Council voting procedure
In executing its various powers and roles, the Council of the European Union has three different voting systems: majority, qualified majority and unanimity. The choice of the voting procedure in the Council often determines the evolution of EU policy in the fields of employment and industrial relations.
Unanimity requires all Member States to agree in order for a proposal to be adopted. This requirement was, for many matters, governed by the intergovernmental second (foreign and security policy) and third (police and judicial cooperation) pillars of the Treaty on European Union. Abstention does not prevent adoption of an act by unanimity (Article 238(4) TFEU).
The Single European Act limited the application of the unanimity requirement and voting by qualified majority is now common in matters under the first pillar of the EU, which is the supranational European Community. The Treaty of Nice further extended qualified majority voting (QMV) to other areas, as this was deemed necessary to enable proposals to be adopted in an enlarged European Union of 25 Member States. Although 27 new provisions were to move in whole or in part from unanimity to QMV, these did not include all social policy issues. Unanimity is still required for the Council to adopt proposals concerning the following (Article 137(2) EC/now 153 TFEU):
- social security and social protection of workers;
- protection of workers where their employment contract is terminated;
- representation and collective defence of the interests of workers and employers, including co-determination;
- conditions of employment for third country nationals legally residing in Community territory.
However, the Treaty of Nice did provide that the Council, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission, may decide to apply the QMV procedure to the last three items above (Article 137(2) EC/now 153 (2)TFEU ).
In a decision under QMV, votes in the Council are weighted in accordance with the size of population, though adjusted, so that small countries are relatively over-represented in voting. The weighting is laid down in Article 16 (4 and 5) TEU.