The Council

The Council of the European Union or the Council is one of the most important bodies within the European Union.  The Council in conjunction with the European Parliament makes laws.

The Council consists of a member of the government of each member state who has authority  to commit the government of that state.  The membership of the Council varies depending on the subject matter that is being considered.  Ministers are accompanied by their civil servants. Representatives of the Commission also attend.

The Council has the following configurations which correspond broadly to ministries in each state.

  • General affairs and external relations (Minister for Foreign Affairs)
  • Economic and financial affairs (Minister for Finance)
  • Justice and home affairs (Minister for Justice)
  • Employment and social policy, health and consumer affairs (Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment)
  • Transport, telecommunications and energy (Minister for Transport)
  • Agriculture and fisheries (Minister for Agriculture)
  • Environment (Minister for the Environment and Local Government)
  • Education youth and culture (Minister for Education)
  • Competence of Council

Competence of Council

The council has a broad range of competence.  These include the following.

Economic policy coordination.

This is undertaken by consultations, deliberations, and recommendations.  The Council does not generally have powers to bind states in relation to economic and financial affairs.  The coordination of the economies is undertaken by this Council comprising the finance ministers referred to as ECOFIN.

Law making power

The most significant powers of the Council is to make European Union law in consultation with the European Parliament.  In most areas, the consent of both European Parliament and the Council is required.

International affairs

The Council authorises the Commission to negotiate international treaties and decides whether or not to adopt them.

EU finances

The Council proposes and adopts the European Union budgets in tandem with the European Parliament.  The European Union has its own tax resources including part of value-added tax and customs duties. The European Union also incurs expenditure in implementing and administering certain areas such as agriculture, social and regional funds and many other areas.

Decisions making in relation to justice, police, and judicial matters.

In these areas, the Council acts without the involvement of the European Parliament and must generally act unanimously,  although the treaty modifies this position in some cases.

The Council has powers to delegate the implementation of laws to the European Union in some areas.

The European Council

The European Council is the highest body in the European Union. Its functions are defined by the Treaties. It deals with very high-level issues that arise from time to time.  It comprises the heads of government and meets twice a year.  Meetings of the European Council are confidential are not recorded, Statements are issued which are recorded and issued.

The European Council generally meets four times a year in Brussels. The European Council is formalized under the Lisbon Treaty as a distinct body.  It is made up of the heads of government (head of state in the case of France), the president of the Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs.  The Council allows for the heads of state or governments to be assisted by a minister and for the President of the Commission to be assisted by a Commissioner.

There is a full-time President of the European Council.  This replaces the previous arrangements under which the presidency of the Council rotated every six months. Formerly, the Presidency of the Council rotated between the member states every six months.  The state which held the presidency chaired Council meetings.  It was responsible for preparing and organising the Council’s work and agenda and convenes meetings.


The committee of permanent representatives (COREPER) is a body comprising civil servants of the various member states.  It prepares the work of the Council and carries out functions assigned to it by the Council.  COREPER prepares proposals which are brought to council meetings for approval.  In effect, most of the technical details and objections are worked out in advance so that decisions are approved by the ministers in the council.

There are two levels of COREPER.  COREPER I is the technical level and COREPER II is the political level.

One consists of permanent representatives who focus on political and general matters.  Deputy permanent representatives concentrate on technical issues.  It may form working groups and ad hoc committees as required.  This is COREPER II.  The Commission and  European Parliament are also likely to be involved.

If there is unanimity at COREPER level, it is put on part A of the Council’s agenda and it’s likely to be adopted.  If matters are not agreed at COREPER level, they are put on part  B of the Council’s agenda for resolution.

The Council’s meetings in relation to legislation under the co-decision procedure are open to the public and may be broadcast.  The results of the voting are made public.

Although ministers may send permanent or deputy permanent representatives to attend the Council for them, they have no right to vote.  Another council member may effectively act as a proxy in addition to his own vote.

Making Laws

Laws may be adopted by the Council by qualified majority or a simple majority. Unanimity applies only in relation to a relatively small number of matters.  In particular, it covers

  • taxation,
  • certain social security and employee rights
  • certain aspects of commercial policy.
  • Constitutional matters
  • Justice and home affair matters
  • Certain laws to attain the objectives of the internal market which are not specifically provided for in the Treaty.

The most common method of voting is qualified majority voting.  Each state has a weighted vote which goes some way towards reflecting their relative populations.  However, unlike the position in the European Parliament, the weighting in the council is in no way proportionate to the population.

The number of votes per member states is as follows.

  • Germany, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom, 27 each.
  • Poland and Spain, 27 each.
  • Romania 14.
  • Netherlands 13.
  • Belgium, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, the Czech Republic, 12 each.
  • Austria, Bulgaria, Sweden, 10 each.
  • Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Lithuania, Slovakia, 7 each.
  • Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg, Slovenia, 4 each.
  • Malta 3

There are 345 votes maximum.  255 votes in favour cast by a majority of members are required where laws are adopted on a proposal from the Commission.  255 votes with two-thirds of members in favour is required in other cases.  The vote must represent 62 percent of the total population of the EU at a minimum.

There is a new system of voting in the Council under the Lisbon Treaty.  The Council comprises the government ministers of the various member states in the relevant area.  From the end of 2014, the normal requirement to pass a measure is 55 percent of member states with the total population of the member states having at least 65 percent of the EU population.

In the case of a proposal other than from the Commission, a majority representing 72% of the states with 65% of the population is required.

In order to block a measure, the minority must comprise at least four member states.  Otherwise, it will be adapted unless blocked even if the 65 percent majority in population is not achieved.

If not all member states vote, the requisite majority is 55 percent of the participating states and 65 percent of their population.  The majority must be a minimum number of council members, representing 35 percent of the population.

Until 2017 there was an alternative voting system.  If a measure was considered as political sensitivity to a state, the older qualified majority voting system under the existing EU treaty could be adopted.

In practice, the council will seek to proceed by unanimity and votes will be (inaudible). Qualified majority voting applies under the Lisbon Treaty in 21 new areas that formerly required unanimity.


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