a special representative. A "bridge" clause makes it possible to extend the qualified majority vote to other, supplementary cases.

Common defence and security policy

Article III-212
The Convention proposes creating a European Armaments Agency. A European decision of the Council of Ministers shall define the Agency's statute, seat and operational rules, the Council acting by qualified majority.

Legal bases which remain subject to unanimity

Certain legal bases will however remain subject to a unanimous vote either totally or partly, notably non-discrimination and citizenship, taxation, social policy, most decisions concerning common external and Community policy, certain provisions concerning immigration and the conclusion of international trade agreements. In these cases, the Convention has not been able to reach agreement making it possible to switch over to the qualified majority vote.

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SUMMARY TABLE

Articles Subject Comments
I-24 The qualified majority New provisions
I-39 Common foreign and security policy Significant changes
III-21 Free movement of workers, social benefits -
III-26 Freedom of establishment, access to self-employment -
III-62 Administrative cooperation and combating tax fraud and tax evasion in the field of indirect taxes -
III-77 Specific tasks vested in the European Central Bank -
III-79 Amendments to the statute of the European System of Central Banks -
III-104 Social policy -
III-119 Definition of the tasks and objectives of the structural funds -
III-130 Environment -
III-134 Derogation in the field of transport -
III-164 Administrative cooperation in the area of freedom, security and justice -
III-166 Border checks -
III-167 Asylum -
III-168 Immigration -
III-170 Judicial cooperation in civil matters -
III-171 Judicial cooperation in criminal matters -
III-172 Approximation of criminal offences and sanctions -
III-173 Incentive measures in the field of crime prevention -
III-174 Eurojust -
III-176 Non-operational police cooperation -
III-177 Europol -
III-181 Laws, framework laws and recommendations in the field of culture -
III-201 Qualified majority in the field of common foreign and security policy -
III-212 Statute and seat of the European Armaments Agency -
III-328 Qualified majority in reinforced cooperation -
Protocol on the representation of citizens in the European Parliament and the weighting of votes at the European Council and the Council of Ministers Transitional provisions -

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The fact sheets are not legally binding on the European Commission. They do not claim to be exhaustive and do not represent an official interpretation of the text of the Convention.


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