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Voting Behaviour in the EU Council

Published Thursday, May 23, 2013

This Note looks at the voting behaviour of Member States in the EU Council when a Qualified Majority is required for the adoption of an EU measure, and at other factors which may influence the outcome of a QMV decision. It also considers the UK’s voting record and possible future scenarios when the voting rules change and the Eurozone expands.

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The EU Council adopts legislation, usually with the European Parliament, in a procedure called the Ordinary Legislative Procedure (co-decision). Votes in the Council are weighted roughly according to the size of the Member State. When voting is by a Qualified Majority, which is the default procedure since the Lisbon Treaty came into force, around 74% of the total number of votes is required to adopt legislation.

Analyses of voting behaviour in the Council tend to conclude that even where Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) is required, the Council prefers to reach a consensus. The Council does not vote formally in many cases where QMV is required, and much of the decision-making is believed to be done before proposals even reach the Council, in the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) and Council working groups. Other factors may influence the outcome of a QMV decision, such as the preference of the Presidency, coalition forming, the ‘shadow of the vote’, informal bilateral contacts and ‘horse-trading’.

Although the Council publishes voting records and other information about its meetings, the lack of transparency in EU decision-making has made the study of voting behaviour both problematic and fascinating.

Studies reveal that in general the UK votes more often than other EU Member States against EU measures, but even so, rarely votes against proposals.

Commons Briefing papers SN06646

Author: Vaughne Miller

Topics: Economic and monetary union, EU Council of Ministers

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