ASSESSMENTS

The EU and the Unanimity Trap

MIN READMay 1, 2018 | 10:00 GMT

In this photo, Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras speaks with Italy's Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa during a summit of European Union leaders in Brussels during March 2018.

Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (left) speaks with Italy's Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa during a summit of European Union leaders in Brussels on March 23, 2018. EU leaders adopted negotiating guidelines for talks on the future relationship with the United Kingdom, the European Council said.

(LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Since the start of the European project more than six decades ago, the question of how the bloc should make decisions has been a crucial one. During the early stages of European integration, most decisions were made by unanimous consent, but successive treaty reforms expanded the use of majority voting. Replacing unanimity with majority rule is a signal of integration, because countries are willing to accept even those policies they oppose. Naturally, this evolution was accompanied by several mechanisms to reassure the member states, and principles such as a "qualified majority" or a "blocking minority" were created. These days, the European Union requires unanimity only in specific situations described in the treaties. While the list is shorter than it used to be, the areas covered by unanimity voting are important. This often complicates the decision-making at the EU level, and opens the door for intense negotiations where a significant amount of...

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