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Comparison of voting weights
Population in millions on 1 January 2009 [1]
Country Population Nice Penrose
 Germany 82m 16.5% 29 8.4% 9 9.3%
 France 64m 12.9% 29 8.4% 8 8.2%
 UK 62m 12.4% 29 8.4% 8 8.2%
 Italy 60m 12.0% 29 8.4% 8 8.2%
 Spain 45m 9.0% 27 7.8% 7 7.2%
 Poland 38m 7.6% 27 7.8% 6 6.2%
 Romania 21m 4.3% 14 4.1% 5 5.2%
 Netherlands 17m 3.3% 13 3.8% 4 4.1%
 Greece 11m 2.2% 12 3.5% 3 3.1%
 Portugal 11m 2.1% 12 3.5% 3 3.1%
 Belgium 11m 2.1% 12 3.5% 3 3.1%
 Czech Rep. 10m 2.1% 12 3.5% 3 3.1%
 Hungary 10m 2.0% 12 3.5% 3 3.1%
 Sweden 9.2m 1.9% 10 2.9% 3 3.1%
 Austria 8.3m 1.7% 10 2.9% 3 3.1%
 Bulgaria 7.6m 1.5% 10 2.9% 3 3.1%
 Denmark 5.5m 1.1% 7 2.0% 2 2.1%
 Slovakia 5.4m 1.1% 7 2.0% 2 2.1%
 Finland 5.3m 1.1% 7 2.0% 2 2.1%
 Ireland 4.5m 0.9% 7 2.0% 2 2.1%
 Lithuania 3.3m 0.7% 7 2.0% 2 2.1%
 Latvia 2.2m 0.5% 4 1.2% 2 2.1%
 Slovenia 2.0m 0.4% 4 1.2% 2 2.1%
 Estonia 1.3m 0.3% 4 1.2% 1 1.0%
 Cyprus 0.87m 0.2% 4 1.2% 1 1.0%
 Luxembourg 0.49m 0.1% 4 1.2% 1 1.0%
 Malta 0.41m 0.1% 3 0.9% 1 1.0%
 EU 498m 100% 345 100% 97 100%
European Union

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The procedures for voting in the Council of the European Union are described in the treaties of the EU. The Council of the European Union was instituted under this name in the Maastricht Treaty. The voting procedures defined there were changed in subsequent treaties (Treaty of Amsterdam, Treaty of Nice and the treaties of accession) to accommodate the growing number of member states in the EU and are currently based on the Treaty of Nice. They will be superseded by the Treaty of Lisbon.


Decisions not requiring unanimity

Here is an overview of the formerly used, currently used and proposed voting systems employed in the Council of the European Union. The following only applies to certain legislation while others require unanimity among all Council members. When the Council is not acting on a proposal of the Commission, a higher threshold is used to pass legislation.


Treaty of Maastricht (1993-1999)

Treaty of Amsterdam (1999-2003)

Treaty of Nice

  • To pass: Majority of countries (50% or 67%) and votes (74%) and population (62%)
  • To block: Condition to pass a vote not achieved

This is the currently applicable voting system. According to the procedure, each member state has a fixed number of votes. The number allocated to each country is roughly determined by its population (see table on the right), but progressively weighted in favor of smaller countries. To pass a vote, both of the following conditions must apply to establish qualified majority voting (QMV) – the bloc's key way of decision-making in the absence of a consensus:

  • the proposal must be backed by a majority of member states (or two thirds in certain cases: see below);
  • the proposal must be supported by 255 votes from a total of 345 — about 73.9% of the votes.

Furthermore, a member may[2] request the verification of the population condition (which is then also required for the resolution to be adopted):

  • the countries supporting the proposal must represent at least 62% of the total EU population.

The population requirement is almost always already implied by the condition on the number of votes. The rare exceptions to this may occur in certain cases when a proposal is backed by exactly three of the six most populous member states but not including Germany, that is, three of France, UK, Italy, Spain and Poland, and by all or nearly all of the 21 other members.

Furthermore, when the European Council is not acting on a proposal of the Commission, the qualified majority requires backing by two thirds (rather than a simple majority) of the member states.[3]

Note that mechanisms by which the Commission makes a proposal may not require weighted votes. For example, the Anti-Dumping Advisory Committee (ADAC) can approve a proposal to impose tariffs based on a simple, unweighted majority. Since this simple majority vote leads to a Commission proposal to the Council, the simple majority effectively requires a qualified majority to overturn it (because overturning the recommendation of the ADAC means voting against a Commission proposal). This greatly increases the power of small member states in such circumstances.

