It seems quite unnatural to have a unanimity requirement for voting in large organizations. European Union is 27-member strong with some of the countries "misbehaving" quite often (Hungary is the ultimate example as of today). What this means is that external policy (say, a new round of sanctions on russia) or internal regulations (say, some kind of green deal) can be blocked by a single country with corrupted leadership.

I've read that some European politicians (I think Germany's chancellor was one of them) started to suggest the removal of the veto right. The obvious question is: how can this formally be achieved if any decision can be vetoed?

Will it require an ultimatum from the countries supportive of the new measure that they will "expel" the disagreeing ones? Or is there some procedure like EU-wide voting?

  • Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Nov 21, 2022 at 17:57
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    @EkadhSingh-ReinstateMonica I'm not asking about some specific violations or disagreements, but rather about the general procedure or removing the veto right.
    – Igor
    Nov 21, 2022 at 23:55
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    I don't advocate this option, but rather ask which options exist. I'm not familiar with the foundation treaties of the EU, so maybe there is some condition like an EU-wide referendum when a certain high-level rule is suggested to be changed. Or maybe something else. That's what the question is about. If that's not the case then there's a vicious circle of veto-blocks-the-removal-of-veto.
    – Igor
    Nov 21, 2022 at 23:58
  • The issue with the question is around the idea that not voting with the majority is misbehaving and the possibility of expelling members because of it. If the focus was just on changing it from a unanimous vote it would be a better question
    – Joe W
    Nov 22, 2022 at 0:27
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    I appreciate your feedback, but I disagree with your interpretation. I definitely don't suggest punishments, not sure why you read it like that. I will keep the question as is. There is already an answer and upvotes, so it seems good enough. Thanks again.
    – Igor
    Nov 22, 2022 at 1:26

3 Answers 3


A blanket move to majority voting would require "Treaty Change", which is the EU equivalent to a constitutional amendment.

The process is highly cumbersome, hence the use of the "T-Word" is rarely taken seriously in Brussels.

How Treaty Change works:

For the Treaties* to be revised, traditionally a Convention has to be called. The Convention consists of the Heads of State and Government (forming an "Intergovernmental Conference"), the national parliaments, the European Parliament, and the European Commission. It submits by "common accord" a proposal to the Intergovernmental Conference, which adopts the proposal by unanimity, meaning that in the last stage of the procedure every state has a veto. Provided that the European Parliament consents (unlikely), the ordinary revision procedure may also proceed without a Convention.

Afterwards, the revised Treaty must be submitted in most member states to ratification by the national parliaments and sometimes by their chambers individually. In some member states, referenda have to be called and won. In others, the ratification laws might be challenged before domestic constitutional courts.

The Treaty of Lisbon introduced a simplified procedure (Article 48(6) TEU). The simplified procedure allows amendment by a unanimous decision of the European Council (consisting of the Heads of State and Government) without calling a separate Intergovernmental Conference and Convention. Since it only applies to the "less fundamental parts" of the Treaties, the simplified procedure cannot be used for a blanket move to (qualified) majority voting in those areas that are still governed by unanimous decision-making. But even if the simplified procedure applied, unanimous voting would have to be abolished unanimously under it as well.

Briefly, the transaction costs of Treaty change are enormous, and the revision procedure suffers from the same deficit as unanimity voting in day-to-day decision-making. Certainly Hungary and other member-states that don't want to be outvoted in unanimous day-to-day decision-making would also veto a change to majority voting (qualified or else). The fact that (near-) unanimous decision-making procedures impede policy reform, while being hard to reform themselves, is known as a "joint-decision trap" in political science.

*The Treaty on the European Union (TEU) and Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). Their historically first version and subsequent revisions are known by the names of the places in which the negotiations took place, e.g. Treaties of Rome and Paris (founding Treaties, effective since 1957 and 1952, respectively) or Treaty of Lisbon (most recent fundamental revision, effective since 2009).


  • It doesn't have to be "majority vote" vs "unanimous vote.' In a sense, these are 2 extremes. The types of votes can be broken up into categories, with the more permanent categories requiring a higher threshold (e.g. 80%), while less permanent ones (i.e. more imperative ones) requiring a lower threshold (e.g 51-60%).
    – wrod
    Nov 24, 2022 at 4:43
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    @word QMV (a 55% majority of member states representing 65% of the population) and unanimity are the only vote thresholds I'm aware of in the EU. Of course, there are also decision among a subset of member states and non-binding recommendations that render decision-making easier irrespective of the voting threshold (but the answer was complex enough as it is).
    – henning
    Nov 24, 2022 at 7:01

A change in the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU and similar agreements. That would, of course, have to be ratified by every member state.

