The Council of the European Union (also referred to as Council of Ministers or simply "the Council") is the EU institution where the Member States' government representatives sit, i.e. the ministers of each Member State with responsibility for a given area. The composition and frequency of Council meetings vary depending on the issues dealt with. Foreign ministers, for example, meet roughly once a month in the Foreign Affairs Council. Similarly, economics and finance ministers meet once a month in the Council that handles economic and financial affairs, called the Ecofin Council.
There are ten Council configurations, covering the whole range of EU policies. The General Affairs Council, which is usually attended by foreign ministers or European affairs ministers, makes sure that the various Council configurations are working consistently with one another and makes the preparations for European Council meetings. Below you can find information about each Council configuration.
Economic and Financial Affairs
Justice and Home Affairs (JHA)
Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs
Competitiveness (internal market, industry, research and space)
Transport, Telecommunications and Energy
Agriculture and Fisheries
Education, youth, culture and sport
The EU's laws are made by the Council, together with the European Parliament. In most cases, the Council can only legislate on the basis of proposals submitted to it by the European Commission. It can ask the Commission to submit any proposals it may deem appropriate. Since the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, a million citizens may also sign a petition inviting the Commission to submit a proposal. This is the citizens' right of initiative.
The Council sits in public when it is discussing and voting on a proposal for a legislative act or when there is a general debate. You can follow these discussions in real time on the Council's website and see, for example, how your minister is putting your country's point of view. The written documentation available to the ministers is also accessible to everyone.
The Council takes decisions by a vote of Ministers from the Member States. There are three types of vote depending on the Treaty provisions for the subject being dealt with: simple majority (for procedural decisions), qualified majority (a weighted voting system based on the populations of Member States; used for many decisions concerning the internal market, economic affairs and trade) and unanimity (for foreign policy, defence, judicial and police cooperation, and taxation). Most of legislation is currently voted by qualified majority, which is reached if the following two conditions are met: if a majority of Member States approve (in some cases a two-thirds majority) and if a minimum of 255 votes is cast in favour of the proposal, out of a total of 345 votes. The number of votes each Member State can cast is set by the Treaties and these are attributed according to their population. It ranges from 29 votes for Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom, to 3 votes for Malta.
Click here to find out more about the Council.
(Source: Council of the European Union - http://www.consilium.europa.eu/)