This House would lift all veto powers of individual EU member states

The European Union has been since its foundation been a hybrid between an intergovernmental organization (IGO) and supranational federation (SF). One of the most notable differences between these two establishments is in the ‘attitude’ towards their member states. While IGO honors members’ sovereignty, SF puts forward collective spirit (in terms of rule of majority). These are also best represented by preferred voting procedures – IGO uses unanimity requirement and SF the vote of majority (currently, EU exercises qualified majority voting – in areas such as education, environment and economic and monetary policy implementation [1] [2]).

The unanimity requirement (effectively a veto power) is set as a default voting procedure for the most important issues dealt with in the EU (these are, for instance, taxation, social security and social protection, foreign and common defence policy) [3]. However, its usage is being restricted in favor of qualified majority voting, with the Treaty of Lisbon introducing the most recent reductions. The opinions about the usefulness (or harmfulness) of the unanimity requirement greatly differ. Intergovernmentalists believe that the requirement is enormously important to preserve the sovereign nature of the culturally different members of the EU. On the other hand, Supranationalists argue that it is exactly because of these vast differences that the unanimity principle hinders the EU.

The movement away from the unanimity requirement (notable in the recent years – Treaty of Lisbon changed 68 cases of unanimity requirement to qualified majority voting; for instance legal immigration, Europol, energy security and emergency humanitarian aid to hot-spots around the globe, the EU budget [4]) might have suggested that it is supranationalists that are correct, but looking at the recent development in the EU-UK relationship it is safe to conclude that any further ‘federalization’ may well cause Great Britain’s to leave the EU. Worries that similar scenarios, where attempts for further federalization would cause greater exclusion of multiple other members (such as France, Ireland – which both rejected the constitution - or Hungary) are justified, and cast grave concerns over the theory that the current situation of the EU could be improved, and in the future prevented by closer federalization.

However, what is there left for the EU in its current state? It is indisputable that the Greek crisis, caused by lack of fiscal discipline and lack of institutional tools looking out for potential threats, very negatively affected the whole EU. Is this not a sufficient reason to state that, at least in the monetary union, where problems of one greatly impact all the others, the individual member states are not self-conscious enough to take up on such huge responsibility? In 2012, not a single Eurozone country met the Maastricht criteria (including stable exchange rate, inflation under 1.5%, 3% budget deficit, 60% state debt and low long-term interest rates / see source) [5] that very criteria deemed to judge nation’s ability to adopt Euro. Not sticking to the conditions of membership is now more of a norm than an exception, and allowing the vetoing of decisions attempting to enforce adherence to the rules – such as the Maastricht criteria – may well only worsen the situation.

With the complexity of the problem there are hardly any simple solutions to be found. Good or bad options no longer exist for it is inevitable that with every action taken, there will be repercussions to be dealt with. Understandably, the focus should be on the long-term prosperity which often causes short-term hardship, making it politically extremely unpopular. Thus the question arises – will the leaders find the will to look the beast right into the eyes, and take it by horns; Is getting rid of the unanimity requirement the only way to do it?

[1] Eurofond 2010, Qualified Majority Voting, viewed 26 September 2013,
<http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/areas/industrialrelations/dictionary/definitions/qualifiedmajorityvoting.htm>.

[2] Euro-Know 2013, Qualified Majority Voting, viewed 6 October 2013,
<http://www.euro-know.org/europages/dictionary/q.html>.

[3] Europa 2013, Unanimity, viewed 25 September 2013, <http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/glossary/unanimity_en.htm>.

[4] Europa 2013, Lisbon Treaty, viewed 6 October 2013, <http://europa.eu/lisbon_treaty/faq/#7>.

[5] Gerich, J 2012, ‘All EUR countries in violation of their own convergence criteria’, Nordea, 18 October, viewed 29 September 2013, <http://research.nordeamarkets.com/en/2012/10/18/all-eur-countries-in-violation-of-their-own-convergence-criteria/>.

Title 
The requirement for unanimity is undemocratic
Point 

European Union has been based on principles of solidarity and mutual help. This means that sometimes, in order to ensure the ‘greater good’, one has to forgo a bit of his own self-interest.  Because European Union holds together 28 culturally and economically different countries, qualified majority voting is sufficient to ensure that no state will be harmed by the decisions made on the international level. The fact that some states would like to retain their right of veto undermines the basic principles of the EU because no such process, where a single state is able to prevent majority from adopting a measure can be called democratic. It this system the minority, or individual state, can ignore the will of the majority indefinitely. Moreover, Zamora (in Sieberson, 2010)[1] states that “international agreement is impossible to obtain when any single participant can block a decision; to achieve unanimous consent… a decision must be diluted so as to please everyone,” concluding that such result is unsatisfactory and prohibits effective functioning of an international organization, mainly in regards to urgent, practical problems.

