Unanimity, like pregnancy, has a binary quality. A decision can’t be ‘virtually unanimous’. But this is just how French farms minister Michel Barnier described this morning’s final compromise agreement on the health check package. So which of the EU 27 member states were unable to acquiesce in the deal?
My sources tell Roger Waite tells me it was the UK plus three others (I assume Denmark, Sweden and perhaps the Netherlands or Estonia) Lithuania, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia [update: and Estonia]. Can well-informed readers offer some further illumination?
A similar confusion applies to the yesterday’s agriculture votes in the European Parliament. It is a peculiar quirk of Europe’s elected chamber that most votes are not recorded but taken on informal shows of hands or pre-cooked by the political group leaderships. As one EP insider put it to me today:
“As to the voting lists, they are often political group secrets. You will only get them from the group staff or coordinators and even then, unless the vote is registered electronically, you will never know how someone voted on an issue unless you ask them specifically and even then they might not even know. They follow the coordinator, ie the guy in front who sticks his thumb up or down, and sometimes there will be a dissenting national view so they will follow the national line rather than the group one! If the vote is registered you can find the nominal vote per MEP per amendment the day after the vote in the EP records, but this rarely happens for a huge report like yesterdays unless a political group has requested it.”
Another correspondent put it more bluntly:
“The European Parliament’s procedures on members’ voting are an affront to democracy.”
But at least the Parliament holds it debates and votes in public. The Council remains a stereotypical ;smoke-filled room’. We can only guess at what secret deals were cut in the small hours of last night, and who’s arguing for what.
Do people seriously wonder why so many Europeans regard the EU’s representative institutions as distant and obscure?