Physicists reveal flaw in EU Constitution


As Britain prepares to make its mind up over the proposed European Constitution, Physics World reveals new research by physicists in Poland that claims the most controversial aspect of the new constitution, the voting rules at the EU Council of Ministers, are fatally flawed and will give some countries unfair clout in the decision-making process.

Karol Zyczkowski and Wojciech Slomczynski, physicists from the Jagielonian University in Krakow, have used existing techniques in game theory to calculate how much power each country will have if the new constitution is adopted i.e. what their ability to influence the decisions of the Council of Ministers will be.

They found that citizens in different EU countries will not have the same degree of influence on decisions taken by the Council. They disagree with the notion that the new constitution uses the simplest voting system possible, and claim that there is a much fairer solution, which they have named the Jagiellonian Compromise.

The key problem is that voting power does not relate to the number of votes a member state has, but rather depends on their ability to get decisions passed by forming coalitions with other states to push decisions through the Council.

A simple analogy would be a hung parliament where the most voting power actually rests with the minority parties, because they can swing any particular vote. This situation can be analyzed using a branch of mathematical physics known as game theory and the authors use two existing methods devised by Lionel Penrose (father of Roger) and John Banzhaf, a physicist turned law professor at George Washington University.

These are accurate methods for looking at the actual voting power of countries or political parties. The authors have analysed every member state in the EU, and looked at how their voting power will change first when the Treaty of Nice is introduced in November and then what it will be if the proposed new EU Constitution is introduced.

Under the proposed new constitution, new legislation will only have to satisfy two criteria to pass into law: the member states voting for it must account for at least 65% of the total population of the EU; and at least 15 member states must vote for it.

Zyczkowski and Slomczynski have shown that this system is effectively the same as one in which "voting weight" is directly proportional to population, and that such a system gives an unfair advantage to larger countries

If the proposed new constitution is adopted, Germany will gain the most voting power by far, followed by France, the UK and Italy. Spain and Poland will be the biggest losers.

They go on to suggest a solution they claim is "representative, transparent, effective and objective" being based on a purely statistical approach that wont handicap any particular country. They calculate that all citizens in the EU would have the same voting power if each member state were given a weight that was proportional to the square root of its population, and if new legislation required 62% of the votes at the council.

For further information or a pdf of their paper please contact David Reid (details at bottom of release).

The race for the next generation of DVDs

Sales of DVD players are booming with consumers around the world forking out over $20bn on DVD disks last year - twice as much as on conventional video cassettes. In this month's Physics World, Jochen Hellmig of Philips Research Laboratories describes the race between electronics companies to create DVD players with the maximum possible recording speed and the various tricks that are being used to let DVD disks store ever-more amounts of data. These tricks include creating lasers with shorter wavelengths, developing more powerful lenses to focus the beams, and designing clever new materials that can melt and then re-crystallize in 10 billionths of a second flat.

Meanwhile, electronics companies are preparing to go beyond DVD, with at least two competing technologies - HD-DVD and Blu-Ray - jockeying for position. Both approaches rely on gallium-nitride violet-blue lasers, which will allow both types of disks to store an enormous 50 Gigabytes of data. Although these new disks will not be compatible with existing DVD systems, it looks as if both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray recorders will be able to play your old CDs and DVDs.


Peter Higgs: the man behind physics' "holy grail"

The term "holy grail" is overused in physics, but the sub-atomic particle known as the Higgs boson really does merit this description. Without the Higgs boson, none of the fundamental particles in the universe would have any mass and the impressive edifice that is the Standard Model of particle physics would fall apart. Physicist hope to find the particle for the first time in the next few years -- either at the Tevatron collider at Fermilab in the US or at CERN's Large Hadron Collider, which is set to open at the Geneva-based lab in 2007.

In a rare interview - exactly 40 years after his original papers that predicted the particle - Edinburgh University physicist Peter Higgs reveals that he is embarrassed that the particle is named. Recalling how the Higgs boson became part of the Standard Model, he instead gives credit to a long list of other theorists whose work led to our current understanding of the origins of mass. "Most of what has been attached to my name should not have been," he insists.

Also in this issue:

  • Europe plans underground megaton detector
  • Double trouble for beta decay
  • Europe unveils ambitious research plans
  • Quantum change for nanotubes
  • Magical helium clusters
  • Supersonic boom for ultrasound
  • Superheavy elements: towards the "island of stability"
  • The attraction of nanomagnets
  • Careers in the Nordic nations
  • Apples, oranges and the permittivity of free space

    Source: Eurekalert & others

    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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    That which does not kill me makes me stronger.
    -- Frederick Nietzsche