Council of the European Union

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Council of the European Union
- Council -
Logo of the Council of the European Union
State level European UnionEuropean Union European Union
position Supranational legislative body (and part of the EU political system )
founding 1952
Headquarters Europe building ,
Brussels , BelgiumBelgiumBelgium 
Chair Chair : France represented by Jean-Yves Le Drian (January 1, 2022 - June 30, 2022)FranceFrance 

Secretary General: Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen (since July 1, 2015)


The Council of the European Union (in the text of the treaty only the Council , non-official often also the EU Council of Ministers or Council of Ministers ) is an organ of the European Union . In the political system of the EU , it exercises the law-making of the European Union together with the European Parliament . Since it represents the governments of the EU member states , it can be referred to as the EU's chamber of states (alongside the European Parliament as the Chamber of Citizens).

The European Union negotiates some policy areas in which the European Parliament has less of a say. These intergovernmental areas concern, among other things, the common foreign and security policy . Within this framework, the ministers work together in the Council of Ministers.

The functioning of the Council is regulated in Art. 16 EU Treaty and Art. 237  ff. FEU Treaty . It is composed of one representative from each member state, who must be empowered to take decisions that are binding on its government. Although the so-called Council of Ministers is a single body, its meetings are held separately according to policy area. One speaks of the council formations. For example, in the council that deals with agricultural issues, the national ministers who represent the relevant department in their government meet . The representatives can be freely chosen by their government; however, important decisions are usually taken when the ministers are present.

The Council of Ministers is not chaired by a person, but by a state. This changes every six months and rotates among the member states; a state does not become chairman again until all other states have had their turn in the meantime. It is also said that the state in question holds the presidency of the Council. The chairman of a council formation is then the minister from that state. The respective head of government also represents his state on important occasions. The current state of the Council Presidency, the previous state and the future state have been working together in a trio presidency since 2007. This should give more continuity.

The Council of Ministers is not to be confused with the European Council : It consists of the heads of government of all states, unless a state is represented by the head of state. There is also the President of the Commission and a separately elected President of the European Council. The European Council has different tasks than the Council of Ministers, but is also an organ that represents the governments of the Member States.

The seat of the Council of Ministers is the Europa building in Brussels . The conferences take place in Luxembourg in April, June and October .


Europe building , seat of the Council of the European Union in Brussels

The council is a unified body , but due to the different policy areas it meets in different configurations - the so-called council formations, in which the representatives of different departments meet. Each formation consists of one representative from each member state. According to Article 16 of the EU Treaty , these representatives are authorized to act in a binding manner on their respective government. For this reason, federally constituted member states can also send ministers from the sub-national level to the council meetings if the central government has no competences on the issue in question. This is more often the case for Belgium, for example , which sends ministers from the regions or communities to various council formations .

Until June 2000 the council met at times in twenty different configurations. Thereafter, the number was initially reduced to sixteen, in June 2002 it was further reduced to nine, and the Lisbon Treaty expanded to ten in 2009.

The General Affairs Council , in which the foreign or European ministers of the member states are represented, plays a special role . It coordinates the activities of the other council formations and makes decisions that cannot be assigned to any other council formation. The foreign ministers also meet in the Foreign Affairs Council , which is responsible for the common foreign and security policy. The Foreign Affairs Council is also the only one that has another member in addition to the representatives of the member states, namely the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy . He chairs the Foreign Council, but has no right to vote on decisions.

