Qualified majority voting
The rule of qualified majority voting (QMV) in the Council of the European Union applies to the adoption of proposals on the following matters concerning employment and industrial relations (Article 153(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU)):
- improvement in particular of the working environment to protect workers’ health and safety;
- working conditions;
- informing and consulting with workers;
- the integration of persons excluded from the labour market;
- equality between women and men with regard to labour market opportunities and treatment at work;
- combating social exclusion;
- the modernisation of social protection systems.
The Treaty of Nice provided that the Council, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission, after consulting the European Parliament, may decide to apply the QMV procedure to three other matters (Article 153(2) TFEU):
- 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.
At present, 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. In light of enlargement, the number of votes allocated to the then acceding countries was decided at Nice. The objective was to ensure that the relative weight of small and medium-sized countries is in proportion to their populations and, in part, to compensate the large Member States for their loss of a second Commissioner. The post-accession weighting was laid down in a Protocol to the Treaty of Nice, which envisaged accession to a total of 27 Member States.
Since the 2007 enlargement a qualified majority is at 258 out of 345 (74.8%). The Treaty of Nice also amended the formula constituting a qualified majority. Currently, this must satisfy two conditions: a set number of votes and agreement by a majority of Member States. Further, a Member State may request that the qualified majority represents at least 62% of the total population of the Union. If not, the decision is not adopted. The Treaty of Lisbon again changed these rules for qualified majority voting. The present system will continue until November 2014. From then on, the definition of the qualified majority will be different. It will be a double majority so that, in order to be adopted, an act must have the support of at least 55 % of the EU Member States (i.e. 15 Member States in a Union of 27) and at least 65 % of the population of the EU. A blocking minority must include at least four Member States. However, between November 2014 and March 2017, any Member State may request that the current weighted voting system be applied instead of the new double majority system (Articles 16(3-5) TEU) and 238(4) TFEU). It is the voting procedures in the Council of Ministers which will largely determine the evolution of EU policy in the fields of employment and industrial relations.