Inching Toward EU Supranationalism? Qualified Majority Voting and Unanimity Under the Treaty of Lisbon

by Stephen C. Sieberson ~ May 01, 2010

The European Union's Treaty of Lisbon entered into effect on December 1, 2009, and this significant amendment to the European Union's foundational treaties marks yet another step in the "process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe." Most prominently, the Lisbon Treaty provides for the merger of the European Community into the European Union, the elimination of the EU's Third Pillar, a permanent president for the European Council, and treaty-like status for the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Somewhat less visibly, the Treaty of Lisbon provides new instances in which the EU's senior legislative body, the Council, will make decisions by a qualified majority vote (QMV). Additional majority voting has been a feature of all major amendments to the treaties during the Union's first half century, but the extension of QMV into new fields has always aroused controversy. To its proponents, further use of majority voting provides necessary efficiencies in EU lawmaking. To its critics, the addition of majority decisions threatens the Member State sovereignty that unanimous voting would protect. Even more, skeptics view the extension of QMV as a key component of the Union's movement toward supranationalism.

This Article will examine the ways in which qualified majority voting is extended by the Lisbon Treaty. To set the stage, Part 1 of the analysis describes the EU's unique blend of intergovernmental and supranational features, while Part 2 addresses the role of majority voting within an intergovernmental organization. Part 3 then examines the evolving mechanics of determining a qualified majority on the Council. Parts 4 and 5 offer a detailed description of where the Lisbon Treaty replaces the unanimity requirement with QMV and where it extends qualified majority voting to new areas of EU activity. Parts 6 and 7 describe how the new treaty preserves unanimous voting in fields believed to be critical to national sovereignty. Part 8 considers whether the remaining unanimity requirements might be changed to QMV in the future. Part 9, which offers a final assessment of the Lisbon Treaty's balance between majoritarian decision-making and unanimity, concludes the analysis.

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