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The Council of the European Union: The Voice of the Member States

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).

The Council has six key responsibilities:

  1. To pass European laws, jointly with the European Parliament in many policy areas;
  2. To coordinate the broad economic and social policies of the member states;
  3. To conclude international agreements between the EU and other countries or international organisations;
  4. To approve the EU's budget, jointly with the European Parliament;
  5. To develop the EU's common foreign and security policy (CFSP), based on guidelines set by the European Council;
    Foreign policy, security and defence are matters over which the national governments retain independent control. Parliament and the European Commission play only a limited role in these matters.
  6. To coordinate cooperation between the national courts and police forces in criminal matters.
    Tackling cross-border crime requires cross-border cooperation between the national courts, police forces, customs officers and immigration services of all EU countries. EU citizens should have equal access to civil justice everywhere in the European Union, which requires national courts to work together.


Learn more about the European Council at www.consilium.europa.eu

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