How the Council works

The Council of the European Union, also known as Council of Ministers or Council, is made up of the Ministers of the 27 Member States. It is an EU institution and its seat is in Brussels. During the months of April, June and October, the Council meetings are held in Luxembourg.

The Council meets in different configurations according to the policy areas dealt with and each member state is represented by the Minister in charge of particular policy area (eg. the Agriculture Minister participates in the meeting dealing with agriculture and that meeting will be the “Agriculture Council”). There are ten Council Configurations covering all the EU policies, which are:

  1. General Affairs
  2. Foreign Affairs
  3. Economic and Financial Affairs
  4. Justice and Home Affairs
  5. Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs
  6. Competitiveness
  7. Transport, Telecommunications and Energy
  8. Agriculture and Fisheries
  9. Environment
  10. Education, Youth, Culture and Sports

The rotating Presidency chairs all of the Council configurations, with the exception of the Foreign Affairs Council, which has a permanent president. This formation is presided over by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, currently Baroness Catherine Ashton.

… The Council is the decision-maker, together with the European Parliament.

… It adopts legislative acts (Regulations, Directives, Decisions), in most areas according to the ordinary legislative procedure, known as “co-decision”, with the European Parliament.

… Ordinarily, the Council can only legislate on the basis of the proposals issued by the European Commission.

… The Council also has the responsibility for the overall coordination of economic policies.

… Every year, it approves, in cooperation with the European Parliament, the EU Budget.

… Furthermore, the Council signs agreements on behalf of the Union, on issues related to the environment, trade, development etc, between the EU and one or more Member States or international organisations.

… The Council coordinates the actions of the Member States and adopts measures in the area of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.

… And, it develops and implements the Common Foreign and Security Policy, on the basis of the guidelines set by the European Council.

Before the Ministers come together to decide on EU issues, meetings are prepared in more than 150 preparatory bodies and committees (working parties), consisting of national delegates from the Member States. Issues discussed at the preparatory bodies of the Council are passed on to the Permanent Representatives Committee (COREPER), which consists of the Permanent Representatives and the Deputy Permanent Representatives in the EU of all the Member States. COREPER prepares the Council meetings by completing any technical – political issues, before the dossiers are submitted to the Council.

Within the Council, the decisions adopted by the Council pursuant to the Rules of Procedure shall be adopted by a simple majority, unless the rules provide for a different voting arrangement. The number of votes each Member State can cast is set by the Treaties. Moreover, the Treaties name the cases in which a simple majority, qualified majority or unanimity are required. The voting procedures on a proposal for a legislative act and the relevant discussion, as well as the general debates are public. On the other hand, discussions on matters which do not involve legislation (eg. foreign affairs issues) are not public.

Distribution of votes for each Member State
Germany, France, Italy, United Kingdom 29
Spain, Poland 27
Romania 14
Netherlands 13
Belgium, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal 12
Austria, Bulgaria, Sweden 10
Denmark, Ireland, Lithuania, Slovakia, Finland 7
Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg, Slovenia 4
Malta 3

(For more information visit the website of the Council