Isn’t my country always outvoted in the Council of the EU?

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One of the main arguments used, especially by UK eurosceptics, is that the UK is continuously outvoted in the Council of the EU and forced to adopt and implement legislation against its will, especially since the expansion of Qualified Majority Voting (QMV). This isn’t an argument exclusive to the UK, of course. While in theory most legislation could be adopted by QMV, in practice, it’s a completely different story.

The Council of the EU (or ‘Council of Ministers’) is made up of ministers of the 28 EU governments, who negotiate on legislative proposals from the Commission with the European Parliament. They adopt most acts by qualified majority vote (QMV), which means 55% of EU member states representing 65% of the EU population. Claims such as the UK is the most outvoted member state in the Council, while technically true, don’t tell the full story. There are also votes requiring unanimity, which every member state can block (for example, a country joining the EU).

Of the 44 votes that have taken place in the Council so far in 2017, this is the proportion of ‘Yes’ votes registered in favour of a legislative act per country:

  • Belgium: 100%
  • Denmark: 100%
  • Estonia: 100%
  • Finland: 100%
  • France: 100%
  • Lithuania: 100%
  • Netherlands: 100%
  • Slovakia: 100%
  • Slovenia: 100%
  • Portugal: 100%
  • Sweden: 100%
  • Austria: 97.73%
  • Bulgaria: 97.73%
  • Croatia: 97.73%
  • Czechia: 97.73%
  • Germany: 97.73%
  • Greece: 97.73%
  • Italy: 97.73%
  • Latvia: 97.73%
  • Malta: 97.73%
  • Romania: 97.73%
  • Ireland: 97.3%
  • Luxembourg: 95.45%
  • Spain: 95.45%
  • Cyprus: 93.18%
  • Hungary: 93.18%
  • Poland: 90.91%
  • United Kingdom: 89.19%

 

So while it it is also technically true that again, the UK is the most outvoted this year, they also vote in favour of almost all legislative proposals, along with other EU countries. In some cases, this is a higher rate of agreement than between a member states legislature and regions, although the systems don’t work exactly the same, so comparisons are somewhat limited. While technically proposals can be adopted by the Council by QMV, negotiations within the Council occur so proposals can be adopted by consensus (or close to it) whenever possible. Most votes weren’t officially contested by any member states – though it’s fairly likely that they opposed some parts of the proposals during internal negotiations.

Member states tend to adopt most proposals by consensus in the Council as a result of internal negotiations to address issues the governments have, rather than the official QMV they could fall back on (though this does happen in some instances). The very high level of agreement almong all member states, with a lot even voting in favour of 100% of proposals so far this year, illustrates that member states generally aren’t outvoted in the Council all that often. 

[Note: Denmark, Ireland & the United Kingdom didn’t participate in some votes due to having opt-outs in certain areas, so the proportion for these countries is without the opt-out votes.]