The Council of the European UnionMay 1, 2018
It is the Union’s main decision-making centre. It adopts “European laws” (directives, decisions and regulations). It meets several times a month with the ministers of the member states, authorised to commit their governments. The composition changes according to the agenda: agricultural issues are submitted to agriculture ministers, health programmes to health ministers…
Missions of the Council of the European Union
The Council of the European Union is the main decision-making centre of the European Union. Within it, government representatives put forward their interests and reach compromises in order to reach a joint decision taking into account the views of the European Parliament and the national parliaments.
The Council is responsible for the general coordination of the activities of the European Union, the main purpose of which is the establishment of a single market, i.e. an area without internal frontiers ensuring the’four freedoms’: freedom of movement of goods, persons, services and capital, plus the single currency. It is also responsible for intergovernmental cooperation, common foreign and security policy (CFSP) and police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.
The Treaty of Amsterdam, which entered into force on 1 May 1999, increases the responsibilities of the Council in areas ranging from intergovernmental to Community (abolition of internal border controls, reinforcement of external borders, fight against international crime and drug trafficking, immigration policy).
The Secretary-General of the Council fulfils the new function of High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) on the international scene. Javier Solana Madariaga was appointed to this post by the Heads of State or Government meeting in the European Council in Cologne on 3 and 4 June 1999.
Function and organization
The Council holds about 100 formal sessions each year, at which it adopts regulations, directives, decisions, recommendations or opinions.
The Treaty provides for cases in which the Council acts by simple majority, qualified majority or unanimity. Most often (agriculture, single market, environment, transport, employment, health), it decides by qualified majority. The largest countries have more votes than the smallest: Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom have 10 votes, Spain 8 votes, Belgium, Greece, the Netherlands and Portugal 5 votes, Austria and Sweden 4 votes, Denmark, Ireland and Finland 3 votes, Luxembourg 2 votes.
The text proposed by the European Commission must receive 62 votes out of a total of 87 to be approved. To amend a Commission proposal without the consent of the Commission, the unanimity of the members of the Council shall be required. In practice, the Council always tries to find the broadest possible consensus before deciding.
The Council is constituted by the ministers of the Member States empowered to bind their governments. Council members are therefore politically accountable to their national parliaments and to public opinion. It is chaired by each Member State in turn for a period of six months, according to a pre-established order of rotation of the Presidency. The Presidency organises and chairs the meetings, makes compromises and ensures consistency and continuity in the decision-making process.
The composition of the Councils varies according to the subjects discussed: for example, do Foreign Ministers sit in the General Affairs Council to deal with external relations and general policy issues, while Economy Ministers meet in the Economics-Finance Council, Education Ministers in the Education Council… There are also Agriculture, Budget, Culture, Energy, Justice and Home Affairs, Internal Market, Fisheries, Telecommunications, Transport, Labour and Social Affairs, Research, Health, Environment and Industry Councils. Each Member State is represented in Brussels by a Permanent Representation headed by an Ambassador. The fifteen representatives meet weekly in the Permanent Representatives Committee (COREPER) to prepare the Council’s work.
Specialised working groups, composed of national experts, send their reports to Coreper and suggest compromises. They study proposals and draft texts, points of agreement and disagreement. The General Secretariat of the Council shall ensure the preparation and proper functioning of its work. It shall preserve the acts and archives of the Council. Its Legal Service assists the Council and its working groups. The Schengen Secretariat was integrated into the services of the Council of the European Union in 1999.