[1] Sieberson, SC 2010, ‘Inching Toward EU Supranationalism? Qualified Majority Voting and Unanimity Under the Treaty of Lisbon’, Virginia Journal of International Law, vol. 50, no. 4, pp. 932, viewed 29 September 2013, <http://www.vjil.org/articles/inching-toward-eu-supranationalism-qualifie....

Counterpoint 

This is not completely true. The EU’s very economically successful pre-crisis state suggests that many of the decisions adopted by the EU are not “diluted to the point of being ineffective” and that in fact, EU works quite well. Although there are stark differences between individual member states they are able to overcome them and work meaningfully as a collective when progress is necessary. States are willing to sacrifice their interests in some areas if they get something in return elsewhere, or believe they will in the future. Therefore even if we accept the assertion that unanimous requirement is undemocratic, in a society with knowledgeable individuals, the veto is only used as a last resort. Thus what happens is that the allegedly "undemocratic" process functions as well as democratic process, but on top has an additional check or balance to prevent anything that is found particularly egregious to pass. 

Title 
Unanimity requirement gives an enormous bargaining leverage to the hands of individual states
Point 

Unanimous voting provides states seeking additional gains with a tool to actually achieve their egoistic goals. In order for the whole Union to pass legislation that would be beneficial to all, a single state has power to negotiate further benefits for itself, thus holding up a deal and sometimes making it less beneficial for others. Similar concerns were expressed in the EU Commission White Paper on European Governance as consensus requirement “often holds policy-making hostage to national interest”.[1] What is more, such behavior sets dangerous precedents that nations can put national interests in front of communal, effectively deteriorating the cooperative spirit of the EU and eventually destroying it altogether. As Sieberson claims[2], such was the case of French objections to the Treaty of Rome regarding the wider use of qualified majority voting in the fields of agriculture and the internal market. In the ‘empty chair crisis’ France boycotted Council meetings for seven months, until the deal called Luxembourg accord[3] was struck. “The Luxembourg accord is widely believed to have created a period of stagnation in the Community… Paul Craig describes this period as “the prime example of negative intergovernmentalism.”[4] It prevented consolidation of Europe and ensured the EC remained intergovernmental by effectively curtailing qualified majority voting as any state could veto by invoking national interests.

[1] European GovernanceA White Paper 2001, Commission of the European Communities, pp. 29, viewed 29 September 2013,
<http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/site/en/com/2001/com2001_0428en01.pdf>.

[2] Sieberson, SC 2010, ‘Inching Toward EU Supranationalism? Qualified Majority Voting and Unanimity Under the Treaty of Lisbon’, Virginia Journal of International Law, vol. 50, no. 4, pp. 934, viewed 29 September 2013, <http://www.vjil.org/articles/inching-toward-eu-supranationalism-qualifie....

[3] Eurofond 2007, Luxembourg Compromise, viewed 29 September 2013, <http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/areas/industrialrelations/dictionary/defi....

[4] Sieberson, SC 2010, ‘Inching Toward EU Supranationalism? Qualified Majority Voting and Unanimity Under the Treaty of Lisbon’, Virginia Journal of International Law, vol. 50, no. 4, pp. 934, viewed 29 September 2013, <http://www.vjil.org/articles/inching-toward-eu-supranationalism-qualifie....

Counterpoint 

Even though this point correctly presents a theoretical possibility, the reality is different. Europe has since come up with an alternative solution that means the need for unanimity does not always mean decision-making can be slowed by a spoiler; the opt-out. Countries can negotiate to opt out of further integration on areas where they believe their national interests are threatened. This then allows all the other states to carry on with integration without risking a veto from the states that do not wish to follow that path. What further corroborates this point is that since Luxembourg accord, nothing similar has ever occurred, and even the compromise allowing for invoking national interests to halt QMV is no longer used. Thus it is irrational to fear “empty chairs” now, when all the states are aware of the possibility of a stalemate, and would, perhaps, never wanted to be held accountable for such situation.

Title 
Disposing of unanimity requirement would make it easier advance the long-needed federalization of the European Union
Point 

With Greece as a trigger, the Eurozone and the whole EU have significantly suffered in the last five years as a result of massive and still on-going economic crisis. The Euro currency is, damaged by the vast differences between individual Eurozone members, with respect to their fiscal and monetary policies. While some states (commonly referred to as PIIGS) do have bigger problems with their finances, it is unthinkable for the others to be held responsible when serious issues, such as an inability to pay the debts, arise. Nevertheless, this was the case with Greece, when tens of billions of taxpayers’ money were used to service debts of one irresponsible state. Despite more than 50% of private sector debt being cut down by creditors, the threat of Greece’s default still lingers in the air. Getting rid of the unanimity requirement would make Europe much more able to respond quickly to crises. In the long run it would make negotiations for a federal union much easier, eventually turning it into reality. Achieving political integration and the abandonment of the veto that would come with it would then enable solutions to economic problems benefiting the whole even it unpalatable to some. Such position is also taken by Jacques Attali, a French economist who argues that “the institutional reform towards a federal Europe is necessary to implement a common fiscal and budgetary system.”[1]

[1] Attali, J 2012, ‘Attali: A federal Europe is the only crisis exit strategy’, EurActiv, 18 April, viewed 29 September 2013, <http://www.euractiv.com/euro-finance/attali-federal-europe-crisis-exi-in....

