Germany and UK are main adversaries on EU laws, survey says

10.07.12 @ 08:50

  1. By Honor Mahony
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BRUSSELS - Germany and the UK are the most likely to have opposing views on EU legislation, while France and Lithuania are in perfect voting harmony, an analysis of member state voting shows.

  • Ministers vote in these rooms, but it has been hard for EU citizens to find out what goes on behind closed doors (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Of the 343 voted-on pieces of legislation between July 2009 and June 2012, the most votes were taken on laws to do with economic and monetary affairs - an area that has seen a surge in legislation since the financial crisis kicked off - followed by environment and transport.

Culture and education (where the EU has little power), constitutional affairs and development saw the fewest votes, according to a newly-published report by VoteWatch Europe, a research project run out of the London School of Economics.

The survey also highlights the EU's preferred way of doing business - getting as high a degree of consensus among the 27 member states as possible.

Of the 305 votes where a qualified majority - rather than unanimity - was needed to pass the law, 65 percent were passed with all countries voting in favour. In 35 percent of cases, governments were in disagreement about the law.

However, the report notes that member states regularly submit formal statements to make a point. In policy areas such as the environment - the most controversial - and regional development, member states make written comments on average 4.1 and 1.7 times respectively.

"In reality policy proposals may therefore be more contested than would appear, despite being reported as 'unanimously agreed'," notes the analysis.

Other policy areas where member states are likely to be at loggerheads are agriculture - accounting for 40 percent of the budget and regularly pitting those who think it is a waste of money against those who believe otherwise - and the EU budget.

Some policy areas are more likely to rile certain member states than others.

Denmark, for example, is known for being annoyed that its environmental standards are often higher than those being set by the EU. In the past three years, the 36 environmental votes have seen it say No three times and abstain four times.

The UK, meanwhile, has voted against the majority most often, followed by Germany, Austria and Denmark. France and Lithuania on the other hand not only always vote on the same side but have always voted with the majority.

London and Berlin have voted against each other the most often (15%), with the report also indicating that there are no fixed coalitions between member states. This corroborates what diplomats tend to say - that member states form strategic alliances on a law-by-law basis.

The vote watch report says it is the most "comprehensive project of its kind to date." The transparency tool, founded by academics, has already shone a light into how deputies into the European Parliament vote.

However, the member states' chamber - the council of ministers - is more opaque. There is no automatic publication of results directly after the vote has been taken and no single point of reference for seeing how governments vote.

This means it has until now not been possible to see how MEPs and member states have voted on the same piece of legislation.

It has also enabled the oft-heard complaint by EU officials that national politicians willingly say and do one thing in Brussels before going back home to complain about it.