Voting rules matter: Poland’s cause

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

There is a clear, positive relationship between a member state’s power per person in the Council of Ministers and its receipts per person from the EU budget, declares Richard Baldwin of the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) in an 18 June post on the VOX web log.

If voting rules have a clear effect on an easily measurable outcome such as budget allocations, it is likely that votes matter for other more important issues, he claims – which thus explains why Poland is strongly opposing a proposal to move the EU away from its current Treaty of Nice voting allocation in the Council to the Constitution’s double-majority scheme. 

The Constitution’s voting system was inserted by Giscard d’Estaing during the Convention with almost no public discussion, claims Baldwin – new member states such as Poland were in the room, but were not allowed to prevent a consensus. 

Baldwin’s column argues that voting rules really do matter – there is a distinct positive relationship between power-per-person and receipts-per-person. It does so by examining their relationship to budget allocations – an observable and quantifiable manifestation of power. Council vote shares go a long way towards explaining the EU budget allocation, his research finds, citing the example of Luxembourg – the richest member state, which also gets the largest allocation of budget expenditure per person. 

The UK is the nation that receives the least EU money per person of all the EU-15 nations, and also has one of the lowest vote ratios, reveals the research. Another feature is that the 1994 countries – Austria, Finland and Sweden – are far below the average relationship between power and spending. Given their level of votes per person, the relationship that one sees in the older members (EU-12) suggests that they too should be getting more EU-spending per person. 

About 80% of Council decisions are made under majority vote, and countries tend to trade their votes on issues that they view as minor in exchange for support on an issue that they view as major, believes Baldwin. He claims that as citizens in EU nations benefit when EU money is spent in their district, successful politicians use their political clout to direct money homewards in response to citizens’ desires. 

He concludes by stating that it is clear that Poland is fighting for more than pride in the negotiations over voting rules in the new Treaty, and that those who assert that voting rules do not matter have some explaining to do. 

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