Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy, Part 4

(This is part 4 of a piece on the European Union's foreign policy, how it works, and what it is capable of. Part 1, 2, and 3 are here.)

Changes to QMV

The European Union is a work in progress, and the QMV system of voting is no different. Its current rules were established by the Treaty of Nice, while changes have been offered in the Treaty of Lisbon, which has yet to be ratified. The Treaty of Nice increased the number of votes for all member states, but the increase was higher for the most populated members, such as Spain. In the following chart, five separate countries are represented that show the number of votes each nation has at the Council, both before and after the Treaty of Nice, as well as the percent of votes the nation possesses.[13][14]

Pre-Nice Weighted Votes
Luxemburg - 2.3% - 2 votes
Poland - % -
Germany - 11.5% - 10 votes
Spain - 9.2% - 8 votes
France - 11.5% - 10 votes

Post-Nice Weighted Votes
Luxemburg - 1.16% - 4 votes
Poland - 7.83% - 27 votes
Germany - 8.41% - 29 votes
Spain - 7.83% - 27 votes
France - 8.41% - 29 votes

The weights correspond roughly to population sizes, as more populous states have larger number of votes. Yet, as can be seen when comparing Spain, France, and Germany, strict proportionality is not the tool in which votes are decided. Dan Felsenthal points out that “the ratio of weight to population is highest for the small member states and lowest for the most populous ones. This has created a widespread feeling that the present weighting system makes QMV very inequitably biased in favor of the smaller members and against the larger ones.”[15] The Treaty of Lisbon has proposed a change to the QMV system called “double majority”, where by any decision taken will require the support of at least 55% of the Council members, and must also represent at least 65% of the EU's citizens. To block legislation, at least 4 countries must act against it, and contain 35% of the EU’s population within.[16] Lisbon was rejected in 2007 by the Irish electorate, and so the Treaty of Nice stands as the current governing scheme.

Criticisms of the Weighted Voting System

A pressing problem since the inception of the QMV system is the under-representation of Germany and its vote within the weighted system. As can be seen from the above chart, Germany has the same number of votes as France, and yet has nearly 20 million more citizens. Poland has 38 million citizens to Germany’s 82 million, and is just 2 votes shy of Germany at the Council. There are historical and practical reasons for this under-representation. First, the EU was founded after the end of the Second World War, and since Germany had been responsible for the two previous conflicts on European soil, France and its neighbors agreed that Germany could not be allowed to develop the capabilities to conquer Europe again, and so steps were made to link France and Germany economically.[17] Second, France wanted to assure a leading role for itself within Europe, all the while guaranteeing that larger nations maintain more votes than smaller ones at the Council, yet at the same time, it does not look to further empower Germany.[18] This is clearly a situation that does not paint the Council in a democratic light.

While some within larger nations argue that the voting system unfairly deprives their citizens of an equal representative voice in the EU system, some have argued that these arguments are misplaced or inaccurate. The Finnish Institute of London claims that even in the early stages of the EU, when there were only six nations and Luxemburg had one vote to Germany’s four, Luxemburg was still not in a position to alter policy making in any significant way. They wrote, “Simple arithmetic shows that Luxembourg, in fact, had no voting power at all, because either way it voted, its vote had no effect on the outcome. The three big countries together, or two big and two middle-sized countries, could pass a resolution, but whether Luxembourg voted yes or no in either combination, its stand made no difference. So its voting power was zero, although its vote was weighted as one unit.”[19] Assuming the legislation did not require unanimity, Luxemburg arguable had no power within that system even if its population was over represented.

Not all political parties believe the current representative system within the EU benefits their society or accurately embodies their values within Europe, and debates as to what matters QMV can be used to vote on, are part of an ongoing discussion. Surprisingly, it has been left leaning parties, which have generally favored European cooperation at the forefront against recent treaty ratification. They have criticized the voting process of the Council for slightly different reasons; some see the Council as an un-democratic body that isn’t responsible to the citizens of Europe, while others believe the current weighted system does not empower their states. Green groups, like those in Ireland that rejected the Treaty of Nice, argued that the current QMV system would “only strengthen the hands of lobbyists of transnational corporations, and of the EU Trade Commissioner, to push through the agenda for a new trade round and more de-regulation. It will enable negotiations to be `fast-tracked', away from democratic scrutiny.”[20] Other politicians within Ireland held similar views. Socialist Party MP Joe Higgins said, “The real agenda of the Nice Treaty is to consolidate and extend the massive economic power of the multinational corporations based in the EU.”[21]

The Irish political party Sinn Fein stated that they were “opposed to those elements of the Constitution that deepen the democratic deficit, liberalize economic policy and privatize public services, that allocate greater resources to the militarization of the EU, and that pursue an agenda that is bad for the developing world” and that the way the Union decides policy, including the Council and QMV, was not in line with their views on the role Ireland should play in the Union, as it gives them less strength at the Council to affect change within Europe.[22] Albert Alesina agrees that the basic argument made by political parties in Ireland opposed to the Nice and Lisbon treaties has weight. He argues that the QMV weighted system actually takes power away from smaller states, and while some would like to see QMV used on more votes affecting the community, by removing the potential veto power smaller states have through the unanimity system, they are disadvantaged by the weighted system, not empowered by it.[23] Others argue that when unanimity is used, it encourages “grandstanding” from smaller members to receive benefits from the larger ones to ensure the success of a piece of legislation, and doesn’t force the smaller state to look for deals with other nations.[24]

13. Nugent, Neill. Pg. 84
14. Europe Press Release, “Summary of the Treaty of Nice.” March 2003. http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=MEMO/03/23&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en
15. Felsenthal, Dan. “Enlargement of the EU and Weighted Voting in its Council of Ministers.” Pg. iii http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/VPP/VPPpdf/VPPPublications/VPP00_01.pdf
16. Mahony, Honor. “EU Leaders Scrape Treaty Deal at 11th Hour.” EU Observer, June 23, 2006. http://euobserver.com/9/24343
17. “Changing EU Voting Rules Would be Undemocratic.” Finnish Institute in London, Issue 13, October 1999. http://www.lausti.com/articles/EU/EU%20%20voting.htm
18. “Weighting of Votes in the Council.” EU Observer, October 10, 2000. http://euobserver.com/?aid=607
19. “Changing EU Voting Rules Would be Undemocratic.” Finnish Institute in London, Issue 13, October 1999. http://www.lausti.com/articles/EU/EU%20%20voting.htm
20. Healy, Sean. “Ireland: Voter Revolt Stuns Europe’s Rulers.” Green Left Weekly, June 2001. http://www.greenleft.org.au/article.php/article.php?id=25908&__plain=1&__print=1
21. Healy, Sean.
22. McDonald, Mary. “Sinn Fein to Lead Major Campaign Against EU Constitution.” http://www.sinnfein.ie/policies/document/200
23. Alesina, Albert. “The European Union: A Politicaly Incorrect View.” Harvard University, 2004. http://www.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/alesina/files/The%20European%20Union.pdf
24. Nugent, Neill. Pg. 174

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