The Council of the European Union is one of the most important institutions in the EU. This is where most of the negotiations and discussions about what the EU will do take place. The Council of the European Union is made up of the Ministers of the governments of all the EU member states.
Countries take turns on what is called ‘the rotating presidency of the European Union’. Decisions are made using a complicated voting system. The building where they meet is in Brussels.
The work of the Council of the European Union
This is where most of the negotiations and discussions about what the EU will do take place. The Council of the European Union is made up of the Ministers of the governments of all the EU member states (for example agriculture ministers or transport ministers)
See here for the a link to the home page of the Council of the European Union
When the Council of the European Union meets it is usually to discuss a particular area of policy – for example, a meeting about agriculture in the whole of the EU, or about transport or protecting the environment. The various ministers must negotiate on behalf of their own country. Each of them will have their own interests and priorities. There will be a lot of discussion and arguing.
Alliances in the Council of the European Union
In general groups of members who have similar interests will cooperate, all those countries with a lot of farmers for example. They may find themselves forming an alliance. So it is very unusual that one single country would find themselves alone.
LIVE WEBCAST of the Council of European Union
Watch the Council of the European Union Live on a Webcast here. This link takes you to the Consilium website to see a live broadcast from the Council Chamber. See here. The scheduled time of the next broadcast is on the page, if when you look there is nothing happening just go back at the right time. It is listed as CET – that is Central European Time.
The Presidency of the Council of the European Union
The Council of the European Union does not have one permanent president, instead countries take it in turns to hold the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, each one for six months.
Each Presidency has its own priorities
When each EU Country takes its turn to hold the Presidency they usually have a particular idea they want to promote. They will announce this at the beginning and you will see it on their websites. Bit it doesn’t always go according to plan.
Each Presidency starts off with a plan of what will be discussed and decided in the six months. However, despite this, very often some unexpected and important event occurs and then this takes precedence. The European Union has to deal with these immediate concerns and react to what has happened.
The Rota for the Presidency of the Council of the EU
The rota for the Presidency is set out by agreement in advance.
The Trio Presidency
To enable smooth transitions Presidencies work together in what is called the Trio Presidency.
Decision making by the Council of the European Union
There are two main ways in which a decision is made by the Council of the European Union – by Unanimity or by Majority Vote (QMV).
For some decisions there must be agreement by everyone; this is called ‘Unanimity’. In this case each country has a ‘veto’, that is they can say ‘no’ and stop the rest from doing something that they don’t like.
Sometimes it is a majority vote – in the Council of the European Union this is called QMV – this will be used on topics and policies where everyone has already agreed that they will not use a veto.
When there is something really difficult to decide it may not be possible for a decision to be made and in that case the ‘problem’ is passed up to The European Council. Then they have to solve it!
There are ten formations of the Council of the European Union. All of these are chaired by whichever country holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, except the Council of Foreign affairs which is chaired by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security.
Here are some of the more important groups or councils.
Discussion and decision making on whatever important topics are required.
Agriculture & Fisheries Council
This is the meeting of all the Agriculture Ministers of the EU countries
Economic and Financial Affairs Council
This is the meeting of all the Finance Ministers of the EU countries. It is often called EcoFin for short.
Foreign Affairs Council
This is the meeting of all the foreign ministers of the EU countries. It is chaired by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (sometimes just called the EU Foreign Minister).
Supporting the work of the Council of the European Union
The Council of the European Union is supported by several organisations whose job it is to help the ministers in their decision making.
This is the Permanent Representative Committee. This is made up of diplomatic staff and civil servants from the UE countries who are permanently in Brussels. They help their ministers when they have to attend meetings and provide them with information.
Working groups & Committees
These help to research the various issues and to provide expert information for COREPER to show to the Ministers for use in the Council of the European Union. These are made up of a mixture of people, some national civil servants, some commission officers and also various experts.
Where is it?
The Council of the European Union meets in the Justius Lipsius Building in Brussels.
Opening in 2014 a new Building for the Council of the European Union
The building will have three conference halls, designed for simultaneous translation, a new office for the President of the European Council and a new office for the Council Presidencies. Protecting the environment has been considered as well and the building will have solar panels and restored recycled windows from all over Europe. It is expected to open 2014.
More about QMV
QMV is the most important type of voting at the moment.
For a decision to pass it will have be supported by 55% of the countries of the EU AND at the same time, this must also add up to being 65% of the whole population of the EU.
The decision could be stopped but this would need at least four countries acting together.
The order of the Rota was set by a Council Decision in 2007.