Counterpoint 

This argument is based on the premise that federalization is a great idea. But, is it? It is hard to assess the extent to which federalization of the EU help make it a better union. What is clear, however, is that there are a whole load of questions to be answered before a federal union is attempted. As Cocodia[1]  concludes “…if it must be, [it] ought to be a very slow and cautious project which should not be embarked upon unless issues such as group relations, societal culture/language and trust have been properly addressed.” These group relations and trust require that individual members concerns not be ignored. A sustainable federal union would be able to coexist with a veto because it would mean interests are close enough together that it would almost never be used.

[1] Cocodia, J 2010, ‘Problems of Integration in a Federal EuropeCrossroads, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 57-81, viewed 1 October 2013, <http://www.webasa.org/Pubblicazioni/Cocodia_2010_1.pdf>.

Title 
Disposing of the unanimity requirements is essentially only hidden federalization of the European Union
Point 

With the recent developments in the EU, the potential that some states may leave is a growing concern. People’s opinion towards the EU is becoming increasingly negative (trust towards EU has in 2012, compared to 2007, declined in all the nations except for Belgium).[1] This stems mainly from the fact that the EU is forcefully trying to invade the decision-making process of the sovereign members. Directives and regulations influencing lives within the nations agreed on at the supranational level, often it is felt without a democratic mandate, are not kindly welcomed. Therefore it is to no amazement that taking away the unanimity requirement, which is now used in the most important and controversial changes, would create huge pressure on the national parliaments to oppose such dictatorship. Fisher argues the idea of federal states “shows itself to be an artificial construct which ignores the established realities in Europe.”[2] Leaving would then be considered a feasible option, thus making the federalization completely counter-productive.

[1] Torreblanca, JI, Leonard, M 2013, The Continent-wide Rise of Euroscepticism, European Council on Foreign Relations, viewed 6 October 2013, <http://ecfr.eu/page/-/ECFR79_EUROSCEPTICISM_BRIEF_AW.pdf>.

[2] Sieberson, SC 2010, ‘Inching Toward EU Supranationalism? Qualified Majority Voting and Unanimity Under the Treaty of Lisbon’, Virginia Journal of International Law, vol. 50, no. 4, pp. 929, viewed 29 September 2013, <http://www.vjil.org/articles/inching-toward-eu-supranationalism-qualifie....

Counterpoint 

Federalization is a continual and on-going process. It does not happen overnight, and most importantly, it has been happening ever since the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community) was founded. Therefore it is incorrect to think that there is anything like ‘hidden federalization,’ when its driving force are revisions of the common treaties which are agreed upon by all the member states. It is essential to point out that the EU is a democratic union, and member states joined the EU of their own accord. Becoming more federal would not affect this, there are many federal states that are democratic and not artificial such as Germany and the United States. Disposing of the unanimity requirement is not in any way harming the democratic principle of the EU as the changes will still have to be passed by Qualified Majority Vote. Strikingly, for many this is not enough, and other members have to understand that maybe without those who are not willing to move forward, the EU would be better off, what also means making tough decision of partially excluding those ‘backward’ states from further progress of the European Union. Concluding it in a single sentence, keeping the unanimity requirement intact servers only the egoistical needs of some specific nations.

Title 
The EU was based on the grounds of solidarity and the unanimity requirements ensures that no state will be repressed for the “greater good”
Point 

While understanding the need to compromise, members of the EU are very different meaning that hardly any important decision made will fit all universally. The unanimity requirement is needed only in few exceptional cases, such as for common foreign and security policy, which is completely understandable, since it is hardly imaginable that a successful union can act internationally as a whole without the consent of all members. Members clearly need to decide between them, as they do now, which areas need unanimity. It will then only be applied to issues where there should be no shortcuts when discussing and making decisions. The unanimity requirement provides states with a guarantee that they will not be left out of the debate and that their voice matters equally, whatever the size and international position of the state. Without this guarantee, it is beyond doubt that trust among the members would be eroded, damaging the union’s unity of purpose.

