Why no gridlock? Coping with Diversity in the Council of the European Union

Andreas Warntjen


The risk of gridlock has been haunting discussions on European legislative decision-making for decades. All European Union legislation has to pass through the Council of the European Union, which has a relatively high voting threshold and whose members hold a diverse set of preferences, particularly after Eastern Enlargement. Nevertheless, the legislative output of the Union is relatively high. Existing explanations focus on process-related mechanisms (vote trading, cooperative problem-solving). In contrast, this study explains how member states can change the content of proposals to accommodate the specific concerns of recalcitrant governments. Several empirical examples show how member states have adapted European legislation to overcome the risk of gridlock. Based on a new data set covering a five year period in one policy field (environmental policy), this study shows that member states frequently put forward requests to limit the scope of European legislation, to extend transitional time periods or to lower standards. Furthermore, these requests are often successful. Besides allowing member states to opt out of European agreements (differentiated integration), EU legislation can accommodate concerns of individual member states, thus increasing the decision-making capacity of the Union.


Council of the European Union; Legislative decision-making; Gridlock; Member state requests

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