What is the Council of the European Union?

Do you know what the Council European Union does, as one of the most important EU institutions?

Find out more from our lawyer, below!

What is the EU Council, more exactly?

In the EU Council (informally known as the Council), ministers from the governments of all the Member States meet to discuss, amend and adopt legislation and coordinate policies.

They are empowered to commit their governments to the actions they have agreed at their meetings. Council meetings take place in Brussels, except for three months (April, June and October) when they are held in Luxembourg. Note that this institution has an atypical feature – representatives at ministerial level differ according to the subjects discussed in the Council. For example, discussions on agricultural subsidies will be attended exclusively by the agriculture ministers of the Member States.

The rules governing this institution are laid down in Article 16 of the Treaty on European Union and Articles 237 to 243 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

Powers, responsibilities and procedures

With regard to powers, the following should be noted:

  1. Coordinate Member States’ national policies
  2. Provides a general mandate with guidelines for the Commission to negotiate international conventions
  3. Sign international agreements and treaties negotiated by the Commission
  4. Has legislative initiative on the EU’s common foreign policy

At procedural level the EU Council:

  1. Can only take decisions with a working quorum
  2. Decisions are taken by majority or unanimous vote
  3. Each state receives a number of votes in proportion to its economic strength, Romania has 14 votes
  4. Since the Treaty of Lisbon, voting on legislative acts is done in public, with each state’s choice known.

 Presidency of the Council of the European Union

The Presidency of the Council rotates every six months among the EU Member States. During this six-month period, the country holding the Presidency leads meetings at all levels in the Council, helping to ensure the continuity of the EU’s work in the Council.

Holding the Presidency of the EU Council

The system of rotating presidencies dates back to the beginning of European integration. Every six months, a Member State takes over the Presidency of the Council of the EU and thus helps to ensure the smooth running of the EU legislative process.

At the time of writing, the Presidency of the Council is held by Belgium.

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Council of the European Union in the legislative procedure at EU level

The Council is thus present in the special legislative procedure. This involves the adoption of a regulation, directive or decision by the European Parliament with the participation of the Council or by the Council with the participation of the European Parliament.

This procedure is not expressly regulated in the Treaty, but Article 289 TFEU refers to how decisions are adopted under this procedure, and an interpretation of this provision and other specific Treaty provisions gives the following characteristics:

  1. In the Council, the decision is taken by unanimity, which increases the role of the Member States, which thus have a right of veto.
  2. The role of the Commission is not clearly mentioned in the special legislative procedure, as Article 289 TFEU does not expressly mention that it has legislative initiative.
  3. This procedure also includes the consultation procedure, which was previously a legislative procedure when the Council was the sole legislator and Parliament was consulted.

The special legislative procedure is provided for by the Treaty in the following areas:

  1. Adoption of the act establishing the European Public Prosecutor’s Office
  2. Taxation
  3. The field of prudential supervision of credit institutions
  4. Association of overseas countries and territories with the European Union

The Council of the European Union is therefore a fundamental institution of the European Union, reflecting national interests as opposed to Union interests.

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