In detail, there are the following council formations:

designation shortcut
      German             en.             fr.      
General Affairs Council
(instead of General Affairs and External Relations Council since December 1, 2009 )
Foreign Affairs Council
(since December 1, 2009)
Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council BeSoGeKo EPSCO
Council for Education, Youth, Culture and Sport BJKS ( also
Justice and Home Affairs Council JI JHA JAI
Agriculture and Fisheries Council  
( also GAP)
( also CAP)
( also PAC)
Environment Council ENVI
Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council TTE
Competitiveness Council WBF COMP
Economic and Financial Council ECOFIN

Way of working

The Council formations usually meet twice per Council Presidency, i.e. every three months, at ministerial level. The General Council , the Agriculture and Fisheries Council and the Economic and Financial Affairs Council meet more frequently, sometimes on a monthly basis. The meetings of the council are in principle public when it acts as a legislator; Conferences at which no legislative decisions are made, however, usually take place non-public.

The meetings of the council are prepared beforehand at different levels. The most important coordinating body is the Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper), in which the permanent representatives of the Member States to the EU meet regularly. It is divided into two groups: while most of the Council formations are prepared by Coreper I, in which the deputy permanent representatives meet, Coreper II, in which the permanent representatives themselves meet, is responsible for Council formations with particularly sensitive policy areas, namely specifically for the General Council , the Foreign Council , the Council on Economic and Financial Affairs and the Council on Justice and Home Affairs . In addition, the Council for Agriculture and Fisheries has its own preparatory committee, the Special Committee for Agriculture (SAL). Coreper and SAL prepare the agenda for the Council meetings and propose decisions on issues on which there is agreement between the Member States.

The actual preparation of the content of the Council meetings is carried out by the Council working groups , which are made up of officials from the member states and each specialize in certain policy areas. The Council also has a general secretariat with around 2,500 employees for administrative and translation activities. The French Pierre de Boissieu has been General Secretary since 2009, followed in 2011 by the German Uwe Corsepius , who was in turn followed on July 1, 2015 by the Dane Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen. His term of office is expected to end in 2025.

If the ministers in the Council have not been able to reach an agreement on certain issues, they can refer the matter to the European Council , where the heads of state and government of the EU member states meet. The European Council itself cannot intervene in EU legislation , but can only issue general guidelines. However, since the members of the Council - i.e. the ministers - are subordinate to the members of the European Council - i.e. the heads of government - within the national governments, the compromises of the European Council also serve as guidelines for the decisions of the Council.


The Presidency of the Council of the European Union (also known as the Council Presidency) changes every six months between the member states; the meetings of the various council formations, but also of all subordinate bodies such as the council working groups , are each chaired by the representative of the state concerned. The Foreign Affairs Council , chaired by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, is an exception .

Since 2007 the presidency of the council has been exercised in the form of a so-called trio presidency for a period of 18 months by a group of three member countries each. One state continues to hold the presidency for six months, but the three states present a joint program and can also represent each other when presiding over individual council meetings.

On January 1, 2007, the Council of the European Union set the order for the presidency of the Council until 2020. Previously, on January 1, 1995, the presidency states until mid-2003 and on December 12, 2005 those until mid-2018, but the accession of Romania and Bulgaria made it necessary to add these two states to the presidency list. On July 26, 2016, the Council adopted a decision changing the order in which the member states hold the presidency of the Council of the EU until 2030.

After the UK announced that it would give up its Presidency in the second half of 2017, the Council decided to bring the Council Presidencies forward by six months from 1 July 2017.

Presidency of the Council of the European Union
Year, state (1st half-year, 2nd half-year)
2007 Germany , Portugal 2008 Slovenia , France 2009 Czech Republic , Sweden
2010 Spain , Belgium 2011 Hungary , Poland 2012 Denmark , Republic of Cyprus
2013 Ireland , Lithuania 2014 Greece , Italy 2015 Latvia , Luxembourg
2016 Netherlands , Slovakia 2017 Malta , Estonia 2018 Bulgaria , Austria
2019 Romania , Finland 2020 Croatia , Germany 2021 Portugal , Slovenia
2022 France , Czech Republic 2023 Sweden , Spain 2024 Belgium , Hungary

Voting procedure

Votes in the Council of the European Union usually take place with a qualified majority , in the cases specified in the treaties, however, with a simple majority or unanimously . In purely procedural matters, the Council usually takes decisions with a simple majority ; in matters relating to the common foreign and security policy and other politically sensitive matters, such as tax policy, the Council decides unanimously (see European Union legislation ).

