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Decision-Making in the Enlarged EU Council of Ministers: A Softer Consensus Norm as an Explanation for its Apparent Adaptability?

Florence Deloche-Gaudez, Joint paper with Laurie Beaudonnet

Before 2004, it was feared, even predicted, that the enlargement of the European Union would block the ability of the Council of ministers to take common decisions. However, the blockage did not occur. The paper investigates this unexpected result, with a view to understanding better how the Council works. It focuses on possible changes in the informal consensus norm in an enlarged Council of ministers. Our two main hypotheses are that 1. the enlargement has softened the consensus norm and increased the impact of the majority threshold when it comes to approving decisions under qualified majority voting; 2. that this change has been differentiated across policy domains and Council configurations. The analysis relies on an innovative database documenting the entire EU decision-making process and including sector data over the period 2002-2008. It enables us to question the influence of the consensus norm a) with other data than the mere votes made public and b) across policy domains. This adds value to the existing analyses that either stay at the surface of the overall decision-making process or focus on one specific domain. Some data confirms that in order to cope with their increasing number, actors in the Council have paid more attention to the majority threshold and that this trend affects some configurations more than others.

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