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Qualified majority

A qualified majority is the number of votes required in the Council for a decision to be adopted when issues are being debated on the basis of Article 205(2) of the EC Treaty (former Article 148(2)). Until 1 November 2004, the date of the entry into force of the provisions in the Nice Treaty on Council decision-making, the threshold for the qualified majority is set at 62 votes out of 87 (71%), and Member States' votes are weighted on the basis of their population and corrected in favour of less-populated countries as follows: France, Germany, Italy and United Kingdom 10 votes each; Spain 8 votes; Belgium, Greece, the Netherlands and Portugal 5 votes each; Austria and Sweden 4 votes each; Denmark, Ireland and Finland 3 votes each; Luxembourg 2 votes.

Following the 2000 IGC and the Nice Treaty, the number of votes allocated to each Member State has been reweighted, in particular for those States with larger populations, so that the legitimacy of the Council's decisions can be safeguarded in terms of their demographic representativeness.

The Nice Treaty also amended the qualified majority decision-making system. A qualified majority is deemed to have been reached when two conditions are fulfilled: the decision receives a set number of votes (which will change as new countries join) and is agreed by a majority of Member States. Moreover, a Member State may request that it be verified that the qualified majority represents at least 62% of the total population of the Union. If this is not the case, the decision is not adopted.

As the various institutional reforms have taken effect, qualified majority voting has replaced unanimous voting, which is less effective for developing an operational Community policy (veto risk).

The results of the last IGC are in line with this, as 27 new provisions are passing in whole or in part from unanimity to a qualified majority, including areas such as judicial cooperation in civil matters, commercial contracts on services or intellectual property, cohesion policy (from 2007 onwards), industrial policy, measures to facilitate the free movement of citizens, economic, financial and technical cooperation with third countries, and the appointment of members of certain institutions. The move to qualified majority voting was not accepted for social and tax policy.

Moreover, most of the legislative measures that, under the Nice Treaty, require a qualified majority will be decided by the codecision procedure. However, the IGC did not extend the codecision procedure to legislative measures that already today come under the qualified majority system (such as agriculture or commercial policy). The link between a qualified majority and the codecision procedure does therefore not necessarily exist for all legislative decisions.


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