INTRODUCTION AUX AFFAIRES EUROPEENNE
PM BRIEFING KOVACEVIC, Katarina
To the Hungarian PM in 2007: Polish proposal on the voting rights in the Council: how should Hungary react?
Dear Mr. Gyurcsány,
The belated insistence of Poland to reopen the issue of voting weights in the Council is becoming one of the prime obstacles in achieving an agreement on how to reform EU institutions. Previously, it was unanimously agreed in the Constitutional Treaty foresaw a double-majority system under which a majority requires two elements – at least 55% of the member states accounting for at least 65% of the EU’s population.
The new Polish government is pushing a question of the agreement concerning this double-majority formula, accepted by their predecessors in 2004, first proposing that instead of the double-majority there should be used the square root formula, under which only one majority would be needed, the one calculated using the square root of each and every one member state population. However, the Polish government has modified its stance recently, and now is ready to accept the principle of a double-majority approach, but not the one where the second majority element is based on the majority of the population, and rather the one where it is based on the populations’ square root.
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What would be a Polish goal with this and how it is going to affect the Hungary?
It is widely assumed that the insistence of the Polish government on the square root approach is motivated by the desire to increase its voting power. But is this actually the case? Since the Poland is nearly a big member state (21 member states are smaller than Poland and only 5 are larger), unlikely the Poland is to gain a lot from the square root approach. Any formula that gives more (relative) weight to smaller member countries like Hungary is thus likely to affect Poland in a similar way as the other large member countries.
Perhaps the Polish government is not so much concerned about its voting weight in general, but more likely in its weight in relation to the largest member states. In particular, the Polish government might assume that it is more likely to find itself in a coalition with us and other smaller member states. However, the reality is somewhere between, since the four countries that were closest in their voting pattern to Poland are Germany, Belgium, Greece and Italy, or in other words two large and two small countries, what makes difficult to understand the insistence of the Polish government on the square root approach.
The Question in Details
Let’s concentrate on the general question: Would the square root approach actually make a difference? In how many cases would a blocking minority under the Constitution not constitute a blocking minority under the square root formula? There are two alternatives.
First, let’s suppose that voting is random, and take all possible coalitions that might represent a qualified majority under the Constitution’s rules and check whether or not they would still represent a qualified majority under the square root formula. The math shows that a distinction is less than 10% of all cases. Since only about 13% of all possible combinations would yield a qualified majority, this implies that the square root formula would make a difference in about 1.1% to 1.3% of all cases (among all random legislative proposals).
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And second, let’s take a glance within the past and relay on experience: in how many cases would the square root formula have made a difference in reality given the actual voting patterns observed since the new members entered the EU in 2004? The data show that the Council in reality rarely votes. In practice less than 25% of all legislation is passed with a proper vote. In continuation, the large majority of opposing formations that remain in a minority consist of not more than three Council members. Only for coalitions of at least four Council members the square root formula would make a difference, since the Constitution predicts that this is the minimum size for a blocking minority
The square root approach (in both variants) is not so much different from the Constitution, so the simple compromise might be just around the corner: If the new Treaty adopts the double majority with the 55/65 thresholds agreed in the Constitution, containing a clause that permits any member state to request a recalculation of the votes according to the square root formula. We could propose that in case of different results the Council to reconsider the results by second-time call, and not to be accepted instantly. Also, this back-up clause could be temporary and would expire if not invoked in a predetermined number of years.
This double-majority rule with a square-root clause might be the winning compromise not just for Hungary but for the Council itself, since the efficiency and transparency of the decision-making would be preserved, and the Polish government could claim a victory.