According to Art. 238 (1) TFEU, there is a simple majority if the majority of the member states agree.

Qualified majority

The ordinary legislative procedure , which applies in most EU policy areas, and many other decisions in the Council require a qualified majority. According to Art. 16 (3) TEU, the qualified majority is always decisive if the contracts do not provide for any other procedure. Since the Treaty of Lisbon, this has been defined by the principle of a double majority ( Art. 16 (4) TEU), which requires that

  • at least 55% of the member states agree (that would currently be 15), the same time
  • represent at least 65% of the EU population, where
  • a blocking minority applies, through which member states which represent more than 35% of the EU population plus an additional member state (that would currently be a total of 4) can veto . (In addition there is the possibility of a suspensive veto by currently 3 member states after the compromise of Ioannina )

In practice, this means that at least 23 (out of 27) member states have to agree in order to safely enforce a decision. In fact, even in areas where theoretically only a qualified majority would be required, decisions are usually made unanimously ( consensual ).

In the event that the Council does not take a decision on the proposal of the European Commission or the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy , Art. 238 TFEU provides for special regulations.

In order to have comparable data on the population of the individual member states, starting with the 2011 census , a Europe-wide census takes place every ten years according to standardized criteria.

Determination of the qualified majority by 2017

Seat of the EC Council of Ministers in Brussels in 1975.

The principle of the double majority was only finally introduced in 2017; it was applied from 2014 unless no Member State objected. Otherwise, the definition of the qualified majority provided for in the Treaty of Nice was temporarily applicable until then . For this purpose, all member states were assigned a certain number of votes, ranging from 3 (Malta) to 29 (Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy). For the adoption of a legal act were necessary after this procedure

  • a simple majority of the member states
  • and a majority of 260 of the 352 votes
  • At the request of a member state, it was also necessary to determine whether the member states that consented comprise at least 62% of the EU population.

The weighting of votes was roughly based on the population of the member states, although the smaller states were proportionally preferred (so-called degressive proportionality ). However, the distribution of votes was not based on a clear key. The four most populous states all had the same number of votes, even though Germany has significantly more inhabitants than the other three. Some of the countries that only acceded in 2004 had a rather low number of votes in relation to their population; In contrast, Spain and Poland did quite well in terms of vote weighting.

Weighting of votes EG-10
Country voices Share of votes
Federal Republic of Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy 10 each 15.9% each
Belgium, Netherlands, Greece 5 each 7.9% each
Denmark, Ireland 3 each 4.8% each
Luxembourg 2 3.2%
Number of total votes 63 100%
Weighting of votes for the EU-15 before the Treaty of Nice
country voices Share of votes
Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy 10 each 11.5% each
Spain 8th 9.2%
Belgium, Greece, Netherlands, Portugal 5 each each 5.7%
Austria, Sweden 4 each 4.6% each
Denmark, Finland, Ireland 3 each 3.4% each
Luxembourg 2 2.3%
Number of total votes 87 100%
Weighting of votes EU-27
country voices Share of votes
Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy 29 each 8.4% each
Poland, Spain each 27 7.8% each
Romania 14th 4.1%
Netherlands 13th 3.8%
Belgium, Greece, Portugal, Czech Republic, Hungary 12 each 3.5% each
Bulgaria, Austria, Sweden 10 each 2.9% each
Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Lithuania, Slovakia 7 each 2.0% each
Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Republic of Cyprus 4 each 1.2% each
Malta 3 0.9%
Number of total votes 345 100%
Weighting of votes EU-28 (July 1, 2013 to 2017)
Country voices Share of votes
Germany , France , Great Britain , Italy 29 each 8.2% each
Poland , Spain each 27 7.7% each
Romania 14th 4.0%
Netherlands 13th 3.7%
Belgium , Greece , Portugal , Czech Republic , Hungary 12 each 3.4% each
Bulgaria , Austria , Sweden 10 each 2.8% each
Denmark , Finland , Croatia , Ireland , Lithuania , Slovakia 7 each 2.0% each
Estonia , Latvia , Luxembourg , Slovenia , Republic of Cyprus 4 each 1.1% each
Malta 3 0.9%
Number of total votes 352 100%


