A new rule from 1 November 2014
The 'standard' voting method in the Council
Qualified majority is the most widely used voting method in the Council.
It's used when the Council takes decisions during the ordinary legislative procedure, also known as co-decision. About 80% of all EU legislation is adopted with this procedure.
From 1 November 2014 a new procedure for qualified majority voting applies in the Council. Under this procedure, when the Council votes on a proposal by the Commission or the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, a qualified majority is reached if two conditions are met:
- 55% of member states vote in favour - in practice this means 16 out of 28
- the proposal is supported by member states representing at least 65% of the total EU population
This new procedure is also known as the 'double majority' rule.
The blocking minority must include at least four Council members representing more than 35% of the EU population.
When not all Council members participate in the vote, for example due to an opt-out in certain policy areas, a decision is adopted if 55% of the participating Council members, representing at least 65% of the population of the participating member states, vote in favour.
When the Council votes on a proposal not coming from the Commission or the high representative a decision is adopted if:
- at least 72% of Council members vote in favour
- they represent at least 65% of the EU population
An abstention under qualified majority voting counts as a vote against. Abstention is not the same as not participating in the vote. Any member can abstain at any time.
The previous qualified majority rule
Until 31 March 2017, member states can still request to use the previous rule for qualified majority voting. Under this rule, each member state representative has a certain number of votes, as set out in the EU treaties. The weighting of votes roughly reflects the size of population of each member state.
The 352 votes are distributed as follows:
- France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom: 29 votes each
- Spain, Poland: 27 votes each
- Romania: 14 votes
- Netherlands: 13 votes
- Belgium, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal: 12 votes each
- Austria, Bulgaria, Sweden: 10 votes each
- Croatia, Denmark, Ireland, Lithuania, Slovakia, Finland: 7 votes each
- Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg, Slovenia: 4 votes each
- Malta: 3 votes
Under this previous rule, a qualified majority is reached in the Council if the following conditions are met:
- a majority of member states - 15 member states - vote in favour
- a minimum of 260 votes out of the total 352 votes are cast in favour
A member state may ask for confirmation that the votes in favour represent at least 62% of the total EU population. If this is found not to be the case, the decision will not be adopted.