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Taxation and Customs Union

Taxation and Qualified Majority Voting

The Intergovernmental Conference of 2003-2004

1. Introduction

The Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) on a Constitutional Treaty for the EU began on 4 October 2003. The discussions resulted in the approval by the Heads of State and Government of the European Union on 18 June 2004 of a Constitutional Treaty.

The site presents:

  • the European Commission's position to the IGC of 2003-2004 and
  • the positions taken by the Commission and other participants in the debate on qualified majority voting that took place in the Convention on the Future of Europe that provided a basis for the IGC discussions.

A series of arguments in favour of qualified majority voting in certain areas of taxation presented to the IGC, as well as useful links are also attached. Since these arguments are evolutionary, it should be noted that they were drafted in 2002-2003 for the specific purpose of the work of the Convention and the IGC.

2. European Commission opinion on the Intergovernmental Conference

One topic of discussion at the IGC 2003-2004 was the question of introducing qualified majority voting in the area of taxation. The general rule in the European treaties is that EU Member States must agree tax proposals unanimously before they can be adopted.

The European Commission proposed that there should be a move from unanimity to qualified majority voting for proposals in a limited number of tax fields, essentially proposals necessary for the proper operation of the Internal Market, proposals to combat tax fraud and evasion and proposals related to the protection of the environment.

At the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), the Commission expressed the following views on the need for a limited move from unanimity voting to qualified majority voting for tax proposals:

"In the draft Constitution, there are still numerous provisions for unanimous voting in the Council or similar decision-making arrangements (consensus within the European Council or agreement by the governments of the Member States). It would be unrealistic to ask for all these to come under qualified majority voting and would not moreover be appropriate, given the great diversity of the cases in question. In certain fields, the Constitution will need to be revised to enable the Union to operate effectively ...

More precise demarcation of the Union's authority should, in some cases, enable unanimous voting to be dispensed with. For example:

  • taxation in connection with the operation of the internal market, i.e.
    • modernising and simplifying existing legislation,
    • administrative cooperation
    • combating fraud or tax evasion
    • measures relating to tax bases for companies, but not including tax rates;
  • the aspects of free circulation of capital linked to the fight against fraud;
  • taxation in respect of the environment."

Source: Opinion of the Commission, on the Intergovernmental Conference, document COM(2003) 548 of 17/09/2003.

3. Unanimity v. qualified majority voting (QMV)

Within the framework of the treaties of the European Community and the European Union (as well as under constitutional treaty approved by Heads of State and Government following the IGC), all tax decisions to be taken at European level are subject to the unanimity rule. That is, all Member States must agree on any measure adopted in the taxation field.

Qualified majority voting implies that a European law is adopted as soon as a certain threshold of votes in the Council of Ministers is reached. Voting is weighted on the basis of a Member State's population and corrected in favour of less-populated countries. More information on qualified majority voting can be found here.

Some Member States do not think it desirable to extend qualified majority voting to taxation. This view is not shared by the European Commission, which considers that QMV is necessary in some areas of taxation. In an enlarged EU of 25 Member States, retaining unanimity for all taxation decisions may make it impossible to achieve any of the tax co-ordination necessary to Europe. This can be easily demonstrated through examples.

The limits of unanimity voting in taxation - examples

It is important to stress that qualified majority voting does not imply harmonisation of taxation across Europe. Nor does it mean an increase in taxation. QMV in taxation is aimed at ensuring the compatibility of the Member States' tax systems with each other and with the Treaties. The justifications for modifying decision-taking in taxation are further explained in the frequently asked questions (FAQs).

Frequently asked questions on the Commission's positions

4. Positions expressed in the Convention on the Future of Europe

The Convention on the Future of Europe met between March 2002 and June 2003 to make recommendations on the key issues arising for the European Union's future development. The Convention submitted its recommendations in the form of a new draft Constitutional Treaty, replacing and modifying the content of the existing Treaties to the Thessaloniki European Council, which welcomed it and considered it to be a good basis for starting the IGC.

In the context of the Convention on the Future of Europe, taxation was the subject of in-depth discussion in the workgroup on 'Economic governance'. Subsequently, in plenary session, the participants presented their points of view and discussed the proposals of the Convention Praesidium. The Commission representatives wished to amend the taxation articles in the draft constitution treaty. The information presented here is relatively technical.

Final proposal of the Convention (draft Constitution Treaty).

Amendments to the draft constitution proposed by the Commission (available only in French)

These amendments cover 3 main articles proposed by the Praesidium. That is, articles III-62, III-63 and III-65 (the numbering used in the amendments does not correspond to that finally proposed by the Convention).

Please note that in these documents, strikethrough text means that the amendment proposes the deletion of the corresponding words.

Complete list of amendments proposed in the taxation area by all contributors

Conclusions of the working group on 'Economic Governance' (the Hänsch report)

5. Background information and useful links

Taxation information and links

  • Commissioner Frits Bolkestein has expressed his viewpoint on qualified majority voting on a number of occasions. See for example: an article (in French) that was published in Le Monde on 12 June 2003
  • The complete list of proposed taxation amendments can be found at:

Amendments to the draft constitution proposed by the Commission (available only in French)

Other links