Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, Part 3

(This is part 3 of a piece on the European Union's foreign policy, how it works, and what it is capable of. Part 1 and 2 are here.)

The EU’s Decision Making Process

The Council of the European Union is the primary decision making body within the European Union, and is the most powerful legislative chamber within the organization.[1] The Treaty of Maastricht established a three pillar system within the European community, each pillar representing a separate aspect of European Union policy. The pillars include “Community,” which has to do with social and economic matters, the “Common Foreign and Security Policy” concerns military matters, and “Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters” which focuses on crime and legal justice policy.[2] As for the Council’s voting technique for deciding legislation, it uses three separate methods within the decision making process:

1. Unanimity, as in consensus within the Council on an issue. This used to be the normal decision making method, but after the SEA, situations using this method have “greatly reduced the circumstances in which a unanimity requirement applies and it is now largely confined to policy direction decisions” dealing with financial decisions.[3]

2. Simple Majority Voting, or when all states cast a single vote, and is generally used in procedural areas, specifically with antidumping and anti-subsidy tariffs, and requires a majority of members to vote in favor of a specific item.[4]

3. Qualified Majority Voting (or QMV), is used to some degree with all three pillars of the EU, specifically in social and research policy and will be used in new treaty articles combating fraud, transparency, statistics and data protection.[5] QMV will also be used on foreign policy matters. This weighted voting method was designed to make the European system as fair as possible for all the states involved with the Union, while still giving larger nations representation comparable to their size. QMV is generally based on the population size of each nation, yet is adjusted to favor smaller countries which have significantly smaller populations than the larger states in the Union (like Luxemburg and Belgium).[6] This system of voting is at the heart of the European integration process, and is a clear example of how complex the organization is required to be to make its members content and have their concerns adequately reflected in the association. Neill Nugent writes, “The European Union Treaty stipulates that unanimity in the EU Council is needed to entrust policy-making powers to the EU in a certain number of key areas. In other areas, QMV is sufficient.”[7] Exactly what aspects of the European Union will be decided by this weighted voting method is passionately debated, as are the number of votes a specific nation will be given at the Council, and what percentage of votes must be cast for a proposal to pass. As demonstrated during the Amsterdam summit in 1997, separate political parties hoped to keep QMV from being used on issues of state control.[8] At Amsterdam, an agreement was made that a reweighting of votes and what could be voted on using QMV would occur with the following treaty, the Treaty of Nice in 2001.

As of 2005, with the enlargement of the EU to 27 member states, The Treaty of Nice stipulates that a qualified majority consists of at least fifteen member states, at least 55 percent of the member states, and at least 62 percent of the total EU to vote in favor of an issue presented to the Council.[9] This means 255 out of the 345 Council votes will be required to pass legislation (or roughly, 74% of the Council).

Why Qualified Majority Voting?

Since the organization’s inception, one of the most pressing issues the EU has faced is how to create an international cooperative organization that looks to advance the issues important to all European states, and not just the larger nations at the expense of its smaller members. While unanimity may have been feasible in the early days of the EU when it was small and limited in scope, the old voting system would likely lead to extensive gridlock in today’s expansive and diverse Europe, and so the QMV method has been adopted to deal with larger portions of the Council’s decision making. This system walks the line between the single majority and unanimity voting systems, as it allows a majority to pass legislation, while adjusting the voting power of each nation to reflect both their populations, and positions within the Union as a whole. So, for example, a nation like Germany with a population of 82 million will have 29 votes in the Council. Ireland, with 4.2 million members, has 7 votes according to the Treaty of Nice. France has 29 votes with 62 million citizens, and Luxemburg has 4 votes and has 0.46 million citizens. So for every 2,827,586 German citizens represented by a single Council vote, 600,000 Irish citizens are represented by a single vote, representing how this “weighted” system is applied.

Helen and William Wallace argue that QMV “makes doubting governments focus on seeking amendments to meet their concerns, rather than on blocking progress altogether. Under unanimity rules governments are generally much more likely to delay or obstruct agreements, or to exercise blocking power until their views are accommodative.”[10] This is clearly the logic behind QMV voting; seeing that deadlock could cripple the organization, it forces nations to look towards compromise rather than outright veto by building coalitions that can offset dominate positions. This discrepancy in representation has upset members of larger EU nations however. Desmond Dinan writes, “The allocation of votes and the threshold for a qualified majority (around the 72 percent of the total number of Council votes) have always been contentious issues among the member states and have increasingly divided the big from the small countries.”[11]

The system was specifically built so that no large nation could force their will on the smaller ones, and is set up in a way that makes hegemony nearly impossible within the EU system. The QMV establishes a system where a 2/3 vote is required on most issues, and that the countries supporting the proposal represent at least that percentage of the total EU population.[12] This structure places a high degree of importance on consensus, as a large chunk of the Union must vote in favor of an issue to have it pass, and that that bloc must represent a sizable actual proportion of the union as well. From the Treaty of Maastricht and Amsterdam, to Nice and now Lisbon, the EU has had to deal with an increasing number of members, and the balancing act necessary to keep the QMV fair and acceptable to all members.

1. Wallace, Helen and William. “Policy-Making in the European Union” 5th Edition. Oxford University Press, 2005. pg. 56
2. Nugent, Neill. “The Government and Politics of the European Union”, 5th Edition. Duke University Press, 2003. pg.66
3. Nugent, Neill. pg. 168
4. Nugent, Neill. Pg.169
5.Wallace, Helen and William. pg. 61
6. Nugent, Neill. Pg. 169
7. Alesina, Alberto. “Institutional Rules for Federations.” Harvard Institute of Economic Research, 2001.
8. Helm, Toby. “A Few Small Steps but no Giant Leap for Federalists.” The Telegraph, June 19th, 1997.
9. Dinan, Desmond. Dinan, Desmond. “Ever Closer Union.” Third Edition. Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2005. Pg. 256
10. Wallace, Helen and William. Pg. 61.
11. Dinan, Desmond. Pg. 254
12. Dinan, Desmond. pg. 254


E.D. Kain said...

I'm going to have to read through all three of these again before I comment. Then you should post 'em at Neo....

Anonymous said...

The world should listen to this wise Israeli.

Roland Dodds said...

Hey E.D., there are a few more parts to come. The more interesting angles come a bit later I feel.

I'll post a collected version at neoconstant when I am done putting the footnotes in.

jams o donnell said...

An excellent series of posts Roland. Being a Europhile (with reservations) it's nice to see sowmething written about the EU which does not accuse it of being Beelzebub incarnate!