“The question of enlargement is understandably linked to the question of EU effectiveness, that is, a question that is not very popular in smaller and medium-sized member states. However, we must be prepared to consider various proposals in the domestic debate to modify the EU’s decision-making process, including a move to qualified majority voting in some areas.”
Peter Paul (president)
“The right of veto is absolutely essential for us. We have to realize that by the fact that there is an instrument of the right of veto, it is one of the few instruments that puts all member states on an equal footing. If we were to lose this right of veto, we could really become a second-tier country.”
Klára Dostalová (MP for the ANO movement, leader for the European elections)
“In my view, giving up the veto is not giving up national interests, or even treason or abandoning national sovereignty.”
Martin Dvořák (Minister for European Affairs, STAN)
The European Commission publishes the so-called enlargement package on Wednesday. Its content will be an evaluation report on the progress of the candidate countries. For many months, there have been heated discussions between the member countries not only about who to let into the European Union, but also about whether and how the EU institutions should be reformed.
The most sensitive in this regard is the possible retreat from unanimity, which is used when deciding on issues of common foreign and security policy or in the field of taxation. The right of veto can be exercised in them. If a member state uses it, it will block the adoption of the given decision.
The website iROZHLAS.cz clarifies the meaning of the right of veto:
- What areas does the veto affect?
- Will member states lose their sovereignty?
- Is it a political question?
What areas does the veto affect?
On foreign policy, taxes, the budget and accepting new members into the community.
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In the vast majority of cases, the European Union decides by qualified majority. In order to approve the given proposal, at least 55 percent of the member states (that is, roughly 15) must vote, which must also represent at least 65 percent of all residents of the member states of the European Union (of which there are less than 450 million in the Union). In this way, the Union approves 80 percent of regulations.
Nevertheless, it is very problematic for some EU twenty-seven states to accept the possibility of withdrawing from the right of veto. The position of the Czech Republic also remains unclear. Although the five-party government of Petr Fiala (ODS) is clearly in favor of expansion, it does not want changes in the internal functioning and is vague about its position on the right of veto.
In recent months, the veto has been discussed in connection with the blockades by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. He did not want to approve some EU decisions towards Vladimir Putin. Initially, he opposed, for example, the embargo on Russian oil, and also delayed the adoption of some packages of anti-Russian sanctions.
In the end, he always backed down, but he never forgot to compromise the unity of the Union – most often for the release of European funds, which were frozen by the European Commission for Hungary due to disputes over the rule of law.
Will member states lose their sovereignty?
There is no simple and clear answer.
However, the retreat from unanimity is not planned across the board, it is mentioned mainly in foreign policy issues, so that the Union is more capable of action in them, for example in the case of accepting anti-Russian sanctions.
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“Yes, they will undoubtedly lose sovereignty in the sense of fully managing their own affairs without external influence,” admitted Professor Tomáš Weiss from the Institute of International Studies at the Faculty of Social Sciences of Charles University. “However, this simple and straightforward answer is true, but problematic,” he pointed out to iROZHLAS.cz. The member states compensate for the loss of part of their sovereignty by gaining influence on the development of other European states.
Weiss therefore gave an example: “If the member states agreed to eliminate unanimous decision-making in direct taxes, the Czech Republic would lose the ability to determine its own tax rates, but at the same time it would gain the ability to influence how its corporate taxes are set, for example in Ireland, which has just tax rates attract large technology companies.’
In a recent interview for iROZHLAS.cz, the Minister for European Affairs, Martin Dvořák (STAN), rejected the thesis that withdrawing from the right of veto would mean giving up national interests, or even treason.
‘Culture of Consensus’
- The right of veto is applied only to a portion of the proposals that are approved by the Council, the more substantial part falls into the category of approval by qualified majority (QMV). The QMV usage data suggests that smaller states are not being outvoted, an often-cited concern. The so-called culture of consensus prevails when the Council makes decisions.
- Between 2009 (i.e. after the signing of the Lisbon Treaty) and 2023, more than 60 percent of decisions approved by the QMV were adopted unanimously, in another 20 percent of cases some states abstained but did not vote against.
- Only exceptionally does it also happen that a larger group of countries would be outvoted, as a rule only one state is against it.
- Even before it left the EU, Great Britain was the most outvoted. Prim is now held by Hungary, followed by Austria, Germany and the Netherlands.
“One of the arguments on the side that the debate should be held is the number of votes in which the Czech Republic was overvoted by a majority – it’s three or four percent. The number of votes in which the Czech Republic used the right of veto is about one case in those twenty years, and it was in security policy,” said Dvořák.
The extension of the qualified majority principle would most likely occur even without the opening of the EU Treaties in the form of a so-called pass-through (the veto can be overridden unanimously in the European Council with the approval of all prime ministers and presidents, but any national parliament can block this plan within six months). Treaties give states enough tools to protect national interests, for example by applying emergency brakes.
Is it a political question?
If the states of the Union decide to withdraw from unanimity and therefore veto rights in some areas with a view to further enlargement, this will have political consequences. There is no clear answer to this and it is possible to work with the topic according to the needs of individual political parties and their interests.
“If you want to fiercely defend sovereignty, you can keep silent that we may not have full sovereignty in many issues for a long time. If you want to defend the introduction of qualified majority voting, you can keep silent about the fact that on some issues there may indeed be decisions that will be uncomfortable for us,” explained Weiss.
At the same time, the expert on European affairs stated that for the Czech Republic with a population of ten million, it is more advantageous to make decisions by a qualified majority.
“We still have to adapt to the whole, and this way we are at least part of the decision-making, we can better influence the politics of others, and a common European position is created more easily. It’s just a matter of whether we believe that we have the ability to influence the joint decision-making,” he concluded for iROZHLAS.cz.
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