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31 March 2023
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What is the Council of the European Union?

Consiliul Uniunii Europene

photo: Arhivă UE

In the unique set-up of the European Union institutional structure, the Council of the European Union is the institution where the governments of the EU member States defend their own country’s national interests in the negotiation of the legislative and non-legislative files. The Council of the European Union is one of the seven institutions created by the European Union Treaties and, together with the European Parliament and the European Commission, it is involved in the drafting of the European legislation.

It is important to avoid confusions and emphasize that the Council of the European Union is different from the European Council which gathers the EU heads of state/government in Brussels and different also from the Council of Europe, located in Strasbourg, the latter being an international institution not included in the European Union structure.

While the other EU institutions are chaired by Presidents with multi-annual mandates, the Council of the European Union doesn’t have a permanent, single-person president and its Presidency rotates every 6 months. Every EU Member State has the obligation to hold in turn the Council Presidency and chair the its meetings at the ministerial, diplomatic and expert level.

Attributions of the Council of the European Union

The Council is a key EU decision-maker.  It negotiates and adopts legislation, in most cases, together with the European Parliament through the ordinary legislative procedure, also known as codecision.

Codecision is used for policy areas where the European Union has exclusive or shared competence with the member states. In these cases, the Council legislates on the basis of proposals submitted by the European Commission.

Traditionally, it is considered that within the institutional architecture of the European Union the Council represents the interests of Member States governments, while the European Parliament represents the interests of citizens, and the Commission represents the interests of the Union as a whole. For this reason, the Council is a body of diplomatic negotiations by excellence, where the States defend their legitimate national interests.

Therefore, the Council decisions are the result of aggregating the interests of the Member States, in a process where it must maintain a permanent dialog with the other institutions participating in the legislative process, namely the European Commission and the European Parliament.

The Council of the European Union is responsible for coordinating the policies of Member States in specific fields, such as:

– economic and budgetary policies: The Council coordinates the economic and budgetary policies of the Member States, in view of consolidating economic governance in the European Union, monitoring their budgetary policies and strengthening the budgetary framework of the European Union, while also dealing with the legal and practical aspects of the Euro currency and with capital flows;

– education, culture, youth, and sports: The Council adopts the policy frameworks of the European Union and the work plans in these fields, establishing the cooperation priorities between the Member States and the Commission;

– employment policy The Council issues, following the conclusions of the European Council, yearly guidelines and recommendations to Member States concerning the employment situation in the European Union;

The Council defines and implements the common foreign and security policy of the European Union, based on the guidelines set by the European Council. This includes the Union’s humanitarian and development aid, defence and trade. The Council, together with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, ensures the unity, consistency, and effectiveness of the European Union’s external action.

The Council gives the Commission the mandate to negotiate, on behalf of the European Union, agreements between the European Union and third countries as well as international organizations. At the end of negotiations, the Council decides on the signing and conclusion of the agreement, acting on a proposal from the Commission.

The Council makes the final decision to conclude the agreement, after the Parliament has expressed its approval (necessary in fields that fall under the codecision procedure), and following the ratification by all Member States. Such agreements may cover wide areas, such as trade, cooperation and development, or can refer to specific subjects such as textiles, fishing, customs, transport, science and technology.

The Council adopts the budget of the European Union together with the European Parliament. The budget period covers one calendar year. It is usually adopted in December and starts on January 1, the following year.

How are decisions made?

In most cases, the Council decides together with the European Parliament by means of ordinary legislative procedure, also known as “codecision”. Codecision applies in policy areas where the Union has exclusive or shared competence with the Member States. In this case, the Council enacts laws based on the proposals submitted by the European Commission.

Exclusive competencies of the Council of the European Union: Customs Union; competition policies; monetary policy in the Euro area; the preservation of marine biological resources within the maritime policy (fishing quotas of each State); common commercial policy; international agreements (when the activity field on which the agreement is provided in the European legislation).

The following competencies are shared between the Council of the European Union and the Member States: the single market; aspects of social policy laid down by the Treaty of Lisbon; Agriculture and Fisheries (except for the preservation of biological resources); environment; consumer protection; transports; Trans-European Networks; Area of Freedom, Security and Justice; common security in the field of public health; research, technological development, space; cooperation for development and humanitarian aid.

EU Council competencies in supporting, coordinating and complementing the Member States: the protection and improvement of human health; education, vocational training, youth, and sport; tourism; culture; industry; civil protection; administrative cooperation.

In a series of very specific fields, the Council makes decisions using special legislative procedures (the assent and the consultation procedure) in which the role of the Parliament is limited. Once the Council receives a proposal from the Commission, the text is simultaneously analyzed by the Council and the European Parliament. The analysis is also known as “reading”. A maximum of three readings can take place before the Council and the Parliament agree on a legislative proposal or reject it.

With each reading, the proposal passes through three levels within the Council:

  • Working group
  • Permanent Representatives Committee (COREPER)
  • Council configuration

This allows for a technical analysis of the proposal at working group level, the political responsibility for the proposal being assumed at ministerial level, while the examination by the ambassadors within COREPER combine technical knowledge and political analysis.

Based on the principle of subsidiarity, the national parliaments of the Member States receive the legislative proposals drawn up by the European Commission at the same time as the Council and the European Parliament.