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The Council of the EU

The Council of the EU


The Council is made up of the ministers of the Members States and meets in ten different configurations according to the subject under discussion.  For example, the “Foreign Affairs” configuration is made up of Foreign Affairs Ministers, the “Justice and Home Affairs” configuration of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers, etc.

Council decisions are prepared by a structure of more than 150 working parties and committees comprising delegates from the Member States. All the work is coordinated by the Permanent Representatives Committee (COREPER), made up of the permanent representatives of the Member States.

The Council takes decisions by a vote of Ministers from the Member States. There are three types of vote depending on the subject being dealt with:

  • simple majority for procedural decisions
  • qualified majority, a weighted voting system, which is based on the populations of Member States and is applied for decisions related to the internal market, economic affairs and trade
  • unanimity, applied to foreign policy, defence, judicial and police cooperation, and taxation issues

The Council's seat is in Brussels, where it meets several times a month - meetings are held in Luxembourg in April, June and October.

General Affairs Council (GAC)

The General Affairs Council coordinates the preparations for the European Council meetings and ensures the consistency of the work of the different Council configurations. It meets once a month and is composed of European Affairs Ministers.

This Council configuration deals with dossiers that affect more than one of the Union's policies, such as negotiations on EU enlargement, preparation of the Union’s multi-annual financial framework, regional and cohesion policy or institutional and administrative issues.  

It also exercises a role in co-ordinating work on different policy areas carried out by the Council's other configurations, and handles any dossier entrusted to it by the European Council.

Foreign Affairs Council (FAC)

The Foreign Affairs Council is responsible for the EU external action, ranging from foreign policy, security and defence to trade, development cooperation and humanitarian aid. It defines and implements the EU's foreign and security policy on the basis of the guidelines set by the European Council.

It comprises the Foreign Ministers of EU Member States who meet once a month. Depending on the agenda, the Council also brings together Defence Ministers (Common Security and Defence Policy), Development Ministers (Development Cooperation), or Trade Ministers (Common Commercial Policy).

The Foreign Affairs Council is the only Council configuration that is not chaired by the rotating Presidency; it is chaired by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, currently Baroness Catherine Ashton.

Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN)

The so-called Ecofin Council or simply Ecofin is made up of the Economics and Finance Ministers of the Member States, as well as Budget Ministers when budgetary issues are discussed. It meets once a month.

The Ecofin Council covers a number of areas, namely economic policy coordination, economic surveillance, monitoring of Member States' budgetary policy and public finances, the euro, financial markets and capital movements and economic relations with third countries. It also prepares and adopts, together with the European Parliament the annual budget of the European Union.

It decides mainly by qualified majority, in consultation or codecision with the European Parliament, with the exception of fiscal matters which are decided by unanimity.

The day before each ECOFIN Council meeting, a meeting of the Eurogroup Ministers takes place. The Eurogroup was created to meet the need for enhanced economic policy coordination amongst Member States sharing the single currency, the euro.

Justice and Home Affairs Council (JHA)

The Justice and Home Affairs Council mainly aims to develop and implement cooperation and common policies on cross-border issues. It brings together the Justice and Home Affairs Ministers, approximately every other month.

While Justice Ministers deal with judicial cooperation in both civil and criminal law, Home Affairs Ministers are responsible, among others, for migration policy, border management, police cooperation and civil protection.

Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO)

The EPSCO Council meets around four times a year and is composed of employment, social protection, consumer protection, health and equal opportunities ministers.

Since employment and social protection polices remain the responsibility of the Member States, its contribution is confined to setting common objectives for all the Member States, analysing measures taken at a national level and adopting recommendations to the Member States.

Competitiveness Council (COMPET)

The role of the Competitiveness Council is to ensure an integrated approach to the enhancement of competitiveness and growth in Europe. The three strands of its activity are: internal market, industry and research.

Depending on the items on the agenda, this Council is composed of European Affairs Ministers, Industry Ministers, Research Ministers, etc.

Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council (TTE)

The EU's general objective in these fields is to establish modern, competitive and efficient markets and infrastructure, creating trans-European transport, communication and energy networks. Developing sustainable infrastructures at EU level is crucial for the smooth functioning of the internal market and for the Union's economic and social cohesion.

The composition of the TTE Council varies according to the items on the agenda. It involves Ministers for transport, telecommunications or energy. Transport Ministers normally meet four times per year, Energy Ministers three or four times a year and Telecommunications Ministers twice a year.

Agriculture and Fisheries Council (AGRI)

The Agriculture and Fisheries Council brings together once a month Ministers from all EU Member States responsible for these domains.  The Agriculture part of the Council mainly covers the Common Agricultural Policy, internal market rules, forestry, organic production, quality of production, food and feed safety and the harmonization of rules concerning veterinary matters, plant health, animal feed, seeds and pesticides. The Fisheries part of the Council involves the Common Fisheries Policy, the setting of annual Total Allowable Catches and quotas for each species.

Environment Council (ENVI)

The Environment Council is composed of Ministers responsible for matters related to the environment and aims at preserving, protecting and improving the quality of the environment, protecting human health, encouraging the prudent and rational use of natural resources and promoting measures at international level to deal with regional or worldwide environmental problems, in particular the fight against climate change.

Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council (EYCS)

The EYCS Council brings together Ministers responsible for education, culture, audiovisual, youth, and sport. The actual composition depends on the items discussed. They meet three or four times a year, generally twice in full configuration.

The areas covered by this Council configuration fall mainly within the remit of Member States. The European Union's role is therefore to provide a framework for cooperation between them. Education policy has also been increasingly recognised as a key component of the Europe 2020 strategy.