Against the background of the debates concerning the nomination of the next European Commission President by the European Council, a study undertaken by VoteWatch Europe shows that among the 28 EU Member States, the United Kingdom and Germany have voted against each other most often in the EU Council of Ministers. Data collected by VoteWatch Europe in the period July 2009 – May 2014 illustrates that these two countries have disagreed on 16% of the formal votes cast in the Council.
The disagreements emerged mainly on issues regarding constitutional affairs, foreign policy, agriculture, budget and employment.
Voting in the Council
In the constitutional affairs field, Germany supported legislative pieces such as aRegulation on the citizens’ initiative or a Regulation on the mechanisms for control by Member States of the Commission’s exercise of implementing powers, while the UK abstained from voting on them.
When it comes to budget legislation, the differences were sharper. For example, while Germany voted in favour of the new draft budget of the EU for 2013 in December 2013, the UK voted against (alongside Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands).
On issues regarding the EU’s foreign policy, the two countries voted differently on pieces of legislation such as the Regulation establishing an Instrument contributing to stability and peace as well as on the Regulation establishing a European Neighbourhood Instrument (the UK voted against in both cases, while Germany voted in favour).
These two big EU countries are also the ones who have found themselves in minority most often when voting in the Council. The UK government was in minority by far most frequently, voting differently than the majority on 73 occasions, out of 629 votes it participated in (12%), while the German government did so in 37 out of 663 votes (5.5%).
Election of the President of the Commission in the Council
The European Council nominates the President of the European Commission by qualified majority (QMV). QMV is reached if a majority of Member States (15) vote in favour and if a minimum of 260 votes, out of the total 352, are cast in favour.
In qualified majority voting, each Member State has a certain number of votes. The weighting of votes is set out in the treaties and reflects the size of population of each Member State. Both Germany and the United Kingdom have 29 votes each. See herethe weighting of votes in the Council.
Following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in December 2009, a new element entered the discussion on the election of the European Commission President. The Treaty on European Union states that the European Council, taking into account the elections to the EP, shall propose (by QMV) to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the European Commission. In this context, five European political parties (EPP, PES, ALDE, the Greens and the Party of the European Left) chose their own candidates (Spitzenkandidaten) for the European Commission Presidency. The EPP won the greatest number of seats, which put former Luxembourg’s Primer Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, their lead candidate, in the position to be considered as a candidate for the post.
Jean-Claude Juncker received the backing of the EP’s Conference of Presidents to start negotiations to seek a majority in the European Parliament. However, in spite of the wide support received from the Parliament (all EP groups except ECR and EFD), the European Council, at its informal meeting on 27 May 2014, did not back Juncker to start negotiations.
According to media reports, apart from the backing of the EP groups, Juncker can also count on several EU governments, his most prominent supporter being Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany. Moreover, Juncker counts not only on the support of Christian-Democrat governments, but also from the Austrian and Romanian socialist governments.
However, the support received might not be enough to secure a winning majority by QMV in the European Council, as some Member States, led by UK, oppose the idea of nominating one of the Spitzenkandidaten, questioning the legal basis of the EP involvement in the process of selecting the European Commission President. The UK, Sweden and Hungary have publicly stated their opposition to Jean-Claude Juncker and/or the Spitzenkandidaten process. The Netherlands and Italy are thought to be sceptical. Together these countries wield enough votes in Council to block Juncker.
The nominee for European Commission President is likely to be agreed at the 26-27 June 2014 European Council meeting. The European Parliament is expected to approve or reject this proposal at the 14-17 July 2014 Plenary session.