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Unanimity, where all EU Member States have to agree, is one of the voting rules applicable to the Council. The Council has to vote unanimously on a number of policy areas which the Member States consider to be sensitive.

The policy areas where the Council acts unanimously are exhaustively listed by the Treaties.

The Single European Act, signed in 1986 amended the Treaty of Rome to add new momentum to European integration and to complete the internal market. It reduced the number of policy areas for which unanimity was required in order to adopt legislation.

The latest amendment to the treaties, the Lisbon Treaty, which came into force in 2009, increased the number of policy areas where qualified majority voting in the Council applies.

A limited number of policy areas considered to be sensitive remain subject to unanimity voting:

  • taxation;
  • social security or social protection;
  • the accession of new EU Member States;
  • Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), including Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP);
  • operational police cooperation between Member States.

However, passerelle clauses, which allow exceptions to the legislative procedures initially provided for by the treaties, provide for procedures which allow unanimity voting to be replaced by qualified majority voting, or to change decision-making procedures applicable to specific areas.

For example, passerelle clauses may empower the European Council, acting by unanimity, to authorise the Council to act by a qualified majority, see:

  • Article 48(7) of the Treaty on European Union — TEU;
  • Article 31(3) TEU (CFSP);
  • Article 312(2) of the Treaty on the functioning of the EU — TFEU (Multiannual annual financial framework — MFF).

Furthermore, passerelle clauses may empower the Council of the European Union, acting by unanimity, to decide, after consulting the European Parliament, to make the ordinary legislative procedure applicable to specific matters, for example:

  • Article 81(3) TFEU (family law with cross-border implications);
  • Article 153(2) TFEU (Social policy);
  • Article 192(2) TFEU (Environmental policy).

Finally, passerelle clauses may empower the Council, acting by unanimity, to decide to act by a qualified majority (Article 333 TFEU (Enhanced cooperation)).

Also in accordance with Article 293(1) TFEU, where the Council acts on a proposal from the Commission, it may amend it by acting unanimously, with some exceptions.