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    So then if some country disagrees that the veto should be removed, the government can apply veto and thus the whole process is blocked? Isn't it a vicious circle then?
    – Igor
    Nov 21, 2022 at 23:56
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    @Igor, if the EU was a sovereign nation, it would be a dysfunctional nation. But it is a group of sovereign nations, whichgranted the EU the conditional and revokable right to speak in their name.
    – o.m.
    Nov 22, 2022 at 5:37
  • Countries entered it knowing the rules, and are free to leave and to establish a different organisation with different rules, so it is that way by design, and unanimity shouldn't be considered a prison.
    – Stuart F
    Nov 22, 2022 at 11:40
  • @StuartF So now, as we see Germany and the Baltics criticizing the unanimity clause do you mean that the only way for them to make the EU with less strict rules (say, 2 votes against required; not just 1), the only way is to leave and establish a new organization? I expected that there are some procedures to change the principles.
    – Igor
    Nov 22, 2022 at 12:20
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    @Igor, for net payers one opportunity to influence things comes at the next negotiations for the Multiannual Financial Framework. At least as long as the "spoilers" want to remain net recipients.
    – o.m.
    Nov 22, 2022 at 17:14

Here's some extended copy from The Economist To prevent diplomatic shakedowns, Europe must curb abusive national vetoes

Their idea is have a budget-based stick to, in exceptional cases, disallow vetoes that are otherwise available: "OK, you get your veto, but we all agree you're abusing it, so we're cutting you out of cash elsewhere".

But not included in the rulebook’s 600-plus articles is a mention of an edict that arguably holds sway over all eu business. Some say it does not exist anymore, others that it never really did; Eurocrats speak of it in hushed tones, as if mindful not to wake a monster. The Luxembourg Compromise holds that any national government can single-handedly derail any eu measure if it feels its “vital interests” are threatened. According to the rules, in most instances if enough member states agree, they can impose their will on a recalcitrant few. In the real world, the compromise suggests, a strong enough squeal from any one national government is enough to stall even measures agreed by the other 26 and eu institutions, rules be damned.


The existence of any national vetoes enrages federalists who fret that selfish local politicians stand in the way of a functional European superstate. Those complaints can mostly be ignored. Vetoes are seldom a real problem. They often reflect legitimate gripes and accommodating them improves eu policies in the end. Abolishing them would cause too much power to seep away from national leaders, whose democratic legitimacy far outweighs that of little-known meps or commissioners. On September 20th a meeting of the bloc’s Europe ministers looked at ways to veto-proof more of the eu’s business by increasing the use of qualified-majority votes. But because the proposal to move away from unanimity itself requires unanimity, it is unlikely to go anywhere.

That leaves the eu with an enduring problem. Hungarian-style exploitation of vetoes is patently beyond the use that was intended for them. Thus a new rule is needed: call it the Reverse Luxembourg. The original Luxembourg Compromise holds that in situations where vetoes are usually forbidden, they can be revived in exceptional circumstances. The Reverse Luxembourg offers that in situations where vetoes are usually allowed, they should be barred in similarly rare circumstances. The Luxembourg Compromise protects against federalist overreach. The Reverse Luxembourg would protect Europe from diplomatic blackmail.

As with the original compromise, there is no need to codify the Reverse Luxembourg in any treaty. More efficient would be to punish the use of flagrantly abusive vetoes with cuts in eu money sent to countries that deploy them. Such threats work: Hungary is currently scrambling to update its anti-graft laws to avoid losing up to €7.5bn ($7.4bn) of funding from Brussels. The eu regularly comes up with new spending programmes, for example the €750bn pandemic-relief fund set up last year. It is easy to devise such schemes for 26 countries instead of 27: similar workarounds were once deployed to get around Britain in its most cantankerous years as a member of the club. Hungary (along with Poland) is currently not receiving any of the pandemic cash, specifically because of its rule-of-law shortcomings. Spelling out that member states shall not use their veto to hijack the bloc’s business could be made an additional criterion for receiving eu largesse.

Now, I have to add that really taking away vetoes would be a tricky thing. The EU is meant as a supra-national entity, not a super-state. In the good old days, the UK would often be the last holdout to keep the EU from enacting some bizarre Franco-German over-reaching scheme.

Formally taking away vetoes would given plenty of substance for Eurosceptics to grip about, much above the rather tame fare the Brexiters were bandying (the rather dismal failure of Brexit makes it a good moment to clean up house somewhat though - even populist parties tread more carefully re. Euroscepticism lately).

Best have a system assuming that member states are fully responsible grown ups, with veto rights. But have an informal backdoor penalizing excessively obnoxious behavior.

For now, Hungary is somewhat weakened in that its usual wingman, Poland, is so dead-set against Russia that it may not acquiesce to all Hungary's excesses.

In general however, it does seem like Europe isn't particularly well-equipped to deal with national governments that slip into autocracy, especially when two or more exist at the same time and can watch each other's backs.

p.s. I am quoting this because it seems on-point and relevant, not because I certify that this is legally and politically feasible.

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