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Qualified majority voting and the ordinary legislative procedure

Qualified majority voting and the ordinary legislative procedure



The Treaty of Lisbon aims at modernising and improving the decision-making process of the European Union (EU) in an EU enlarged to 28 countries. The Treaty extends voting by qualified majority in the Council of the EU and the area in which the European Parliament acts on an equal footing with the Council regarding the adoption of legislative acts (regulations, directives and decisions) on a proposal from the Commission (ordinary legislative procedure).


Voting by qualified majority is now the most common form of voting in the Council of the EU and is used for most of its decisions. With the Lisbon Treaty, a qualified majority replaces unanimity in a number of new areas:

measures on external border controls, asylum and immigration;

judicial cooperation in civil matters and harmonisation in the area of criminal law in defining for example criminal offences and sanctions in particularly serious areas of crime (e.g. terrorism, human trafficking, sexual exploitation of women and children, drug trafficking, money laundering);

the creation of European intellectual property rights to provide uniform protection of intellectual property rights throughout the EU;

measures to promote sport and culture;

certain aspects of the EU’s trade policy (i.e. in the areas of cultural and audiovisual services, social, educational or health services, and for the adoption of internal rules).

Unanimity remains, however, the general rule in sensitive areas such as:

adoption of the EU’s multiannual financial framework;

tax harmonisation (direct taxes);

social security and social protection;

cross-border aspects of family law;

Moreover, accession to the EU of new countries and revisions to the Treaties need to be agreed upon by all EU countries.


The Lisbon Treaty adds a further 40 legal bases (policy areas which have a basis in Treaty articles), particularly in the fields of justice, freedom and security, and agriculture to the scope of the ordinary legislative procedure, formerly known as the co-decision procedure. That procedure now applies to most subjects where the EU Council decides by qualified majority.


The extension of the scope of qualified majority has seen some changes, particularly in the field of judicial cooperation in criminal matters (Articles 82 and 83 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union — TFEU) and on social protection of migrant workers (Article 48 TFEU).

In these areas, the Lisbon Treaty has introduced ‘brake clauses’ to deviate from the ordinary legislative procedure, if a country considers that the fundamental principles of its social security system or its criminal justice system are under threat from legislation that is in the course of being adopted.

The Lisbon Treaty also introduced ‘passerelle clauses’ to ‘pass’ from a unanimous vote to a vote by qualified majority for the adoption of an act in a given field.

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last update 24.11.2015