The art of collectively deciding

25. septembre 2018 Readings, Reports 0

Euroreporters, European policies

The book Les politiques de l’Union européenne by Philippe Delivet

For an heterogeneous group of 6, 15 or 28 persons as for the Council of the European Union (UE), called “Council of Ministers” or simply “Council” making a decision still requires a lot of efforts and appropriate procedures. In his book the policies of the European Union Philippe Delivet reveals to everyone their conditions of creation and the secrets of European collective decisions.

Let’s have a look on the display of European policies. They are built on competences conferred on the EU by successive treaties. From the Treaty of Paris signed in 1951 which created the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) policies have been produced to support economic and monetary sectoral integration. From the Treaty of Maastricht signed in 1992 they have been extended to new issues (security, environment, education, enlargement…).

Each European policy is shaped by three factors: decision making process, framework strategies and funding. The European Council and the European Commission (EC) set up strategies. The current European policies support the Europe 2020 strategy. The 2030 climate and energy framework will follow. Decision making processes are based on principles (of conferral of competences, of subsidiarity, of proportionality), on legal acts (regulation, directive…), on decision-making methods (community, intergovernmental…) and on actors involvement (lobbies, Committee of the Regions, European economic and social committee). Policies are financed within a five or seven-year multiannual financial framework and an annual budget. At the moment the 2021-2027 framework proposed by the EC is under negotiation. It will be voted by the Parliament and the Council of the EU and implemented by the EC.

Let’s now raise the curtain on the characteristics of decision making at the Council of the EU through two specific methods: unanimous and majority voting.

Unanimous vote is used for some decisions (foreign and defence policy, tax harmonisation, family law, multiannual financial framework, accession of new Member States, and treaty amendment). It warrants the agreement of each decision-maker regarding key or sensitive topics. It thus seems to require a dynamic and sometimes lengthy negotiation. The optional constructive abstention mechanism of the Treaty of Amsterdam signed in 1997 allows the abstention of a group member without blocking the decision making process exercising a veto power. Finally the Luxembourg compromise of 1966 ensures a unanimous vote for issues of vital interest.

Majority vote appears to be an easier and faster method. Decision requires a majority among decision-makers. Therefore a decision can be imposed on a minority of decision-makers. A variant of majority vote is qualified majority vote which takes into account a majority of decision-makers and a majority of the population. The latter can be measured with a percentage (a decision-maker represents a percentage of the European population) and/or with a weighting of votes (a decision-maker represents a number of votes according to the country population). This variant, called the demographic verification clause, was provided by the Treaty of Nice of 2001 to encourage negotiation and compromise. A blocking minority of decision-makers may stop the decision-making process. In this way the decision is not imposed to some members and populations. Nevertheless no further negotiation is started. The optional Ioannina compromise of 1994 initially offers to a small number of decision-makers who almost represent a blocking minority the possibility to launch the search of a quick solution.

According to Delivet European integration highly benefits from a differentiation method[1] which encompasses two types of instruments: the opt-out and the mechanism for enhanced cooperation.

Considering the different rhythms of group members, the opt-out or derogation excludes one or more decision-makers from the implementation of certain policies. Some European countries already used it during treaties negotiation. However an opt-out may be a temporary solution given that decision-makers may waive it.

In case of blocking, the supportive decision-makers may avail of a mechanism for enhanced cooperation established by the Treaty of Amsterdam and start together a cooperation which will remain open to all the group members. The Lisbon Treaty offer s the possibility of a structured cooperation in the field of defence.

Euroreporters, European policies 2


With the cards shown by Delivet Europe plays to find an agreement and a quick definition of policies through concessions respecting minority opinions. Few topics are unanimously decided. The team still moves forward one square if it succeeds in negotiating a multi-speed decision! Can these processes of decision making be implemented and be relevant for any group? They may make sense if unanimously decided.

If you want to learn more about each European policy, you should not miss Delivet’s detailed description of their evolution and content.

Place your bets and enjoy reading!

[1] See the work of the research group on the EU of the French Association of political science

[2] Translation from French. Dérogation = opt-out; Unanimité =unanimity; Majorité = majority; Compromis = compromise; blocage = blocking


!Hey! What is your key method to reach a collective decision?

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