Council of Ministers - the Council
The Council of Ministers is often simply called 'the Council'. It is distinct from the European Council – which is the name for the meetings of the Heads of State and Government of the member states.
The Lisbon Treaty provided for three big reforms:
- A permanent President to chair the European Council for a 2½-year period, renewable once. The President is to represent the EU in international affairs together with the new "foreign minister".
- From 1 November 2014 onwards, the qualified majority for making EU laws will require a so-called "double majority". This require 55% of the member states representing 65% of the population, cast by at least fifteen member states.
- A system of team presidencies is introduced meaning that the outgoing presidency will cooperate with the current and incoming presidencies. They will all get to chair each council for 6 months.
The Council is the prime law-making body of the EU even if the Commission on its own decides most rules.
Laws are proposed by the Commission, and the Council may then approve or reject these proposals. In an increasing number of cases the Council must approve legislation jointly with the European Parliament through the ordinary legislative procedure. See Article 294 TFEU.
Ministers also meet informally. At such meetings they are able to negotiate more freely, but cannot formally take decisions. The Council is led by a six-months rotating presidency and is serviced by a Brussels-based secretary-general and secretariat.
The Council decides procedural matters by a simple majority of its members, which is 15 out of 28. The Council decides on most policy matters, directives and regulations by weighted or qualified majority voting, each country having a particular number of votes.
This system is radically changed from 1 November 2014.
Certain key decisions require unanimity, for example, the admission of new member states, tax matters and major foreign and security issues and defence.
Meetings of the Council of Ministers are composed of ministers from each of the member states. The type of ministers present depends upon the policy area under discussion.
Agriculture ministers meet in the Agriculture Council,
transport ministers in the Transport Council, and so on. Ministers
are often represented at Council meetings by an ambassador of state or
other civil servant.
- Some 70% of all EU laws are in practice decided in 275 Council working groups and 15% in COREPER. Only 15% or so are actually discussed and negotiated in Councils of Ministers.
- Shares joint responsibility for the EU budget with the European Parliament. The Council has the final say on the agricultural figures, the Parliament on all other expenditure.
Website of the Council http://ue.eu.int/
See also Presidency of the Council, Luxembourg compromise and Voting in the Council.
Here you can see the working groups in the Council: http://register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/10/st05/st05869-re01.en10.pdf