Counterpoint 

Unlike the former Soviet Union, the European Union is no ‘jail’ and members can, even though such move would be unprecedented, leave the union at any time. It is therefore hard to define ‘oppressing for greater good’ when we realize that the state tacitly agrees to it by staying in the union, possibly because the membership is still beneficial, even if we consider the ‘oppression’ in question. In this case then are these ‘oppressed’ state not just lusting for something more rather than a reasonable concern regarding the national interests? Continuing in this line of thought, is this not the exact opposite of what the members should attempt to do? In cases where a state loses they should recognise that in some cases they will gain and others loose.

Title 
Qualified majority voting (QMV – an alternative to the unanimity requirement) favors big states and marginalizes the others
Point 

QMV in the Council before the accession of Croatia required 74.8% of the votes (258 out of 345). These votes are determined by an equation that takes into account size of population, e.g. Germany has 29 votes while Malta has only 3 votes.  Also, a Member State may ask that the qualified majority represents at least 62% of the total population of EU. This system, as Novak puts it, may be potentially oblivious to the needs of smaller states as “the presidency and the Commission seek the support of big countries as a priority because they thereby achieve a qualified majority more quickly.” Furthermore, Novak continues that sometimes, small countries lack resources and large civil services “which seems to lead them pretty mechanically to rely on the Commission’s expertise, or, less often, on that of representatives of big countries.”[1] There we see that substituting unanimity requirement with QMV poses a real danger of marginalizing smaller states through a seemingly ‘democratic voting procedure’. While it is bad enough to foster such behavior regarding the common EU policies, it is unthinkable that this could happen during negotiations on important treaties (like common EU treaties).

[1] Novak, S 2011, Qualified majority voting from the Single European Act to present day: an unexpected permanence, Notre Europe, viewed 29 September 2013, <http://www.notre-europe.eu/media/etud88_en-qualifiedmajority-voting-nova....

 

Counterpoint 

Similarly to the first counter-point, it is arguable to what extent it is true marginalization of smaller states when these states comply with terms of agreements. Why do they not seek further steps to avoid being included in such “disadvantageous” changes, e.g. opt-outs? Also, if the marginalization was truly that apparent it is to be believed that these states would try to, for instance, change the QMV weighting. This has however not happened. Once again, does it not only prove that what is attempted to be satisfied is only selfishness and not common goals aimed towards improving life of the whole EU?  

Bibliography 

Attali, J 2012, ‘Attali: A federal Europe is the only crisis exit strategy’, EurActiv, 18 April, viewed 29 September 2013, <http://www.euractiv.com/euro-finance/attali-federal-europe-crisis-exi-in....

Cocodia, J 2010, ‘Problems of Integration in a Federal Europe, Crossroads, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 57-81, viewed 1 October 2013, <http://www.webasa.org/Pubblicazioni/Cocodia_2010_1.pdf>.

Eurofond 2007, Luxembourg Compromise, viewed 29 September 2013, <http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/areas/industrialrelations/dictionary/defi....

Eurofond 2010, Qualified Majority Voting, viewed 26 September 2013,
<http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/areas/industrialrelations/dictionary/definitions/qualifiedmajorityvoting.htm>.

Euro-Know 2013, Qualified Majority Voting, viewed 6 October 2013,
<http://www.euro-know.org/europages/dictionary/q.html>.

Europa 2013, Lisbon Treaty, viewed 6 October 2013, <http://europa.eu/lisbon_treaty/faq/#7>.

Europa 2013, Unanimity, viewed 25 September 2013, <http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/glossary/unanimity_en.htm>.

European Governance, A White Paper 2001, Commission of the European Communities, pp. 29, viewed 29 September 2013,
<http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/site/en/com/2001/com2001_0428en01.pdf>.

Gerich, J 2012, ‘All EUR countries in violation of their own convergence criteria’, Nordea, 18 October, viewed 29 September 2013, <http://research.nordeamarkets.com/en/2012/10/18/all-eur-countries-in-vio....

Novak, S 2011, Qualified majority voting from the Single European Act to present day: an unexpected permanence, Notre Europe, viewed 29 September 2013,
<http://www.notre-europe.eu/media/etud88_en-qualifiedmajority-voting-nova....

Sieberson, SC 2010, ‘Inching Toward EU Supranationalism? Qualified Majority Voting and Unanimity Under the Treaty of Lisbon’, Virginia Journal of International Law, vol. 50, no. 4, viewed 29 September 2013, <http://www.vjil.org/articles/inching-toward-eu-supranationalism-qualifie....

Torreblanca, JI, Leonard, M 2013, The Contitent-wide Rise of Euroscepticism, European Council on Foreign Relations, viewed 6 October 2013,
<http://ecfr.eu/page/-/ECFR79_EUROSCEPTICISM_BRIEF_AW.pdf>.

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