The Council of the European Union: The Voice of the Member States

Basics: 

 Function: It represents the member states and is one of two legislative bodies and together with the Parliament (the executive branch in certain areas)

Members: Consists of one minister from each EU country

Presidency: Rotates every six months

Meeting: In Luxembourg in April, June, and October, other times in Brussels

 Address: Rue de la Loi/Wetstraat 175, B–1048 Brussels

 Tel: (32–2) 285 6111

 Website: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/

The Council is the main decision-making mechanism of the EU.Like the Parliament, the Council was established in the 1950s with the founding treaties.The Council represents the member states, and one minister from each national member state of the EU attends the meetings.

Which minister will be present at which meeting depends on the agenda.For instance, if the Council is discussing environmental issues, the meeting is held with the participation of the environmental ministers of each EU country and is called the “Environmental Council.”The EU’s relations with the outside world are handled by the General Affairs and Foreign Affairs Council.However, this Council structure has broad responsibilities in general policy issues as well.For this reason, the secretaries of each ministry elected by each government attend the meetings.

A total of nine different Council configurations are present:

  • General Affairs (GAC) Foreign Affairs (FAC)
  • Economic and Financial Affairs (ECOFIN)
  • Justice and Home Affairs (JHA)
  • Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO)
  • Competitiveness (COMPET)
  • Transport, Telecommunications and Energy (TTE)
  • Agriculture and Fisheries (AGRIFISH)
  • Environment (ENVI)
  • Education, Youth, Culture and Sport (EYCS)

Each minister on the Council is authorized on behalf of their government. In other words, the signature of these ministers is the signature of their government.Moreover, each minister on the Council is responsible to the national parliament and the citizens represented by the parliament.This ensures the democratic legitimacy of the Council’s decisions.

Not more than four times in a year, the presidents and/or prime ministers of the member states shall meet with the President of the European Commission under the name of the European Council .These summits define the EU policies in an inclusive manner and resolve issues that cannot be resolved at a lower level (e.g., by ministers at regular Council meetings).

What does the Council do?

The council has the following six major responsibilities:

  1. Adopts legislative acts together with the European Parliament in several policy areas.
  2. Coordinates member states’ general economic and social policies.
  3. Concludes international agreements between the EU and other countries or international organizations;
  4. Adopts the EU budget together with the Parliament.
  5. Developing the EU foreign and security policy on the basis of guidelines set by the European Council.
  6. Coordinating the cooperation between national courts and law enforcement on criminal issues.

How is the work of the Council organized?The Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper) 

Each EU member state has a permanent group (“representative”) in Brussels that represents the member state at the EU level and protects its national interests. The head of each representative office is the ambassador of the representative country to the EU.

These ambassadors meet every week as the Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper). The Council prepares the work of the Council, except for the agricultural issues that are dealt by the Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA) deals. Coreper is supported by working groups of civil servants from national governments. 

Council Presidency

The Council’s Presidency changes every six months.In other words, each EU country defines the agenda of the council for six months in a row and chairs all meetings, highlighting legal and political decisions, and mediating reconciliations between the member states. List of European Council Presidency until June 2020 
 

Qualified Majority

Council decisions in sensitive areas, such as the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), taxation, asylum, and immigration policies, should be unanimous.In other words, each member state has the right to veto in these areas.In a majority of areas, the council takes its decisions through “Qualified Majority Voting.”The qualified majority is reached if two conditions are met:

  • If the majority of the member states vote in favor (in some cases a majority of 2/3), and
  • If a decision is supported by member states representing at least 73.9 percent (255 votes) of the total.

Furthermore, any Member State could request confirmation that the votes cast in favor represent, at least, 62 percent of the total EU population.If this rate cannot be attained, the decision will not be accepted.