The council takes part in the legislature , the legislation. However, its members are part of the national governments, i.e. the executive branch . It is seen as a typical case of executive federalism . Critics see this as a contradiction to the principle of the separation of powers and a reason for the EU's perceived democratic deficit . The so-called game about the gang is often criticized, in which governments try to enforce legislative proposals for which there is no parliamentary majority at national level via the detour of European legislation. In the ordinary legislative procedure , which applies to most EU policy areas, the directly elected European Parliament as well as the Council must approve a legislative act so that it can come into force. Incidentally, the separation of powers in the member states is often not characterized by a strict division but rather by entanglement. For example, in Germany not only the Bundestag or the Bundesrat but also the federal government can propose a law.

Another allegation against the Council was its lack of transparency . Until the Treaty of Lisbon (2007), the Council meetings were in principle closed to the public. This left the public unable to understand how a particular government voted on an issue. Since the Treaty came into force, the meetings have been public when the Council acts as legislator. Meetings at which no legislative decisions are made - e.g. preparatory meetings or the meetings of the Council for Foreign Affairs - continue to be closed to the public.

LobbyControl found in a study from April 2019 that the positions that an EU member state represents in the Council are rarely made public. Industry lobbyists could influence politicians at national level and thus, in the background, also influence the decisions of the Council.


  • Sven von Alemann: The Council of the European Union. Its position in the institutional structure of the European multilevel system and its contribution to the democratic legitimation of the European Union. Carl Heymanns, Cologne / Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-452-26973-7 .
  • Ines Härtel: Handbook of European Legislation. Springer, Berlin / Heidelberg 2006. ISBN 3-540-30664-1 .
  • Daniela Kietz, Nicolai von Ondarza: Welcome to the Lisbon reality. In a time of upheaval laden with conflict, there are signs of far-reaching power shifts in the EU Council structures. In: SWP-Aktuell. 2010 / A 29.
  • Jakob Lempp: Power “in” council and power “in” council. An analysis of the power structure in the Council and around the Council of the European Union. In: Werner J. Patzelt (Ed.): Parliaments and their power. Categories and case studies of institutional analysis. Nomos, Baden-Baden 2005, ISBN 3-8329-1588-5 , pp. 115-144.
  • Jakob Lempp : The evolution of the Council of the European Union. Institutional evolution between intergovernmentalism and supranationalism. Nomos, Baden-Baden 2009, ISBN 978-3-8329-4277-9 .
  • Michael Mentler: The Committee of Permanent Representatives to the European Communities , Nomos-Verlag, Baden-Baden 1996, Series European Law, Politics and Economy, Vol. 181, ISBN 978-3-7890-4189-1 (also Passau, dissertation ).

Web links

Commons : Council of the European Union  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Council of the European Union  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Council of the European Union: The buildings of the council. In: February 19, 2020, accessed November 30, 2021 .
  2. The Secretary General. Retrieved June 30, 2020 .
  3. Decision of the Council of 1 January 2007 laying down the order in which the presidency of the Council is to be held (2007/5 / EC, Euratom).
  4. a b c European Council: Council presidency changing in rotation: decision to change the order of July 26, 2016, accessed on August 4, 2016.
  5. voting procedure. Council of the European Union, accessed on November 1, 2021 .
  6. ^ Alicia Prager: LobbyControl: Progress in Brussels, hardly any transparency in Berlin. In: April 29, 2019.