Council of the European Union
Council of the European Union
- Council -
|State level||European Union|
|position||Supranational legislative body (and part of the EU political system )|
Europe building ,
Brussels , Belgium
Chair : Slovenia represented by Anže Logar (July 1, 2021 - December 31, 2021)
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-officially 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 (as well as the European Parliament as a 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 EU Treaty and 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. The so-called Council of Ministers is a single body, but its meetings take place 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. In addition, there is the Commission President 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 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 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 in 2009 increased the number to ten.
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 Council is also the only one that has one other 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:
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)
|Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council||TTE|
|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 SALA 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 Secretary General 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 are unable 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.
|Year, country (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|
Weighting of votes until 2017
The double majority procedure was only finally introduced in 2017; it was applied from 2014 unless no Member State objected. Otherwise, until then, the qualified majority procedure provided for in the Treaty of Nice applied temporarily . 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 states that only acceded in 2004 had a rather small 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|
|Number of total votes||63||100%|
|Weighting of votes EU-15 before the Treaty of Nice|
|country||voices||Share of votes|
|Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy||10 each||11.5% each|
|Belgium, Greece, Netherlands, Portugal||5 each||each 5.7%|
|Austria, Sweden||4 each||4.6% each|
|Denmark, Finland, Ireland||3 each||3.4% each|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|Number of total votes||352||100%|
Today's procedure with a double majority since 2017
The FEU Treaty provides for different voting procedures depending on the policy area in which the proposals fall on which the Council decides . In purely procedural matters, the council usually decides with a simple majority of its members. The Council decides unanimously on issues relating to the common foreign and security policy and other politically sensitive matters such as tax policy (see European Union legislation ).
However, a qualified majority is necessary for the ordinary legislative procedure , which applies in most EU policy areas . Since the Treaty of Lisbon, this has been defined by the principle of a double majority ( , TFEU ), which requires that
- at least 55% of the member states agree (that would currently be 15), simultaneously
- represent at least 65% of the EU population, where
- a blocking minority applies, through which the 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 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 in which theoretically only a qualified majority would be required, decisions are usually made unanimously ( consensual ).
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 implement 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 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 generally closed to the public. This left the public unable to understand how a particular government voted on an issue. Since the entry into force of the treaty, the meetings have in principle 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” the council and power “in” the 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 Economics, Vol. 181, ISBN 978-3-7890-4189-1 (also Passau, dissertation ).
- Official Council website
- Overview of the Council on the Commission website
- Explanation of the council at the EBD network ( Memento of 10 November 2010 in the Internet Archive )
- Archival sources on the history of the Council of the European Union in the holdings of the Historical Archives of the EU in Florence
- The Secretary General. Retrieved June 30, 2020 .
- (2007/5 / EC, Euratom).
- European Council: Rotating Council Presidency: Decision on changing the order of July 26, 2016, accessed on August 4, 2016
- Alicia Prager: LobbyControl: Progress in Brussels, hardly any transparency in Berlin. In: euractiv.de. April 29, 2019.