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Who Has the Power in the EU?. Jason M. Barr Department of Economics Rutgers University, Newark March 15, 2004. Outline of Talk. EU Government structure EU member and acceding countries Theory of Voting Power Measuring power in the EU EU 15 EU 27 ‘Post-nice’ EU 27 ‘Giscard’

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who has the power in the eu

Who Has the Power in the EU?

Jason M. Barr

Department of Economics

Rutgers University, Newark

March 15, 2004

outline of talk
Outline of Talk
  • EU Government structure
  • EU member and acceding countries
  • Theory of Voting Power
  • Measuring power in the EU
    • EU 15
    • EU 27 ‘Post-nice’
    • EU 27 ‘Giscard’
  • Why Spain and Poland oppose Giscard’s Proposal
the eu government
The EU Government
  • European Parliament
    • MEPs Directly Elected by citizens
    • Legislative Branch
  • EU Council
    • Ministers from member governments
    • Legislative Branch
  • EU Commission
    • Appointed commissioners
    • Agenda Setter
eu council
EU Council
  • EU’s main decision making body
  • Represents member governments
  • Members are one minister from each member’s national government
  • Rotating presidency every 6 months
  • Most issues passed by qualified majority
eu commission
EU Commission
  • Represents EU as a whole
  • Proposes legislation (sets legislative agenda) and enforces EU laws
  • Currently 20 members, after May 1, 1 one commissioner per country.
eu meetings highlights
EU Meetings Highlights
  • Nice Summit, Dec. 2000
    • Treaty of Nice: voting weights for Council for EU 27
  • Laeken Summit, Dec. 2001
    • Launched Constitutional convention for needed institutional reforms
  • Constitutional Convention, July 2003
    • Created draft for ratification by nations
    • Chaired by Valery Giscard d’Estaing
  • ICG in Brussels, Dec. 2003
    • Failed to research Constitutional agreement
eu nations














United Kingdom

Bulgaria (2007)

Cyprus (5/1/04)

Czech Rep. (5/1/04)

Estonia (5/1/04)

Hungary (5/1/04)

Latvia (5/1/04)

Lithuania (5/1/04)

Malta (5/1/04)

Poland (5/1/04)

Romania (2007)

Slovakia (5/1/04)

Slovenia (5/1/04)

Turkey (na)

EU Nations

Current Members

Acceding Countries

(date of membership)

research question
Research Question

How do

  • number of votes per country
  • majority threshold levels
  • preferences

affect power of countries within the Council?


“The aim of the new EU constitution is to produce a lasting settlement which could endure up to 50 years, as opposed to the three years of the Nice treaty.

Academics have been poring over the new voting solutions being proposed to see who will be the winners, and who the losers, in any deal.”

-George Parker, journalist, www.FinancialTimes.com, 11/19/03

theory of voting power
Theory of Voting Power
  • Views countries as ‘players’ in a cooperative game.
  • Views legislature as a type of abstract system: players form coalitions to pass a bill.
  • Power is a function of a country’s likelihood of being ‘pivotal’ member of a coalition.
measures of power without preferences
Measures of Power without preferences
  • Shapley Value (SV)
    • SV(i)= (# times i is pivotal)

(# orderings of voters)

  • Banzhaf Index (BI)
    • BI(i)= (# of times i is pivotalwhere order before i not relevant)

(#coalitions with i)

  • Normalized Banzhaf Index (NBI)
    • BI adjusted so sum of BI’s=1.
example 1 power without preferences
Example 1: Power without preferences
  • Three players
  • Player 1 has 49% of votes.
  • Player 2 has 48% of votes.
  • Player 3 has 3% of votes.
  • 51% majority needed to pass.

Who has the most power?


They have equal power.

Since nothing can pass without at least two players joining together.

 Having only 3% of the votes is not indicative of actual power.

example 2 power without preferences
Example 2: Power without preferences
  • 3 countries: 4, 2, 1 votes
  • 5 votes needed to pass
  • Possible combinations:
    • {4,2,1}, {4,1,2}
    • {2,1,4}, {2,4,1}
    • {1,2,4}, {1,4,2}
  • Shapley Values:{4/6,1/6,1/6}
example cont
Example cont.
  • Winning coalitions:
    • {1,4}, {2,4},{_,_,4}
    • {4,2}
    • {4,1}
  • Banzhaf Values: {3/4,1/4,1/4}
  • NBIs: {3/5,1/5,1/5}
shapley owen spatial value
Shapley-Owen Spatial Value
  • If preferences are known we can use them to help calculate likelihood of joining coalitions.
  • Shapley Owen (SO) Spatial Value is the probability of a country being pivotal, given preferences.
  • Simple majority: indifferent countries most powerful, cet. par.
  • Unanimity: Most ‘con’ country is most powerful.
another example
Another Example
  • 5 countries
  • Every country has 1 vote
  • 3 votes needed to pass a bill

Who has the power?

now preferences matter
Now Preferences Matter
  • Let’s say 5 countries can be ranked from 1 to 5:
    • 1 is most con
    • 3 is neutral
    • 5 is most pro
  • Most likely coalition: {5,4,3}
  •  3 is most powerful
eu 27 qualified majority
EU 27 Qualified Majority
  • 255 votes out of 345=74%
  • A majority of member states approve
  • Any member state can ask for confirmation that the decision represents 62% of EU’s total population
giscard s proposal
Giscard’s Proposal
  • Nice agreement viewed as too ‘decentralized’
  • Small countries have more power to block bills they don’t like
  • Giscard’s plan attempts:
    • Centralize power in hands of big 4
    • Preserve democratic foundations
    • Simplify rules
giscard qualified majority
‘Giscard’ Qualified Majority

At least 14 out of 27 countries vote yes


60% of population (289,840 votes) votes yes


Protecting Environment


Humanitarian Aid

Health and Social Welfare

Rules for media

Fighting poverty

Fighting unemployment

Agriculture Policy

Economic aid


Science research

EU info. dissemination

Non-EU foreign policy

Cultural policy


Rules for political asylum

Fighting organized crime

Accepting refugees



Juvenile crime prevention

Urban crime prevention

Fighting drugs

Fighting human exploitation

Fighting terrorism

Eurobarometer''For each of the following areas, do you think that decisions should be made by the (NATIONALITY) government, or made jointly within the EU?''


Why has Spain and Poland Opposed Giscard’s Proposal?

  • Nice assigns them ‘big boy’ status
  • Gives them more ‘blocking power’


How does S-O power change?

  • France-German power axis due to similarity of preferences and population size.
  • ‘Euroskeptics’ and ‘Euroenthusiasts’ lose out.
  • Nice arrangement probably not a good idea for EU.