Thursday 12 March 2009

European Parliament: Majority and quorum

The antechamber of European level democracy, the directly elected European Parliament, needs rules on majority and quorum.


Current treaty

Article 198 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC) lays down the basic rules on two different questions for the European Parliament:

1) the main rule on majority, and

2) quorum.

Article 198 TEC

Save as otherwise provided in this Treaty, the European Parliament shall act by an absolute majority of the votes cast.

The Rules of Procedure shall determine the quorum.

Source: the consolidated version of the treaties, published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) 29.12.2006 C 321 E/134.


Original Lisbon Treaty

Article 2, point 186 of the original Treaty of Lisbon (ToL) modified Article 197 TEC (OJEU 17.12.2007 C 306/102):

186) In the first paragraph of Article 198, the word ‘absolute’ shall be deleted.


Consolidated Lisbon Treaty

After renumbering the slightly amended provision appears in the consolidated Lisbon Treaty as Article 231 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), published OJEU 9.5.2008 C 115/152:

Article 231TFEU
(ex Article 198 TEC)

Save as otherwise provided in the Treaties, the European Parliament shall act by a majority of the votes cast.

The Rules of Procedure shall determine the quorum.



Treaty provisions

As far as I know, the terms have the following meaning:

Majority and absolute majority should mean the same, so the Lisbon Treaty makes no substantial amendment.

The votes cast include the ‘yes’ votes and ‘no’ votes, but not the abstentions.


For each act where the European Parliament participates, you have to look at the relevant legal base to find out if there is a special requirement regarding the majority.

If high (qualified) majorities are required, it means that at least the largest political groups have to agree, which is a factor in preventing parliamentary ‘government’ and ‘opposition’ roles from developing, although the main reason for that is that the members and the policies of Commission are not based on the results of the European elections.


EP Rules of Procedure

The main provisions are found in Chapter 5 Quorum and voting of the Rules of Procedure (16th edition, October 2008), but for more detailed studies cf. Index, page 217 to 218, on Majorities (qualified) and minimum numbers of Members required.



Rule 149 is the provision on quorum (the varying necessary numbers of MEPs to be present, but primarily for votes on substance):

Rule 149 Quorum

1. Parliament may deliberate, settle its agenda and approve the minutes, whatever the number of Members present.

2. A quorum shall exist when one third of the component Members of Parliament are present in the Chamber.

3. All votes shall be valid whatever the number of voters unless the President, on a request made before voting has begun by at least forty Members, establishes at the moment of voting that the quorum is not present. If the vote shows that the quorum is not present, the vote shall be placed on the agenda of the next sitting.

[Official explanation: A request for the quorum to be established must be made by at least forty Members. A request on behalf of a political group is not admissible.

When establishing the result of the vote, account must be taken, pursuant to paragraph 2, of all the Members present in the Chamber and, pursuant to paragraph 4, of all the Members who asked for the quorum to be established. The electronic voting system cannot be used for this purpose. The doors of the Chamber may not be closed.

If the number of Members required to make up the quorum is not present, the President shall not announce the result of the vote but shall declare that the quorum is not present.

Paragraph 3 last sentence shall not apply to votes on procedural motions but only to votes on the subject matter itself.]

4. Members who have asked for the quorum to be established shall be counted as being present within the meaning of paragraph 2, even if they are no longer in the Chamber.

5. If fewer than forty Members are present, the President may rule that there is no quorum.


Why did I call the European Parliament the antechamber of European level democracy?

Ralf Grahn

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