Introduction

Qualified majority voting is one of the two main1 methods of voting in the Council of the EU, and also other EU institutions which have one representative for each Member State: e.g. the Board of Supervisors of the European Banking Authority.

The alternative to qualified majority voting is simple majority voting, with one vote per member state. The definition of qualified majority voting is due to change on 1 November 2014 under the terms of the Treaty on European Union (the Lisbon Treaty).

Qualified Majority Voting prior to 1 November 2014

Under the current system of qualified majority voting at the time of writing, each Member State is allocated a number of votes based on the size of its population2: the largest countries have 27-29 votes; medium-sized countries have 7-14 votes; and small countries 3 or 4 votes.

There are 345 votes in total; therefore a decision requires at least 255 votes in favour to be adopted. (Another way of stating this is that a blocking minority may be established with 345 - 255 + 1 = 91 votes.)

Furthermore, a Member State can request verification that the qualified majority represents at least 62% of the total population of the EU: if this is not the case, the decision is not adopted. (Therefore a blocking minority may also consist of >38% of the population of the EU.)

Qualified Majority Voting from 1 November 2014 (the ‘double majority’ system)

The new system is set out in Article 16(4) of the Lisbon Treaty, subject to the transitional arrangements described below.

Under the new system, for a decision to pass by a qualified majority in the Council of the EU 

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The member states of the Eurozone will hold both a simple and a qualifying majority under the post-1 November 2014 system. (Under the present system they do not hold a qualifying majority.) 

Transitional Arrangements

The transitional period will last from 1 November 2014 until 31 March 2017 inclusive.

The details for the transitional arrangements are set out in Article 3 of Protocol no. 36 on transitional provisions in the Lisbon Treaty.

During the transitional period the new, post-1 November 2014 system will be in effect as described above, but any member of the Council of the EU may request that a decision requiring a qualified majority vote is taken under the old, pre-1 November 2014 system instead (including the old, 2004-2014 vote allocations).

Members of the Council of the EU may also request an ‘Ioannina compromise’: see below.

An Ioannina Compromise

An Ioannina compromise is where members of the Council of the EU representing a certain percentage of

  • the number of members; or
  • the size of the population;

needed to achieve a blocking minority in a qualified majority vote may signal their disagreement in advance – effectively voting against holding the vote – in order that the Council of the EU might first try to find an agreeable compromise ‘within a reasonable time’ before going to the vote.

After 1 April 2017 the percentage needed to ‘activate’ an Ioannina compromise will change:

  • Before 1 April 2017, one would need either
    • 69 votes (i.e. 75% of a blocking minority (91 votes)); or
    • 28.5% (i.e. 75% of a blocking minority (38%)); whereas 
  • After 1 April 2017, one will need either
    • 8 members of the Council of the EU (i.e. 55% of a blocking minority (13 members – the smallest blocking minority that would prevent the majority from obtaining the required 55% of members in favour)); or
    • 19.25% of the population of the EU (i.e. 55% of a blocking minority (100%-65%=35%)).

Reinforced Qualified Majority

In some circumstances (e.g. police and judicial co-operation), the Council of the EU can act on its own without a Commission proposal. In this case, any decision taken requires a ‘reinforced qualified majority’, consisting of at least two thirds of members of the Council of the EU.

Under the new, post-1 November 2014 system, a reinforced qualified majority will require at least

  • 72% of the members of the Council of the EU (i.e. 21 of 28 members); and
  • 65% of the population of the EU. 

Appendix: tables and figures

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At least 15 members of the Council are required for a qualified majority vote; however, at least 16 members will be needed in order fulfil the additional requirement to have at least 55% of members.

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