It is a technical proposal in appearance, but decisive for the future of the European Union. During the closing ceremony of the Conference on the Future of Europe on Monday 9 May, Emmanuel Macron raised the possibility of “generalize qualified majority voting” to make decisions within the EU. An idea supported by the European Parliament and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, but which has triggered the ire of many Member States. What is this rule and why is it so important? Franceinfo sheds light on the debate.
What is qualified majority?
Qualified majority is a voting method used in particular within the Council of the EU, which brings together the ministers of the Member States on a specific theme. To be adopted by qualified majority, a text must fulfill two criteria: it must be supported by at least 55% of the Member States (i.e. 15 States out of 27 currently) and these States must represent at least 65% of the population of the EU, expose the Council of the EU.
Historically, decisions were taken unanimously within the European Community, which effectively gave a right of veto to each member country. In 1965, Charles de Gaulle had notably prevented the European Economic Community from going back on this rule, recalls The world. But with time and the European treaties (Single Act in 1986, Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997, of Nice in 2001, and above all the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007, list All Europe website), qualified majority decision-making was finally introduced and then extended to many areas: internal market, agriculture, digital, environment, etc.
Today, this is the default procedure. “When the Treaties do not specify otherwise, the Council of the EU votes by qualified majority”explains to franceinfo Sébastien Platon, professor of European constitutional law at the University of Bordeaux. On the other hand, unanimity is the rule when decisions concern most sovereign powers, such as foreign and defense policy, taxation, EU enlargement or social protection, lists All Europe website. For the time being.
What would this reform change?
During his speech, Emmanuel Macron mentioned his wish for a Europe “more efficient”. This is precisely why qualified majority was adopted: to speed up decision-making in an enlarged Europe. “Unanimity can sometimes favor the choice of the status quo in certain Member States“observes Thierry Chopin, professor of political science at the Catholic University of Lille. “The more the number of states in the EU increases, the more difficult it can be to take decisions unanimously since each country can then vetoanalyze the special adviser to the Jacques-Delors Institute, noting however that “unanimity has not prevented the adoption of ‘historic’ decisions in recent years, such as the unprecedented sanctions against Russia”.
By generalizing the qualified majority, the EU could therefore take more ambitious measures more quickly and would prevent a single grain of sand from completely jamming the machine. As for the project of European embargo on Russian gas, currently paralyzed by Hungary, which wants guarantees on its own energy supply. At the start of the Covid-19 health crisis, the common debt project at European level was thus slowed down by “frugal” countries, including Austria and the Netherlands, then blocked by Poland and Hungary.
“It would also be easier to make decisions in the area of taxation.”Thierry Chopin, professor of political science
The other side of the coin is that a State could have measures imposed that affect its most fundamental authority. “With questions of taxation or diplomacy, for example, we touch on the heart of the sovereignty of States, on subjects which are sometimes the subject of a very strong national consensus. Is France ready for the foreign policy issues are no longer taken unanimously? asks Thierry Chopin.
However, “majority decision” does not mean “imposed on recalcitrant States”. “In fact, the Council of the EU always prefers to take decisions resulting from a compromiseemphasizes Sébastien Platon. The qualified majority rule will encourage the States to seek this compromise, to let go of the ballast, because they know what they represent in terms of demography, and they know that they cannot block as much as with the rule of unanimity.”
Is it likely to enter into force?
If there was any hope, it will have been short-lived. Hours after Emmanuel Macron’s speech to the European Parliament, 13 EU member states signed a text in which they disapproved of the French proposal, denouncing “reckless and premature attempts to start a process” institutional reform. The signatory countries, including Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia or the Baltic States, affirm that the change in the treaties “has never been a goal of the Conference”that “we already have a functioning Europe” and “we don’t need to rush to make institutional reforms”.
However, to widen the use of the qualified majority, it is necessary to revise the European treaties, which requires… the unanimity of the Member States.
“As it stands and subject to further negotiations, this reform therefore has no chance of succeeding.”Sébastien Platon, Professor of European Constitutional Law
Not all Member States give reasons for their refusal in the same way. “Some have a sovereignist agenda, others have a pacifist tradition and want to avoid being embroiled in a foreign policy they disapprove of, others want to keep their veto power as a bargaining chip”, list Sébastien Platon. Difficult, therefore, to satisfy them all. However, “debate [sur la majorité qualifiée] has existed for several months or even several years within the EU”, emphasizes Thierry Chopin. The future of Europe will therefore not happen without him.