Decision-making
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    An important difference between decision-making at the communal level in comparison with decision-making at the national level is that, at the communal level, the institutions have no general authority to take decisions. At the communal level, there is a system of specific allocation of powers. Moreover, there is no unequivocal decision-making method. This varies depending on the subject of the decision to be taken. In the separate treaty provisions, it is stipulated how a decision in a certain policy field must be made. In these cases, however, reference is often made to general rules and procedures for decision-making.

    The qualified majority: general

    Unanimity grants the right of veto to each Member State. If the number of Member States increases, the risk of a Member State making use of its right of veto increases proportionally. The right of veto can be used to halt decision-making and may lead to fragmentation of community resources or excessively detailed final decisions. However, the right of veto also guarantees the involvement and support of all Member States in the matter of decisions that bear on the institutional balance in the Union. It is generally accepted that a qualified majority vote is not suitable for all decisions that affect the essence of this balance (for example, the use of the official languages in the Institutions or the own resources).

    However, the qualified majority vote is considered more effective in developing operational policies at community level. In the Treaty of 1986 (the Single European Act), the qualified majority vote was introduced for virtually all policy areas relating to the internal market, which allowed approximately 300 necessary guidelines and regulations to be adopted.

    For the sake of clarity, the Treaty of Nice had to make a distinction between those areas where decisions could be taken by qualified majority vote and those areas where the assent of each Member State was required. In addition, the intergovernmental conference had to decide on the enlargement of the decision-making procedure that would turn the European Parliament into a co-legislator with the Council (codecision procedure).

    The options proposed by the ICG

    The Portuguese and the French presidencies had identified fifty articles where the unanimous vote was to be replaced by the qualified majority vote. Among these fifty articles, the presidency identified five sensitive areas where the transition from the unanimous vote to the qualified majority vote is particularly important in an enlarged Union but is also particularly hard for certain delegations. These are the following articles:

    • Article 42 of the EU Treaty (coordination of the social security systems on behalf of migrating employees) and article 137 (minimum regulatory requirements in the matter of social policy). (After Nice, the decision-making procedure for article 42 remains unchanged. The decision-making procedure for article 137 was partly revised. At the Commission's proposal and having consulted the European Parliament, the Council unanimously decided that the procedure of article 251 was applicable.)
    • Article 67 of the EU Treaty (visas, asylum and immigration). (After Nice, basic legislation remains subjected to the unanimous vote. Only for certain subjects was it decided that the qualified majority vote will suffice.)
    • Article 93 of the EU Treaty (taxation). (After Nice, the unanimous vote remains in force.)
    • Article 133 of the EU Treaty (common commercial policy) (After Nice, the decision procedures for this article were changed into the majority vote.)
    • Article 161 of the EU Treaty (economic and social cohesion policy. (As of 1 January 2007, the Council decides by qualified majority vote if an Interinstitutional Agreement has been adopted by that time.)

    The qualified majority vote might be used for a greater number of treaty provisions. Examples include:

    • Decisions on economic emergency measures (art. 100 EU).
    • The position of the EU in external monetary relations (art. 111 subsection 4 EU).

    Finally, the Treaty of Nice effected a change in the weighing of votes as of 1 January 2005. The number of votes that allocated to each Member State has been changed. The number of votes allocated to the prospective Member States upon entry into the Union has already been fixed.

    Henceforth, a qualified majority vote will have been established when: .

    • The decision receives a certain number of votes. This threshold will be adjusted with the successive entry of Member States.
    • And the decision is adopted by the majority of Member States.

    Moreover, a Member State may file a request to verify whether the qualified majority represents a minimum of 62% of the total population of the Union. If such is not the case, the decision will not be adopted.