Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dodgy bits of the Lisbon treaty: majority voting

All posts on Lisbon

For this point I am inferring things from the FAQ's on the Dept of Foreign Affairs' pro-treaty explanatory website (pro-treaty might be arguable but they certainly have a shiny-happy take on all of it). I simply could not be arsed trying to dig this stuff out of the text of Lisbon and the post-Lisbon version (I've had trouble finding a definitive pre-Lisbon version of the treaties being amended, the ones I can find are unclear whether they're before or after Nice).

We are moving from unanimous to majority voting in various areas, this is supposedly to allow work to get done. I don't think there's anything dodgy about this, you either agree with it or you don't.

What seems dodgy is what happens once the treaty is ratified. The areas which only require majority voting can change. I deduce from

13. What role does the Reform Treaty give to National Parliaments?

The Treaty gives a new role within the EU to national parliaments. All proposals for EU legislation will be forwarded to national parliaments for their consideration. National parliaments will have a period of 8 weeks in which to vet proposals and offer opinions on them. If enough national parliaments object to a proposal, it can either be amended or withdrawn. Any national parliament can block moves to increase the number of policy issues that can be decided by majority voting.
that it will not take a referendum for us to switch from unanimous to majority in any area.

Update: See my post on the "expanded" role of national parliaments for why this FAQ answer paints a rosier picture than is actually the case.

This fact seems like a pretty important point but if you were to read

7. Does the Treaty involve giving up national vetoes in many areas?

The Treaty does not involve changes in areas of sensitivity to Ireland such as taxation and defence. Unanimity is preserved for all decisions in these areas. This means that all Member States must agree to any new proposals in these areas.
There will be an increase in the number of areas in which decisions can be taken by Qualified Majority Voting (QMV). Most of these are of a technical character or relate to areas where the union has only limited competence. Examples of new areas where QMV applies are: the procedure for entry into the euro; administrative cooperation; internal EU financial regulations; humanitarian aid operations; and police cooperation (where Ireland is not obliged to take part but has the right to participate in individual measures).

In a 27-member Union, it is essential be able to take decisions by a majority vote if Europe is to function efficiently.
You would think that unanimity is guaranteed for key areas but leaves out the fact that any of these areas can be dropped by a Dáil vote.

So, am I wrong? Are there subtleties in the full text that invalidate my conclusion here or does this just come from the self-amending nature of (the famous article 48).

To describe the ability to block such a change as a new role for national parliaments is correct but a little misleading, the possibility never existed before, so this is not something used to be for the EU to decide but has been ceded to national parliaments. It's something that would have required a whole new treaty and presumably a referendum but is now just a vote in the Dáil.

To put it another way, this is not a transfer of power from the EU to national parliaments, it's a transfer of power from The People to national parliaments (at least in Ireland).

I don't even know if I object to this in itself but I do object to it being portrayed as the opposite of what it really is.

There is one other point here that appears to be relevant at first glance but I think isn't. This power might already belong to the national parliaments. It might not actually require a referendum to change one of these voting areas right now. Since the power has already been ceded to the EU, accepting changes to the manner in which decisions are made might be within the power of the Dáil anyway and so I'm wrong above to say that this is a power that used to belong to The People. I don't think this matters in for 2 reasons:

  1. It doesn't make the Yes side's explanation of the changes any less dodgy.
  2. After all the "no this treaty isn't self-amending", any attempt to amend this treaty or alter the voting arrangements that isn't put to a referendum (whether legally required or not) would result in uproar if not bloodshed.


I caved in and searched the treaty. This may or may not be Article 333 in the final text (sorry no better link, seems to be down at the moment)

                                     Article 333
1. Where a provision of the Treaties which may be applied in the context of enhanced
   cooperation stipulates that the Council shall act unanimously, the Council, acting
   unanimously in accordance with the arrangements laid down in Article 330, may
   adopt a decision stipulating that  twill act by a qualified majority.
This is in the "enhanced cooperation" section which seems to be the bit about adding more rules/powers. So basically we can give up unanimity on anything (interestingly we don't seem to be able to get it back or switch something that's currently majority to unanimous).


Grahnlaw said...

If you have difficulties finding the current treaty or the amending Lisbon Treaty (or the intermediate stages), you could look at my blog.

There are a) posts on consolidated versions and b) running commentary on different versions of Articles with exact sources.

Fergal said...

Thanks, I was actually just there this morning, looking at exactly that article. I will write about it maybe later today but trying to figure out what's changing is unnecessarily painful. Coming from a software background that deals with changing code every day, the tools exist to present these things properly but I presume since there is no tradition of making legal documents accessible, they were not considered.

The non-existence of an official consolidated version raises the question "how can the drafters of the treaty be sure it ends up saying what they intend?".

Grahnlaw said...


Among the consolidated versions I have listed there are some that have two side by side for easy comparison, like ConstiTreaty.

Officially, the consolidated versions, even those published in the Official Journal, are unuffocial, for 'illustrative purposes' only.

But look up the Official Journal in a week's time, 15 April 2008, when all the language versions have been promised.

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