Voting analysis: Council increasingly divided on the Green Deal

Voting analysis: Council increasingly divided on the Green Deal

As EU institutions scramble to finalise the legislative agenda before the electoral campaign kicks-in, significant fault lines are emerging in the EU Council especially on the Green Deal agenda. Voting data showcases that an increasing number of Council decisions are being adopted by qualified majority (i.e. without the endorsement of some of the governments). In fact, about half of the Council decisions in 2023 have been divisive (19 out of 37 decisions), which is a significant increase compared to previous years. 

Note: this analysis refers to the publicly available final votes. Thus, this data does not cover the more frequent situations where countries object to specific parts of the proposal during the debates, but ultimately shy away from voting against the proposal as a whole.

As you can see in the chart below, there has been a boost in the number of consensual decisions in the EU Council right after the departure of the UK, also due to the urge to stay cohesive during emergencies (Covid-19 in 2020-2021 and Ukraine in 2022). However, the renewed consensus is starting to falter as the legislative action initiated in 2019 faces an increasingly hostile political mood, especially with regards to decarbonisation measures.

Three governments in particular have been withholding their support for green initiatives: Belgium, Bulgaria, and Poland. Although the isolation of the Hungarian government has been more often under the spotlight due to their positions on Ukraine’s war, Poland is actually facing the biggest regulatory rift with the rest of the EU, as the PiS-led government did not support about 34% of legislative decisions in the Council this year. Statistically speaking, this level of opposition is only comparable to Boris Johnson’s UK (but that was just before the Brexit deal was finalised). The escalating conflict between Warsaw and Brussels further raises the stakes for the upcoming Polish elections in the fall, whose outcome remains highly uncertain.

These trends are confirmed by the data covering the broader 2020s period, as shown by the other map below. Hungary was the country most often at odds with the Council consensus in this broader period, followed by Poland and Bulgaria. Thus, our research confirms that the main opposition in the Council is increasingly found among CEE countries (differently from the past, when North-Western countries were the most confrontational, as shown by previous research by VoteWatch Europe). 

Importantly, the drifting of specific countries from the EU consensus is a signal of their deteriorating relationship with Brussels, as it was the case of the UK in the past. Such trends are not to be neglected and can have big implications for several dossiers. In fact, since decisions on a relevant set of policy areas must be taken by unanimity, isolated countries can still hold significant power by blocking strategic EU initiatives, as was notably the case of Poland and Hungary on minimum taxation, or the latest foreign policy approach by the Hungarian government.  

It is important to note that other governments also have issues with specific Council decisions, thus contributing to the increased tension within this institution. For instance, Finland has not been supportive of files related to the Recovery Fund, Austria and Germany have been critical of the proposal on information exchanges between law enforcement authorities, Italy disagreed with the compromise on CO2 standards for cars, while Sweden has been critical of the proposal concerning the trade of products linked to deforestation, but also of the initiative on gender pay transparency. 

Conversely, a few countries have never been on the minority side in the Council in the current decade, notably France. This confirms previous observations on the French avoiding isolation in the Council, although the diplomatic strength of the country should also be taken into account to explain France’s performance in the institution. 

Note: France behaves differently when it comes to comitology votes, as its representatives are more likely to oppose Commission proposals, especially on topics such as chemicals, GMOs, pesticides, etc. For more information, contact us at [email protected]  

As the elections get closer, and EU decisions get more closely scrutinised by the electorate during the campaign, we can expect more governments to feel the pressure to deviate from the Council’s consensus when unpopular proposals are being decided on. This increasingly confrontational atmosphere mirrors the trends observed in the European Parliament, which will be subject to a separate analysis.


It is likely that the fragmentation and polarisation trends will further accelerate after the elections next year. If you wish to find out more about our predictions for next year, feel free to check our latest analysis on the likely institutional changes and contact us at [email protected] for more forecasts and insights on the upcoming EU elections. We can provide you with dedicated briefings, visualisations and presentations on how the elections will likely affect specific EU policies (such as environment, energy, health, digital, trade, etc.).

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