The Council of the European Union, known as the Council, is where Ministers from each EU country meet to adopt laws and coordinate policies. The Council was set up by the founding treaties of the European Union in the 1950s.
It meets in ten different configurations depending on the topics under discussion: Economic and Financial Affairs; Justice and Home Affairs; Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs; Competitiveness; Transport, Telecommunications and Energy; Agriculture and Fisheries; Environment; Education, Youth, Culture and Sport; General Affairs; Foreign Affairs.
Which ministers attend the Council meetings depends on what subjects are on the agenda. Each country sends the relevant minister for the policy field being discussed. If, for example, the Council is to discuss environmental issues, the meeting will be attended by the environmental minister from each EU country and it will be known as the 'Environmental Council'.
Each minister is empowered to commit his or her government; that means that the minister's signature is the signature of the whole government. Each Minister remains answerable to the national parliament and ultimately to the citizens they represent. This ensures the democratic legitimacy of the Council's decisions.
Up to four times a year the Presidents and/or Prime Ministers of the EU member states, together with the President of the European Commission, and the President of the European Council, meet as the European Council. These 'summit' meetings set overall EU policy and resolve issues that could not be settled at a lower level (i.e. by the Ministers at normal Council meetings).
Learn more about the European Council at www.consilium.europa.eu