Voting weights matter

I disagreed with just about every word of the Economist's take on EU voting weights:

All the studies of combinatorics that currently fill my email inbox fail because, early on, they concede that in the interests of clarity they assume that coalitions consist of nations taking decisions randomly. But they don't. Luxembourg and Belgium always vote for more European integration. The Nordics vote with Britain and the Netherlands on free trade things. Ireland has low taxes so votes with Britain against tax harmonisation, but has a powerful farms lobby so votes with France to preserve farm subsidies.
This isn't the least bit convincing, I'm afraid. It should be blindingly obvious that the voting weights of all the mentioned coalitions would be different under the double majority proposal than Poland's square root proposal. You don't get away from voting weights just by talking about coalitions instead of individual countries.

Further, to object to the assumption that coalitions are formed randomly displays bad reasoning. Naturally factors other than voting weights will make some countries more influential than their size would indicate and others less so, but that's no reason to introduce voting weights that treat EU voters unevenly even in the abstract. Voting coalitions in national elections aren't formed randomly, either, yet ideally each voter has an equal number of votes.
Voting weights symbolise political heft in the real world, nothing more. Not least because the EU almost never votes. The council of ministers is not some parliament where late night decisions can fall on a single vote, leaving whips counting every last member of their party through the division lobbies. The EU vastly prefers to take decisions by consensus.
This is silly. One of the goals of messing about with the voting rules is precisely to provide a structure in which every country doesn't have to agree on everything for the EU to reach a decision. If voting weights really didn't matter, then the current voting weights could stay as they are and we wouldn't be having this conversation. But they do matter, so the EU is looking into changing them and we are debating it. QED.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Right on! It is exactly that attitude -- we diplomats know about voting, don't tell us about maths -- that got the EU into its bind today. At the December 2000 Jacques Chirac pulled out his complex rules that had never been discussed in the prepatory meetings, and the numerically illiterate leaders agreed to it. Only later did it become obvious that what they agreed won't work. Unfortunately those are the rules in operation today! That is why we need a new set of rules.
Richard Baldwin, Editor of VoxEU.org