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
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.