A ‘warsaw compromise’ on eu voting

A ‘warsaw compromise’ on eu voting

What would Poland gain?

It really is widely assumed that the insistence of the Polish government on the square root approach is motivated by the desire to improve its voting power. Our figures show, however, that won’t necessarily be the case. Poland is generally unlikely to gain a whole lot from the square root approach since it ‘s almost a big member state: 21 member states are smaller than Poland, and only 5 are larger. Any formula that provides more (relative) weight to smaller member countries is thus more likely to affect Poland similarly as the other large member countries.

It may be that the Polish government isn’t so much worried about its voting weight generally, but its weight with regards to the biggest member state(s). Specifically, the Polish government might assume that, generally, it is much more likely to find itself in a coalition with smaller member states. However, this will not appear to be the case the truth is. In recent research, Sara Hagemann and Julia De Clerck-Sachsse show that since May 2004, the four countries which were closest within their voting pattern to Poland were Germany, Belgium, Greece and Italy, i.e. two large and two small countries. It really is thus difficult to comprehend the insistence of the Polish government on the square root approach.

The facts matter

In discussing voting rules, you have to distinguish clearly between your way votes are weighted in accordance with each other, for instance utilizing the square root, and the thresholds define a professional majority. The former is a zero-sum game among member states, whereas the latter has important implications for the decision-making capacity of the EU. Unfortunately, it isn’t altogether clear what the Polish government is proposing regarding the threshold for the mandatory majority among member states. Two options, however, are implied by Poland’s proposal: keep carefully the threshold for member states at 55% or lower it to 50%. Our calculations show that the differences between both of these variants of the square root approach are minor.

We are able to thus concentrate on the overall question: Would the square root approach make a difference? In just how many cases would a blocking minority beneath the Constitution not constitute a blocking minority beneath the square root formula? There are two methods to approach this question.

An initial shot at answering this question can be acquired by assuming (as is performed in the calculations for the passage probabilities) that voting is random. You can then take all possible coalitions that could constitute a professional majority beneath the Constitution’s rules and check if they would likewise have been a professional majority beneath the square root formula. Mika Widgren has calculated a difference arises in somewhat significantly less than 10% of most cases (i.e. an absolute majority under one rule wouldn’t normally be a winner beneath the other rule). Since no more than 13% of most possible combinations would yield a professional majority (that is called the ‘passage probability’), therefore that the square root formula would change lives in about 1.1% to at least one 1.3% of most cases (i.e. among all random legislative proposals).

Would it not have mattered in past votes?

Another way to approach this matter is to check out experience: i.e. in just how many cases would the square root formula have made a notable difference the truth is given the actual voting patterns observed because the 2004 enlargement? The info show that the Council the truth is rarely votes (significantly less than 25% of most legislation is passed with an effective vote). Moreover, almost all opposing formations that stay in a minority contain only 1 to three Council members. The square root formula would change lives limited to coalitions of at least four member states, because the Constitution stipulates that may be the minimum size for a blocking minority. 1

The table below implies that there have been only 20 cases (5.5% of most legislative action) in the two-and-a-half-year period following enlargement when a contesting band of countries was overruled, although opposing minority comprised four member countries or even more. It appears that in mere a small number of cases would the results have already been different if the Constitution or the square root formula have been applied, which over a period greater than two years.

Table 1. Summary of opposing minorities to adopted legislation,
May 2004-December 2006

Size of opposing minority Number of instances % of contested cases % of total legislative action
1 31 30.7 8.6
2 38 37.6 10.6
3 12 11.9 3.3
4 9 8.9 2.5
5 7 6.9 1.9
6 1 1.0 0.3
7 3 3.0 0.8

Source: Hagemann, Sara and Julia De Clerck-Sachsse (2007), Old Rules, New Game: Decision-making in the Council of Ministers following the 2004 Enlargement, CEPS Special Report, March (designed for free).

A possible compromise

Our research shows that the results of the square root approach (in both variants) wouldn’t normally the truth is be that not the same as the Constitution. A straightforward compromise might thus be the next. The brand new Treaty adopts the double majority with the 55/65 thresholds agreed in the Constitution. But moreover, the brand new Treaty would also include a clause that permitted any member state to request a recalculation of the votes in line with the square root formula. If the results were different, the proposal wouldn’t normally be adopted immediately. The Council may need to re-convene over time and confirm your choice another time. This back-up clause will be temporary, however and would expire if it turned out invoked only rarely throughout a specified period of time.

We claim that this double-majority rule with a square-root ‘handbrake’ may be the winning compromise. The efficiency and transparency of the decision-making process would thus be preserved, and the Polish government could claim victory.


1 Hagemann & De Clerck-Sachsse (2007) also show that one cannot detect a trend since enlargement towards more open contestations (voting), however the frequency of another type of opposition, namely the issuing of ‘formal statements’ has increased.

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