The declarations of the conference which adopted the treaty of Nice contained contradictory statements concerning qualified majority voting (QMV) after the enlargement of the European Union to 25 and 27 members: one declaration[4] specified that the qualifying majority of votes would increase to a maximum of 73.4%, contradicting another declaration[5] which specified a qualifying majority of 258 votes (74.78%) after enlargement to 27 countries. But the treaties of accession following the Treaty of Nice clarified the actual required majority.

Treaty of Lisbon

Art. 16 of the Treaty on the European Union as amended by the Treaty of Lisbon stipulates that the Nice Treaty Council voting arrangements will apply until 31 October 2014. After that period, the following rules will be used; however, until 31 March 2017, any Member-State can request that the Nice rules are used for a particular vote.

  • To pass: Majority of countries (55% or 72%) representing 65% of the population or condition to block not met
  • To block: At least 4 countries against the proposal or in cases where, under the Treaties, not all members participate the minimum number of members representing more than 35% of the population of the participating Member States, plus one member are against the proposal

The Constitution envisaged the "double majority" system for the QMV which according to some countries better reflects the true size of populations and at the same time acknowledges the smaller member states' fears of being overruled by the larger countries. The Treaty of Lisbon has adopted this method.

The second condition of at least 4 countries against the proposal is to ensure that the most populous Member States cannot block decisions and is important in 10 different voting scenarios where legislation requiring QMV can be passed although the population requirement isn't fulfilled and all member states except:

  • Germany and France and one of UK, Italy, Spain or Poland
  • Germany and UK and one of Italy, Spain or Poland
  • Germany and Italy and one of Spain or Poland
  • France and UK and Italy

are for the proposal. In practice one has to take into account the political likelihood for each minority.

Penrose method (proposed)

  • To pass: Majority of votes (61.4 %)
  • To block: Condition to pass a vote not achieved

Poland proposed the Penrose method (colloquially called the "square root" system) which would narrow the weighting of votes between the largest and smallest countries in terms of population. The Czech Republic supported this method to an extent, but has warned it would not back a Polish veto on this matter. All the other states remained opposed.[6] After previously refusing to discuss the issue, the German government agreed to include it for discussion at the June council.[7] The given percentage is the game theoretical optimal threshold [8 ], and is known as the "Jagiellonian Compromise" [9].

Future provisions

One of the key sticking points before the European Council meeting in June 2007 was Poland's demand for a change in the proposed voting system in the Council of the European Union. After hard negotiations the European Summit eventually agreed on a compromise in the early morning of June 23, 2007. According to the compromise, the current Nice treaty voting rules remain in place until 2014. Between 2014 and 2017 a transitional phase is to take place where the new qualified majority voting rules apply (see above), but where the old Nice treaty voting weights can be applied when a member state wishes so. Also from 2014 a new version of the 1994 "Ioannina Compromise" will take effect, which allows small minorities of EU states to call for re-examination of EU decisions they do not like.[10]

Decisions requiring unanimity

At present, QMV is used to pass certain legislation while others require unanimity among all Council members. Under the Treaty of Lisbon, which will enter into force in December 2009, decisions in 54 [11] more policy areas will be taken using QMV, leaving only key, sensitive issues to be decided unanimously (including tax, social policy, defence, foreign policy and treaty revision).

Supporters argue this change will be necessary in order to streamline decision-making and prevent gridlock in a newly enlarged European Union. Others see the change as a loss of sovereignty from individual member states, as it effectively abolishes the national veto in many areas.

See also

External links


  1. ^ Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division (2009) (.PDF). World Population Prospects, Table A.1. 2008 revision. United Nations. Retrieved 2009-11-06.  
  2. ^ Article 3 of the Treaty of Nice, passim.
  3. ^ Article 205 of the EC Treaty and Articles 23 and 34 of the EU Treaty.
  4. ^ Declaration 21 in
  5. ^ Declaration 20, ibid.
  6. ^ James G. Neuger (18 June 2007). "Merkel Sees Snags Over EU Treaty as Poland Holds Firm (Update1)". Bloomberg. Retrieved 2007-06-26.  
  7. ^ Renata Goldirova (20 June 2007). "Germany gives ear to Poland in 'Treaty of Lisbon' talks". EU Observer. Retrieved 2007-06-26.  
  8. ^
  9. ^ Physics World 2006; 19(3):35-37.
  10. ^ Honor Mahony (23 June 2007). "EU leaders scrape treaty deal at 11th hour". EU Observer. Retrieved 2007-06-26.  
  11. ^ (Irish) Department of Foreign Affairs (9 August 2008). "The EU Reform Treaty White Paper" (PDF). (Irish) Department of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 2008-08-09.  


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